Warming up the ‘frozen zone’ around Wall and Broad streets

Photo by Bill Egbert
The Downtown Alliance argues that the security barriers protecting the area around the New York Stock Exchange can seem less than inviting to visitors.

BY REBECCA FIORE

The Lower Manhattan business boosters at the Downtown Alliance want to hear from locals about ideas on how to make the notoriously unwelcoming “frozen zone” around the New York Stock Exchange a more open and inviting space.

The Alliance has recently put a survey online — “A More Welcoming Broad + Wall” — created with help from local planning firm WXY Architecture + Urban Design and feedback from community meetings.

“These are the topics and issues that come up when we have stakeholder meetings and discussions in the neighborhood to get broader feedback,” said Jessica Lappin, president of the Downtown Alliance.

The city has already made clear that the heavily policed security perimeter protecting the stock exchange is not going to change, according to Lappin, but she said the Alliance’s goal is simply “taking what we are living with and hopefully making it better.”

The security measures around the symbolic heart of American capitalism were quickly put in place in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, with little formal preparation or planning as fears of new attacks ran high. Since then, there has been little appetite to second-guess those choices, even as supposedly temporary measures have become part of the landscape of a number a densely populated city blocks

The most obtrusive security measures are focused on the intersection of Wall and Broad streets near the NYSE building, but the entire area girded by Pine Street, Broadway, William Street and Beaver Street is starkly cut off from the rest of the neighborhood — in ways that can be intimidating to visitors and annoying to locals.

On aim of the petition is not just to gauge community preferences, but also to increase public participation in rethinking the potential of an isolated area of the neighborhood that many locals may have come to ignore.

“Primarily, [the survey is] helpful for people who live and work in the area,” Lappin said. “Anyone who has a vested interest is welcome to respond. We are most interested in people who live Downtown who either avoid this area, or love it and feel we can make it better.”

Lappin said so far about 400 people have taken the survey, but they are eager to receive more responses.

The quick survey includes 11 questions and an additional comments section. Questions range from “Do you avoid walking or biking through this area if possible?” to more lengthy ones asking opinions about increasing seating areas, replacing cobblestone with granite paving, changing streetlights, and eliminating curbs.

“This should be one of the premier corners of the city,” Lappin said. “It’s a place with a rich history, not just for the city, but the nation. It’s heavily trafficked but it’s mixed with mismatched ugly street furniture. There’s no cohesiveness.”

Alice Blank, local architect and Community Board 1 member, said she took the survey and feels that some of the questions were “very leading,” especially since they didn’t provide visuals to accompany the questions.

She cited question number four, which reads: “Some streets within the NYSE security zone are paved with a type of cobblestone. This current paving presents significant maintenance challenges and makes access difficult for people with limited mobility. The design team is considering granite paving instead which can appear historic and, if selected and installed properly, is durable and attractive instead of traditional cobblestone. Do you support replacing the existing cobblestone with more durable and accessible materials?”

“After having a paragraph talking about how the current cobblestone is significant maintenance and limits disability access, that sets up everyone to say ‘yes, that’s a great idea.’ It would have been better to show what these look like,” Blank said.

Blank doubted the Alliance’s wording in the survey was inadvertent.

“They present what they want and they want the community to respond,” Blank said.

In response to criticism of the web survey’s conspicuous lack of visuals, Lappin pointed out that the Alliance has repeatedly offered free walking tours led by the design firm to CB1 members. She recommends that all locals should take a stroll around the area to get a better sense of what the survey is asking about — and the limitations any proposed improvements will face.

“This is not a blue sky, start-from-scratch approach,” she said. “There are some security realties we have to contend with. We are looking to come up with something practical and achievable.”

The survey will be live on the Alliance website until the end of the month. After that, Lappin said, the Alliance hopes the input can inform and drive a long-term project to rejuvenating the area going forward.

“This is really a vision and a master plan for what could happen down the line,” she said.

Take the survey online at downtownny.com/stockexchange.

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