Frederick Douglass Circle, a dangerous traffic intersection at the northwest corner of Central Park, has been an eyesore since the 1940′s. In 1993, residents from an adjacent housing complex approached the Central Park Conservancy (CPC) for help in developing a new design to transform the traffic circle into a memorial to Frederick Douglass. The Conservancy sought funding and formed a community advisory committee of neighborhood residents and a steering committee of design professionals, and representatives from the relevant city agencies to organize a five part series of public planning events to garner public support and participation in a community design workshop. The events included a site visit and meetings to discuss issues, an actual workshop to develop plans for the Circle, and an exhibit of community designs with discussions around issues related to transportation, urban design, and public art. A design working group of design professionals, artists, neighborhood residents, Conservancy designers, and a traffic engineer produced a final plan incorporating ideas from the community design process. A presentation of the design to the community will follow after city agency review. Initial funding for the traffic / transportation element of the project has been secured through ISTEA. The city will be responsible for construction of the project.

Proposed Plans for Frederick Douglass Circle. The proposed design includes a traffic circle and a plaza. The plaza includes seating; vendor stalls at the north east corner of the site that will include the selling of books as part of the tribute of Frederick Douglass, who was an orator and writer; a circle for quiet reflection; a water channel; planting; and a monument to Frederick Douglass.

Frederick Douglass Circle: Step By Step Master Planning Process

  1. In 1993, the Central Park Conservancy was approached by local residents who live in a housing complex facing the park (Tower on the Park) for help in approaching the city to find out about the city’s plans to redesign FDC at the northwest corner of the Park. While plans to renovate Frederick Douglass Circle were promised to residents as an incentive to move into the building, work had not been started. Residents asked for the Central Park Conservancy’s help in redesigning and transforming the barren traffic circle into a dynamic memorial to Frederick Douglass. The city said that they did not have any funding for the project, but if the Central Park Conservancy would develop a design, the city might be able to get funding.
  2. CPC sought funding for planning and received $30,000 from the Urban Development Corporation (now the Empire State Development Corporation); $5,000 from the New York State Council on the Arts; and $5,000 from the Manhattan Borough President.
  3. In 1995, the Central Park Conservancy formed a community advisory committee of residents to organize a series of public planning events to get people involved in a community design process.
  4. The community advisory committee organized a site visit and open house for neighborhood residents, city representatives, designers, planners, and architects to inform people about the project, view Frederick Douglass Circle, find out how the circle was used and invite opinions.
  5. A steering committee of professionals was then formed with city representatives, designers, architects, landscape architects, traffic experts, and politicians that met regularly and facilitated work on the project.
  6. Surveys of neighborhood residents in the area were conducted by a graduate student and residents to identify issues of concern, ideas for the redevelopment of the site, and how to memorialize Frederick Douglass at the site.
  7. Neighborhood residents presented and discussed issues of concern and ideas for redevelopment in a community design symposium with designers, planners, architects, residents and city agency representatives at the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture. Discussions also took place about how to memorialize Frederick Douglass with the use of public art.
  8. An all day community design workshop was held at City College School of Architecture that was open to everyone interested (participants included merchants, residents, property owners, architects, landscape architects, artists, writers, historians, students and city representatives). The workshop included hands-on activities, including three dimensional environmental simulation computer technology provided by the New School for Social Research’s Environmental Simulation Center, to help develop plans for the Circle’s redesign.
  9. An exhibit of the planning process and the designs developed at the community design workshop was held in Central Park’s Charles A. Dana Discovery Center.
  10. In conjunction with the exhibit, two symposia: Transportation and Urban Design; and Public Art and Memorialization were held at the Smithsonian’s Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum to provide a public forum to discuss functional issues that affect the intersection and aesthetic issues that affect the design of the circle. The Transportation and Urban Design symposium brought together transportation planners, urbanists and community leaders to debate and educate the public on how to create a safe environment for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians while creating a distinguished urban design. The Public Art and Memorialization symposium brought together public art experts, artists, historians, and community members to explore the question “Who was Frederick Douglass and how he should be memorialized and honored”. These symposia addressed the ideas that came out of the community design workshop.
  11. At the suggestion of Project for Public Spaces (PPS), the Central Park Conservancy applied for funding to investigate the design viability and develop final design drawings to the U.S. National Livable Communities Grant Program and received $140,000 as one of five demonstration projects in the United States.
  12. During the summer of 1996, the CPC hired a transportation engineer and developed together with a design working group of design professionals, artists, neighborhood residents, and Conservancy designers (meeting every other week) a final design based on the common elements that had emerged from the plans developed at the community design workshop.
  13. The proposed design includes a traffic circle and a plaza. The plaza includes seating; vendor stalls at the north east corner of the site that will include the selling of books as part of the tribute of Frederick Douglass, who was an orator and writer; a circle for quiet reflection; a water channel; planting; and a monument to Frederick Douglass.
  14. The preliminary technical design plan of the traffic circle was submitted to the NYC Department of Transportation for review. NYC DOT subsequently requested further traffic analysis to be done to determine how the proposed design would impact traffic flow and congestion.
  15. The traffic impact analysis is scheduled to begin during the Fall of 1998.
  16. Once NYC DOT approves the project, the plan must be approved by the NYC Department of City Planning, the NYC Landmarks Commission, the NYC Art Commission and various community board and tenant associations.
  17. The project will be presented to the broader community to inform them of the progression of the plan and to garner additional support and enthusiasm.
  18. Funding for the traffic /transportation element of the project ($9 million) has been secured through ISTEA monies by Congressman Rangel. Construction and management of the project will be the responsibility of the city (NYCDOT).
  19. Responsibility for maintenance and management of the circle has not been determined as of yet.

Plan courtesy Central Park Conservancy