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Next steps at Forsyth Plaza, thanks to Neighborhoods Now initiative

Photos by Alisha Kim Levin/Van Alen Institute.


There has always been a lack of public outdoor space in Chinatown. This fact has never been more glaring than during the past year, as pandemic-related social distancing created new demands on our city parks and plazas. For many years, AAFE has had the goal of activating Forsyth Plaza (at the foot of the Manhattan Bridge) as a vibrant community gathering and recreational area. Thanks to Neighborhoods Now, an initiative from the Urban Design Forum and Van Alen Institute, a community vision for Forsyth Plaza will finally begin to take shape.

Neighborhoods Now is a response to COVID-19 that connects New York City’s hard-hit neighborhoods with coalitions of architects, designers, engineers, lawyers, and planners providing pro bono expertise. AAFE is teaming up with Think!Chinatown to develop a proposal to adapt Forsyth Street Plaza into an open-air market supporting local Chinatown businesses and cultural groups. We’ll be working alongside Leroy Street Studio (architecture and design), di Domenico + Partners (architecture and landscape architecture), and Buro Happold (engineering).

“Asian Americans For Equality is thrilled to partner with Think!Chinatown under the Neighborhoods Now initiative to come up with creative, community-led solutions for Chinatown’s underutilized open spaces, with the twin goals of helping our embattled small businesses and creating a more permanent cultural arts space for the community,” said Thomas Yu, AAFE co-executive director.

The goal is to begin creating the infrastructure for a night market in Forsyth Plaza.

“We’re deeply grateful we were able to support hundreds of New Yorkers through direct relief efforts in 2020. This year, our working groups are driven by how the pandemic has permanently changed our use of public space. It’s time to look at what kind of city we want for our future, and start using our gardens, plazas, and sidewalks in new, community-centered ways,” said Deborah Marton, executive director of  Van Alen Institute.

Daniel McPhee, executive director, Urban Design Forum, added, “I’m continuously inspired by our community partners as they navigate new and tough challenges driven by this pandemic. We’re proud to mobilize the design community to support them, and are particularly excited to see how our new teams help AAFE, Think!Chinatown, Banana Kelly, and FABnyc plan safe outdoor operations this spring.”

Launched in May 2020, Neighborhoods Now has supported more than 100 small businesses and cultural organizations, including more than 20 restaurants who were able to participate in the city’s Open Restaurants program as a result. To date, the Urban Design Forum and Van Alen Institute have regranted more than $100,000 to community partners to implement the designs and strategies developed.

To learn more about this project, read an interview with AAFE Co-Executive Director Thomas Yu and Think!Chinatown Director Yin Kong on Van Alen Institute’s website.

*This story was adapted from a press release by Van Alen Institute

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