The Steps of 187
By Nancy Bruning / draft 9-29-02
The steps are currently an ugly, dirty, a pathway that we must take to get from Broadway, Bennett Avenue and Overlook Terrace to Ft. Washington and above, but hold our noses and close our eyes while doing so. This gauntlet can and must be transformed from an eyesore into an oasis. In being made more beautiful the steps will also become more functional. They could become one of the small delights of Washington Heights, like the Pinehurst Steps and the Trivium. Like the Pinehurst Steps, they can serve to better connect the two Washington Heights. Like the Trivium, they can be a meeting ground for the diverse populations of the neighborhood.
SOME TRANSFORMING IDEAS:
- Plantings: The sides of the steps are a perfect backdrop for a cascade of small shrubs and vines. Planters could be designed by professionals, and perhaps built by them or neighborhood youth, and decorated by youth.
- Benches: Loiter-proof rest stops at the mid-way point for elderly and disabled to pause and socialize and watch the world go by. We could also place a bench at the top of the steps, with its back against the concrete wall that is there already.
- Maintenance and cleaning: Sanitation department and parks department (or neighborhood volunteers) establish a regular schedule of cleaning and plantings maintenance.
- Murals and mosaics: Neighborhood artists and children create them under the auspices of Artists Unite.
- Step design: Incorporate subtle elements that could be fun and educational for kids—numbers, letters, words to teach counting and reading as they climb up with their parents.
- Community involvement so there is ownership of the steps, particularly of young people, to cut down on vandalism. Maybe incorporate murals and gardening into school curriculum.
OPENING DAY EVENTS:
The transformation would occur in phases, and culminate in a celebratory opening day, with community events. Local leaders attend opening day, in which the streets surrounding the steps would be closed off and which could consist of:
- Ribbon cutting
- Races: various categories, including young and older kids, adults, elderly; parents with strollers; dogs and their owners; shoppers with carts—some fun categories with prizes donated by local businesses.
- Music: Several bands performing on the steps; there could also be original compositions about the neighborhood or the steps
- Dance performance on the steps
- A play or skit
- A block party, featuring local merchants’ food and beverages (maybe more).
- History: are there any stories to tell?
In addition to foundation funding, we can solicit contributions of money and in-kind from the neighborhood businesses, including such untapped ones as Modell’s (race sponsor); radio Shack (music sponsor);
This project has many potential stumbling blocks and there will be many objectors. As a starter, we could have some of the people who were responsible for the Trivium—the landscape architect lives in Castle village; local activist Van Stone is currently in Turkey, but agreed to consult with me via email?—and the Pinehurst steps to help us avoid the land mines and ensure success.
- Note cards of photos and other images of the steps.
- Annual celebration to include most of the opening day’s events
- Monthly events in the warm months. Example: Midsummer night’s movies—one side of the steps as seating and a big screen down on Overlook. Theme of movies would change from year to year—films shot in the neighborhood, films about dogs (cosponsored by FTDOG), etc.
- Document the process on video, still photos, and in the written word, as a model for other projects and neighborhoods. Of course we ourselves will also look at other successful models, and this is how we build community.
In order to secure funding and to keep funds coming, we will need an evaluation component. This would most likely consist of a survey of current users and how they feel about the steps as they now are; do a count of how many people use the steps, and so on. At a certain point after the steps have been transformed (or several points) we would do another evaluation and compare.
The subway elevators, the Trivium, the Pinehurst Steps, Bennett Park, the Lighthouse, Heather Garden, the 190th Street subway terrace, and now the 187th street steps are like dots that connect the community and make it shine. They help make us unique and add immeasurably to our quality of life.
Interested folks may contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.