Skip to content

Fall Studio studying Johnny Hartman Plaza with community partner Brotherhood Sister Sol

UPM Lab: Analysis of Public Space

the cover of the report. It reads, "Johnny Hartman Square. UPM 609 Lab: Analysis of Public Space. December 2018

Caroline Buck, Jiajia Dou, Danielle Russell, Manel Sentouhi, Aarti Mehta, Vaidehi Mody, Allessandra Woodman, Delaney Morris, Haruka Nagaki, Prof. David Burney, Asst. Prof. Meg Walker

Executive Summary

Johnny Hartman Square is a small, triangular traffic island in West Harlem in the historic neighborhood of Hamilton Heights. The purpose of this placemaking studio is to evaluate the neighborhood through the lens of this public place in the hopes of transforming it into a vibrant community resource. The studio work consists of an analysis of the existing site and the surrounding characteristics of the neighborhood, community and stakeholder engagement through surveys, interviews, and focus groups, goalsettting for the new public space based on this community outreach, and finally, recommendations for the design, programming, management, maintenance, and governance of the place.

This work takes into consideration the potential gentrification of the community and how a revitalized public space can inadvertently contribute to displacement. The community outreach process ultimately drives the goals and recommendations for the place, ensuring that the vision for the place is born by the community, managed by the community, and ultimately used and cherished by the community.

This plaza project is a part of the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Plaza Program, which provides funding and support for new plaza renovations that will be managed and maintained by a community organization, in this case, the Brotherhood Sister Sol. This will be a unique place that is managed by a youth development organization who aims to cultivate a sense of agency and responsibility within young, often disenfranchised youth of color. The goals and recommendations in this report take this into consideration, and hope to create a roadmap for a collaborative management process that youth and older community members alike can take ownership of.

The new Johnny Hartman Square will be a place where the diverse members of this historic community can come together to celebrate both their individual and their shared cultures, where youth can develop and showcase their skills and accomplishments, and where a strong identity for the Hamilton Heights neighborhood is cultivated. This is a first step in a placemaking process that can truly improve the health of a community.

The Projects

Johnny Hartman Square

This studio focused on the proposal by the NYC Department of Transportation to develop a new public space in upper Manhattan. The neighborhood is served by a community organization known as the Brotherhood Sister Sol that has applied to manage a plaza through the Department of Transportation (DOT) Plaza Program that will expanded by the closing of a portion of Hamilton Place to vehicular traffic.

Johnny Hartman Square’s current configuration is not ideal, complicated by the form, size, and delimitation of the plaza and the fact that it is an “island” surrounded by Amsterdam Avenue and Hamilton Place. Pedestrian safety is a big concern as cars go at high speed and there is no clear delineation of crosswalks, making people jaywalk across the wide intersections. The square is also known as a point of drug transactions and homeless activity. These problems plus its general lack of lighting, seating, and programmed activities make it an underutilized space.

The project aim is to close Hamilton Place where it separates the sidewalk from the plaza and expand into the parking space towards Amsterdam Avenue, making it a larger public space that can contain diverse activities and programing.

The revitalized Johnny Hartman Square can become the heart of the neighborhood and a catalyst for gathering, an intergenerational place for youth, families and the elderly to enjoy.

The Client

The Brotherhood Sister Sol

The Brotherhood Sister Sol (Bro Sis) is a non-profit organization founded in 1995 based in Hamilton Heights, Harlem. The organization offers programs to support primarily disadvantaged youth between 8 to 22 years old.

Bro Sis focuses on issues related to leadership development, educational achievement, political education and social justice. Their programs include, after school care, school and home counseling, summer camps, environmental program, job training and college preparation.

Johnny Hartman Square is directly facing the current headquarters of Bro Sis, making the space an ideal location to increase the organization’s programming capacity as well as provide an opportunity to engage with the rest of the Hamilton Heights community.