By Bill Parry
Mayor Bill de Blasio began the final day of his weeklong stay in the borough with a ride on the F train to Jackson Heights where he joined City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) and community leaders to break ground on a $4.5 million project to make Diversity Plaza a permanent public space.
Since the two-block stretch of 37th Road from 74th Street to Broadway was closed off to traffic in 2012, the area has become a gathering spot for the neighborhood’s many ethnic communities that speak more than 150 languages.
“Diversity Plaza is an epicenter of culture, community, and vibrancy within New York City’s most diverse borough, Queens,” de Blasio said. “Diversity Plaza is an act of defiance against voices of hatred and division.”
Dromm helped to create and fund the plaza with $500,000. He held up an issue of Time magazine which ranked Diversity Plaza as No. 46 in its “Reasons to Celebrate America” list last summer.
When the roadway was closed to vehicular traffic in 2011, many business owners initially objected.
“As someone who worked hard to establish the plaza six years ago, I am delighted to see it come so far,” Dromm said. “Not only is Diversity Plaza home to so many important cultural events, it serves as a town hall for residents who wish to protest, celebrate and mourn as one community. Thanks to these improvements, it will continue to serve our community for years to come.”
The project will feature new trees, raised planters, bike racks, moveable furniture and an open space for performances. The surrounding streets will be resurfaced and receive infrastructure upgrades such as new water mains, catch basins, sidewalks, curbs, street lighting and traffic signals.
The mayor promised slower speeds on streets surrounding what he called “maybe the real crossroads of the world,” making it safer for pedestrians.
“Diversity Plaza is where people from all communities, all walks of life, and all over the globe gather to meet, laugh, cry, sing, pray, dance, eat and play,” Borough President Melinda Katz said. “It’s our borough’s public hub for the unabated exercise of speech, assembly, religion and expression. Thanks to investments secured by Council member Dromm and the dedication of the Department of Transportation, the new features and attention to Diversity Plaza will help enhance safety, aesthetics and utility of this plaza.”
The project is expected to be complete in summer 2018.
“This major upgrade is great news for Jackson Heights,” Dromm said. “I applaud this progress and remain committed to bringing additional improvements to this invaluable public space.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr