SoHo Charting a Public Space Vision for People and Economic Recovery

By Rebecca Karp and Mike Lydon

Pandemic-era open space innovations like Open Streets and Restaurants transformed New York City’s public realm and offered a lifeline to communities and thousands of small businesses across the five boroughs.

Now the question is how to take the lessons we’ve learned over the past 18 months and apply them to a more systematic, and long overdue, reappraisal of our public spaces with a focus on the myriad benefits associated with creating more pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods.

Our neighbors, especially in areas underserved with open space, urgently need higher-quality and more accessible streets, sidewalks, and outdoor spaces. In most places, this will require repurposing available street space to support our city’s economic recovery, equity, and climate adaptation goals.

One such neighborhood, ripe for a public space re-envisioning process, is SoHo—where, for decades, throngs of visitors, workers, shoppers, and residents have jockeyed for footing on small sidewalks while the crush of vehicular traffic compromises Lower Manhattan’s quality of life.

So, where to go from here—how do we dream big and realize a new vision that will be both flexible and informed by diverse stakeholders? How do we implement a