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BY ALINE REYNOLDS | Kim Lau Square has been a cherished outdoor hub for Chinatown residents and workers for decades. Seniors use the space as a getaway from their cooped-up apartments, and tourists flock to the plaza to observe the famed Lin Ze Xu statue and the memorial arch, which commemorate Chinese-Americans who died in World War II.
Recently, however, the square has become a danger zone for the elderly and out-of-towners alike. According to several sources, groups of cyclists and skateboarders regularly swoop into the plaza and barely miss colliding with people as they ascend the banks of the planters and do tricks in the air.
The square’s floor is also peppered with piles of bird feces, as hoards of pigeons swarm around park users that feed them breadcrumbs and other treats.
In light of the problems, the community has banded together to take action, with the hopes of “reclaiming their square.”
“The way the planters were reconfigured when it was redone about a decade ago turned out to be perfect for skateboarders and trick cyclists. As a result, all of the tranquility [in the park] has been replaced by menace,” said Park Row resident Nancy Linday, a volunteer with the Civic Center Residents Coalition, which, among other local organizations, are devising ways to transform the square into a more quaint, user-friendly park.
“What we’re trying desperately to do,” said Linday, “is to establish appropriate use of open space.”
Cyclists and skateboarders have Coleman Oval Park, a few blocks to the east, to practice their craft, Linday noted. “We’re not sitting in the middle of Coleman Oval and demanding peace and quiet there,” she said. “We expect the same consideration and respect for Kim Lau Square.”
“It’s a really dangerous place to be. My mom has trouble walking, and I advise her never to go near this area because of that,” said C.C.RC. leader Jan Lee, who has documented the unruly youths in a series of photographs and has reported vandalism of the plaza’s planters via 3-1-1. One night, the vandals dressed up as construction workers, Lee reported, and smoothed over the cobblestone so they could use it as a ramp during the day.
Hoi Poon, who was visiting her 65-year-old mother from California, said she also worries about her mom’s safety in the square. “It’s a busy area. I don’t think it’s a good idea to do tricks here,” said Poon. “I’d worry about my mom with a whole bunch of bikers.”
Mike Stanley, who has lived on Mott Street for 25 years and frequents the square two-to-three times a week, is outraged at the skateboarders, in particular. “They think it’s a joke — they have no respect,” he said. “The cops oughta come by and ticket them. God forbid they knock over a child.”
Getting worked up, Stanley continued, “I’ve seen them tell people to move out of that chair, [to get out of the way],” pointing to one of the square’s new benches.
As a deterrent to the unlawful activity, the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation installed three new benches in January, following complaints by Linday and others. The Department will be installing two more benches in the upcoming weeks, according to spokesperson Philip Abramson.
The groups most recently met with the Partnership for Parks, a joint program of the City Parks Foundation and the Parks Department, to discuss forthcoming steps to make the plaza safer and more appealing. “Three benches was a nice start, but it wasn’t enough,” said Linday. “We realized that we’re going to have to have more effort for transformation.”
Yi Tao, chair of the Lin Ze Xu Foundation, one of the participating organizations, wasn’t available for comment.
In nearby Chatham Square, where bikers have also been breaking the law, NY State Senator Daniel worked with residents to install fence guards.
“Tools like fence guards have enhanced pedestrian safety in Chatham Square, preventing the planters from being used as skateboarding ramps. But our work cannot end there,” said Sen. Squadron in a statement. “We must make even more improvements to protect pedestrians in Chatham Square and throughout Chinatown.”
The community also hopes to beautify Kim Lau Square. The Parks Department is organizing a planting day for community organizers in the fall, when community members will have a chance to plant bulbs and rose bushes in planters on the plaza. Its Arts and Antiquities Department recently cleaned its three monuments earlier this month. The Department also plans to aerate and fertilize the soil in the planters in the fall.
Kirsty Bambridge, outreach coordinator for the Lower Manhattan division of the Partnership for Parks, a local Parks Department program, is organizing another meeting to discuss planting day. “If they wanted to help maintain the flower beds and the square, Partnerships could help with the tools and resources,” she said. The Partnership could also help organize fundraisers for the square’s upkeep and secure funding for brochures, flyers and other outreach methods.
In the meantime, Lee hopes to set up a volunteer program for planting day and solicit donations of plants by local florists.
“If you have a lot of broken windows, the kids will continue to break windows,” said Lee. “With a vibrant park, there’s much less of a chance that it’s going to be abused.”