Section 3.5

What are the Impacts of the City’s Existing Regulatory Framework on Local Stakeholders Who Manage and Activate Our Public Realm?

Although the City’s regulatory frameworks allow the government to manage issues of public safety, public health, sanitation, and public order, local stakeholders on the ground managing day-to-day responsibilities in the public realm share major challenges. These challenges include complicated City permitting processes, difficult regulatory requirements, financial and resource limitations, and, perhaps most importantly, limited communication, collaboration and support from City agencies to activate highly trafficked public spaces in their commercial districts.

For the purposes of Neighborhood Commons, groups that recognize the importance of community-driven planning with the expertise, knowledge, skills, and authority to identify strategic opportunities, advocate for resources from public agencies and private entities, plan activities, and carry out investments in local neighborhoods and commercial districts are referred to as “community-based organizations” (CBOs). This includes, but is not limited to, Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), or management entities (legislatively approved self-assessment districts), overseeing and funding the maintenance, improvement, and promotion of geographically-specific commercial districts. 

In order to root our assessment of the impacts of New York City’s public realm programs and regulations in lived experiences, the Neighborhood Commons team conducted interviews with stakeholders from CBOs that currently manage key commercial districts in the outer boroughs of the City.

Although the feedback from stakeholders (as shown below) emphasized challenges and opportunities experienced primarily during the time of the interviews (i.e. during the COVID-19 pandemic), these sentiments were often shared across organizations in various locations and with different administrative capacities. 


Open Storefronts

︎ Limited outreach by City agencies—largely owing to late implementation of the program during the pandemic.

︎ Business activities permitted through open storefronts was broad, but excluded certain businesses from being able to participate with specific activities such as hair cuts or exercise classes.

︎ Small businesses lacked staffing capacity to manage and maintain outdoor merchandise.

︎ Limited sidewalk space resulted in competition for space with street vendors or safe pedestrian flow.
“[In Chinatown], the Open Storefronts program had far less applicants for a simple reason: Chinatown is already crowded. The sidewalks in most places are too narrow for the eight-foot-wide passage required for Open Storefronts to operate.”
Wellington Chen, Chinatown BID

Open Streets & Open Restaurants

︎ Restaurants were prioritized by the City program, leaving out street vendors and retail establishments.

︎ Limited interagency coordination on rules and regulations.

︎ No defined first point-of -contact for public realm use.

︎ Slow and confusing responses from City agencies around rules and regulations of programs.

︎ Lack of consistency in enforcement or absence of enforcement on dining structures.

︎  Local organizers and businesses lacked the capacity and resources to sustain continued high-quality operations of Open Streets and restaurants.

︎ Siting limitations due to bus routes and city emergency/sanitation services excluded many businesses from participating.

︎ Program communications and outreach strategies were limited (limited in-person outreach, print materials, translated materials).
“There’s lots of bouncing from one agency to another to the NYPD. Are we gonna be able to get our permit? We’re working entirely on good will."
Gail Heidel, Casita Maria

“If I want city agencies to do something in six months, I need to start three months ago.”
Marco Shalma, Bronx Night Market

“An intelligent city would've been paying restaurants to do outdoor dining, not causing them to lose money building and rebuilding and rebuilding the barriers.”
David Estrada, Sunset Park BID

DOT Plaza Program

︎ Plaza management insurance requirements are too high for most CBOs to take on.

︎ Local organizers and businesses lacked the capacity and resources to sustain continued high-quality operations, maintenance and programming of plazas.

“So once again, as with plazas, they're saying, ‘Oh, BID or community group, or nonprofit, you be responsible, you carry the insurance, you clean up the mess, but you can have no control over who comes in and makes money in the situation that you're creating. Oh, and by the way, you're explicitly prohibited from participating.’ It's just absurd."
David Estrada, Sunset Park BID

“It's smaller neighborhood-based community partners that could never afford even insurance liability alone, nevermind having the resources to program things."
Fred Cerullo, Grand Central Partnership

29 Day Concession Permit / Plaza Event Permit
︎ Limited-time contracts and permits for market organizers made it challenging to sustain sponsorships and partnerships.

︎ Permit processes—through SAPO and DOT—were not streamlined and could be confusing.

︎ Permit requirements to conduct sales/exchange money in plazas often excluded street vendors and spillover storefront activity from occurring on plazas.

“I worry that stewardship means outsourcing city responsibility to other parties, and the least resourced are most burdened.”
Shrima Pandey, Resident of Jackson Heights

“We literally formed because no one had thought of how it would be maintained. We figured it out as we went, had to course-correct, did a visioning process to get where we are now. It’s a lot to ask of a small group like ours.”
Friends of Diversity Plaza



Open Storefronts

︎ Self-certification process made it quick and easy for businesses to participate in the public realm.

︎ Expanded the types of businesses that could display goods outdoors.

︎ Transactions could be conducted outdoors.

︎ Allowed businesses that were previously prohibited from using the sidewalk at all to participate.


Open Streets & Open Restaurants

︎  Self-certification process made it quick and easy for businesses to participate in the public realm.

︎ Removal of insurance requirements made it easier for small businesses to participate.

︎ Local volunteers and creative communities came forward to design and construct dining structures and program spaces.


DOT Plaza Program

︎ Plaza community partner funding of $20k annually supplemented basic clean-up and maintenance.

︎ Baseline maintenance and sanitation efforts by Horticultural Society provided through the City.

“Beginning as a DOT Plaza community partner, we received $20,000 annually to program our plaza, provide daily sweeping, general maintenance and horticultural services to Venditti Square and the 71st Avenue Plaza in Ridgewood, Queens. I would like to see DOT come up with a reasonable concession agreement between the BID & DOT regarding adjacent restaurants that abut the plaza.”
Ted Renz, Myrtle Avenue BID

Plaza Concession Agreement
︎ Restaurants with individual agreements with DOT to extend into plaza have shared responsibility for programming/ maintenance of plaza.