The Moment I Fell In Love With Public Space by William Lewis

The moment occurred at Astor Place under the heaviest of skies on April 22, 2017. Along with many others, I was saturated by relentless rain, buffeted by bitter wind, shaking with coldness. We were standing, listening to the soaring voices of the Bowery Poetry Slam Team, the power of their words stopping strangers, friends, and passers-by to listen and watch. I intensely observed this diverse group of cold, wet people, fascinated by how spontaneously they interacted and bonded, brought together by a poetry performance, facilitated by a well-designed public space.

This was the moment when I realized the power and social value of well-planned urban spaces and parks to connect people, from all social and ethnic spectrums, without boundaries. I sensed the capacity of public spaces to aid social cohesion and improve quality of life. So began my fascination with public spaces and parks, and my quest to understand the critical importance of urban planning and design.

In my role as Marketing and Events Director for the Village Alliance Business Improvement District, I create public and community programming to activate public spaces in Greenwich Village and Astor Place. These projects bring me immense personal satisfaction.

The underlying principles, ethos, and spirit with which I approach the Astor Place plaza activation projects fundamentally changed on that cold, wet April afternoon. With my new sense of the importance and power of public spaces, also came a heightened sense of responsibility to activate the plazas sympathetically. It became my mission to ensure they were places of true social value and sustainability, places for community engagement and inclusion, with programs that celebrated the rich character of the local East Village neighborhood.

 Astor Place. Image courtesy of WXY Associates

Astor Place. Image courtesy of WXY Associates

Understanding the nuances of how the plazas worked, I developed a summer of successful community plaza activations, which included silent discos with hundreds of people dancing into the night, daytime family arts and crafts workshops, music and performing arts festivals, story sharing platforms, and much more.

Watching the plazas successfully host these events, working as vibrant public spaces, connecting people in happy interactions that celebrated their community, the city, and life, made me realize how much I love public space. It was the moment I fell in love.

 The Astor Alive Festival. Photo: Ian Douglas

The Astor Alive Festival. Photo: Ian Douglas

Made on 8th Street - Don Borelli and the Arts & Crafts Beer Parlor by William Lewis

For Arts & Crafts Beer Parlor co-owner, Don Borelli, bad guys and bad beer have two things in common, the world is not big enough for either, let alone both. So, he made it his life’s mission to deal with both!

After twenty-five years as an FBI agent hunting down international criminals, terrorists and other (redacted!) individuals across the U.S. and Middle East, then security consulting; it was time for some good guys, time for something different, “less hostility, more hospitality”, Don explained. It was time to open a craft beer bar!

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A Coffee & Literary Icon - Stumptown Coffee; Greenwich Village by William Lewis

In the 1950s, Greenwich Village was the epicenter of the “Beat Generation,” the literary movement led by novelists Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs, and poet Allen Ginsberg. The Beats debated and created in Greenwich Village’s coffee houses and bookshops, including the iconic Eighth Street Bookshop where Allen Ginsberg first met Bob Dylan. That space is today home to Stumptown Coffee.

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Storm Chasers at the Arts & Crafts Beer Parlor - Greenwich Village by William Lewis

There’s two types of “storm chaser”, those that go headlong into powerful, awe-inspiring weather systems and those who appreciate the power of abstract art, creativity and eclecticism. On a calm and warm mid-October evening, it was the latter type of storm chaser, which converged on West 8th Street's Arts & Crafts Beer Parlor, to celebrate the launch of their latest art exhibit, created by Storm Ritter!

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The Magic of West 8th Street is Alive! by William Lewis

“I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring” said David Bowie who recorded his first No1 U.S. single, “Fame”, at the legendary Electric Lady Studios on West 8th Street.

If West 8th Street could express itself in words, it would perhaps choose ones similar to Bowie’s to reflect upon its own journey and destiny. There are, of course, many forms of expression and West 8th Street remains one of New York City’s most inventive streets, from its rich cultural history to the energetic, hugely talented people who today own and run the street's thriving independent businesses, and who keep the street’s magic very much alive!! To understand 8th Street’s journey, and far from boring destiny, it is important to understand its recent times.

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Thousands "Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out" at Astor Alive! by William Lewis

“Turn on, tune in, drop out”, was the phrase that came to symbolize the counterculture movement of musicians, actors, and activists which emerged during the 1967 “Summer of Love”. That same year, the iconic “Alamo” sculpture, “the Cube”, arrived at Astor Place, the revolutionary Public Theater opened, and St. Mark’s Place became New York’s epicenter of counterculture. Sensing the ripening mood, a February 1967 Daily News headline screamed “East Village Theme Is Now Love and Let Love”, and the East Village was born!

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Why I Agree with Today's Wall Street Journal Editorial, Yet find it Insensitive by William Lewis

Today's The Wall Street Journal blistering editorial really bothers me.

It's assertions are absolutely correct. However, given the President lost his brother to alcoholism I have a real issue with this line...

"Yet the President clings to his assertion like a drunk to an empty gin bottle".

It is well documented that Trump was significantly affected by his brothers alcoholism and death, and because of what he witnessed, is tee-total. They were very close.

I am deeply troubled by every aspect of the Trump presidency, and the very low standards of decency and ethics it displays, which were prevalent from the moment Trump began his campaign.

However, it is exceptionally important that standards of decency and respect are upheld in journalism and society if we're to rise back up. It all too often seems we're casually losing those standards. So it worries me to see an editorial board such as the Wall Street Journal display such crass insensitivity, even if the context of the editorial is correct. In this case, Trump can be afforded the right to be angry and upset with this piece of insensitve journalism. 

It sets a poor lead for the rest of us to follow. The mantra of "when they go low, we go high", too often seems to have been easily forgotten.