Union Square Park and Greenmarket
14th Street and Broadway
New York, NY
Contributed by Project for Public Spaces
Three-square-block urban park that hosts a year-round, open-air farmers market four times a week.
Once a major hub of activity in New York City, Union Square Park had fallen into disrepair by the 1970s and was widely considered to be unsafe. In 1976, the Union Square Greenmarket began setting up on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays in the parking lot surrounding the park. Though this was not a traditional use for parks, the Greenmarket established a physical presence that drew residents to buy the produce trucked in from farms throught the region. It prompted positive activity around the park from early morning until afternoon. A special Holiday Market operates at end of each year, featuring crafts and gift items selected on the basis of uniqueness and design quality.
In the early 1980s, the market's popularity helped lead to a multimillion-dollar renovation of the park, and a management district was also established in the area. This resulted in an improvement of the neighborhood itself, with the Greenmarket serving as its hub. The market draws visitors to the park and new residents to nearby housing; it has even spurred the development of new restaurants specializing in cuisine prepared with fresh, seasonal ingredients.
Market days draw tens of thousands of people; some just browse, enjoying a leisurely stroll past the vendors, perusing the merchandise. Since the market is not a high-pressure retail environment, it allows people to be comfortable. Vitality and community, long absent, can again be found in and near Union Square, even on days when the market is not operating.
History & Background
When it was conceived in 1811 (as Union Place), Union Square was envisioned as a physical link between Broadway and the Bowery. Because that link was never realized (Broadway and the Bowery are separated by Fourth Avenue), the square's birth was delayed until 1831, when the park was laid out. Union Square enjoyed a brief heyday during the 1840s and early 1850s, when it was surrounded by the homes of fashionable socialites; by 1855, however, the new trend in the area was toward tenement development and commercialism. Rich residents left, but prestigious institutions such as the Academy of Music, Steinway Hall, and the Union Square Theatre remained, at least for a time. By the 1970s, however, Union Square was playing host to drug dealers and other "undesirables."
In 1976, Barry Benepe chose Union Square as the site for the second Greenmarket, with several goals: bringing high-quality produce to New York; protecting the viability of local small farms; and strengthening the community by forging bonds between farmers and consumers and local residents. By forming a coalition of producers and working with a number of New York City agencies (the Council on the Environment and the Departments of Planning and Parks and Recreation), the Greenmarket has helped considerably to revitalize Union Square. Greenmarket utilizes a state-sponsored coupon program to assist low-income people with food purchases, thereby including them in the community attracted by the market.
- The World's Best and Worst Parks - Union Square is on PPS's list of the best squares and plazas in the world