Today, NYC Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue and NYC Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Rohit T. Aggarwala today cut the ribbon on two newly constructed plazas in Lower Manhattan. Beginning at the new Rapkin-Gayle Plaza, they were joined by Borough President Mark Levine, State Senator Brian Kavanagh, Assembly Member Deborah Glick, Council Member Christopher Marte, Community Board 2 Chair Jeannine Kiely, David Rapkin, son of Chester Rapkin, and members of the community. Following the first ribbon cutting, they were joined by State Senator Brad Hoylman, Council Member Carlina Rivera, Kei Williams and Isa Reyes from the Black Gotham Experience, Emily Hillwright Director of Operations at the Merchant’s House Museum and community members to cut a second ribbon on Manuel Plaza. The new plazas add much-needed open space to the area while retaining access for DEP operations.
Rapkin-Gayle Plaza in SoHo and Manuel Plaza in NoHo are DEP-owned sites that have been transformed into new public spaces. Formerly gravel lots, they will now serve as greenspaces that feature new permeable pavers, seating, trees, native plants, drinking fountains, and synthetic turf areas for passive recreation. The sites will be managed by Parks while continuing to serve as key components of DEP operations.
Rapkin-Gayle Plaza, located at the intersection of Grand and Lafayette Streets, is named in honor of two important figures in SoHo history: Chester Rapkin and Margot Gayle. Rapkin authored an economic study of the neighborhood that was instrumental to preservation activists, and Gayle led efforts to designate the SoHo Cast Iron Historic District. The $2.35 million Rapkin-Gayle Plaza project received Mayoral funding from DEP ($1 million), as well as City Council ($1.28 million) and Borough President ($70,000) funding.
“As the weather heats up, our public spaces become only more important to keeping New Yorkers cool and able to enjoy the outdoors,” said New York City Mayor Eric Adams. “Manuel Plaza and Rapkin-Gayle Plaza are perfect examples of investments in our public realm that make our city more beautiful, more enjoyable, and more resilient for years to come.”
“Open space is essential infrastructure for New Yorkers, and we are thrilled to partner with DEP in opening these two new plazas for surrounding communities to enjoy,” said Parks Commissioner Donoghue. “With new seating, greenery and turf areas, Rapkin-Gayle Plaza and Manuel Plaza are wonderful gathering places where people can relax and connect in these bustling neighborhoods.”
“These plazas are an example of what can be achieved when City Agencies work closely together and how infrastructure can serve double duty. These sites not only support DEP’s operations, but they also meet New Yorkers’ social and cultural needs to gather, rest, and reconnect,” said DEP Commissioner Aggarwala.
Manuel Plaza, on East 4th Street between Bowery and Lafayette Street, is named in acknowledgment of the first North American free Black settlement, known as the Land of the Blacks. The name honors Big Manuel, Clyn Manuel, Manuel Gerrit de Reus, Manuel Sanders, and Manuel Trumpeter, who were among 28 people of African descent who negotiated their freedom from the West India Dutch Company and over 100 acres in land grants in the mid-17th Century in New Netherland. The $1.58 million Manuel Plaza project received Mayoral funding from DEP ($1.31 million), as well as City Council ($200,000) and Borough President ($71,000) funding.
“These new plazas raise the bar for what public space can be in New York City, with a beautiful and creative design, native plants that are both beautiful and ecologically sensitive, and a resilient infrastructure that will protect us from major flood events,” said Manhattan Borough President Mark D. Levine. “I’m grateful to the DEP and the Parks Department for the collaboration that made these projects possible.”
State Senator Brad Hoylman said, “Public parks are some of our city’s most precious resources. I am delighted we are creating more green space with the state-of-the-art Manuel Plaza in NoHo, named in honor of the five black men named Manuel who negotiated for their freedom in the mid-17th century. The plaza is a beautiful respite from the hustle and bustle of the city, and I look forward to bringing my daughters to play on the brand new turf area and greenery. I thank Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue and DEP Commissioner Rohit Aggarwala for prioritizing making our city greener while honoring those who fought for justice.”
“I’m delighted to join the community in celebrating two new public parks in Lower Manhattan. In this dense part of the city, open public space for rest and recreation is essential, and I thank the Parks Department and community members who worked to create these spaces that not only provide respite, but also honor the histories of notable New Yorkers, Chester Rapkin, Margot Gayle, and the Manuel family,” said Assemblymember Deborah J. Glick.
Council Member Marte said, “it’s not every day you get to see a new open space, especially in SoHo, but I am excited to join my neighbors and the Parks Department for this ribbon cutting today. This historic day is made even more significant to the SoHo community because of the two giants this plaza will be named after: Chester Rapkin and Margot Gayle. Chester Rapkin is already called the “Father of SoHo”, but this renaming will officially signify his immortal impact on this neighborhood. When SoHo was threatened to be razed off the map, Chester made the case to preserve it, thereby defending 12,000 manufacturing jobs and affordable industrial spaces for businesses and artists. Just a decade later, Margot Gayle stepped up to save SoHo from Robert Moses’s expressway plan. She turned her passion for cast-iron architecture into a plan to preserve them, which in turn stopped the displacement of thousands of working people. To get to play a small part in acknowledging all that we owe these two legends is an immense honor, and I look forward to seeing my constituents enjoy the beautiful Rapkin Gayle Plaza.”
A third DEP site at 10th Avenue and West 48th Street will be named in honor of playwright and writer Lorraine Hansberry. The project is currently in design.