166 East 34th Street

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This strip of plaza along East 33rd Street, the west side of Third Avenue, and East 34th Street would be undistinguished were it not for the fact that it has habitually indulged in a variant of “café creep” in its East 33rd Street and lower Third Avenue portions. A café has set up movable white plastic tables and chairs on artificial green turf behind planters and low-slung walls topped with spiked metal railings. Previous discussions between the owner and the City led to an agreement requiring the owner to install three signs at the base of the planters announcing that the public may use the chairs and tables at all times without obligation to purchase anything.

Photo: Kayden et al. (2000)
Photo: Kayden et al. (2000)

Recent site visits revealed two plaques, largely hidden behind tables and chairs, containing the words “Public Plaza Open To Public 9am To Sunset,” but none of the required signs. The brightly colored café sign advertising “Happy Hour” margaritas, pina coladas, and dacquiris is surely cheerier, but it is worth emphasizing that this is a 24-hour-a-day space, that members of the public should feel literally, spiritually, and pecuniarily free to sit at the chairs and tables, and that signs should state that fact. The depressed space on East 34th Street has a wall that in years past would have attracted a fierce game of handball.

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