Kensington Plaza is now contested ground, but even so, the two most successful happenings at the 6-month-old Plaza (in front of Walgreens at Beverley Road and Church Avenue) occurred on Saturday, December 15. People started showing up for the first-ever Kensington Community Holiday Sing-Along around 5pm and the singing began in earnest at 5:15pm. At 6pm a vigil – also a first – in commemoration of the 112 garment workers killed in the Bangladesh factory fire took over.
Sponsored by 10 local businesses, including five located on Kensington Plaza, the Sing-Along featured Windsor Terrace singer/keyboardist Erin Blatti (pictured above). Under Blatti’s direction, the carolers sang as they sipped hot chocolate and cider. Among the Plaza businesses that contributed were Denny’s Pub, Walgreens, Hair Pleasure, Fox Driving School, TDS Insurance, To Be Thai, and New McDonald Fruit.
Meanwhile, loudspeakers were going up for the vigil on the west side of the Plaza. Members of the NY Taxi Workers Alliance, DRUM (Desis Rising Up and Moving), NY Communities for Change, Make the Road NY, Occupy Kensington, and others were milling about, posing with their signs as they waited for the speeches to begin.
Councilmember Brad Lander, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (all shown above), and Mamnunul Haq, the vigil organizer, a community board member, and one of the founders of the Taxi Workers, spoke. Then everyone lit candles for a moment of silence. It was over by 7:30pm. The 66th Precinct had issued a sound permit for the loudspeakers; Detective Mike Milici and Sgt. Michael Andreano, NYPD Community Affairs officers, were at the plaza during the evening’s events, but that did not forestall a 911 complaint about noise.
In what appeared to be part of her ongoing campaign against the plaza, Dorothy Ryan, a neighbor, appeared at Community Board 12’s monthly meeting the following Tuesday, December 18. About a month ago, Ms. Ryan had filed petitions with the CB12 Transportation Committee to remove the Plaza’s four benches. Now she told the Board how noisy the vigil was, that “lots” of people were there, and that it went on too late.
Ms. Ryan has proposed a dusk curfew be instituted at the Plaza, although Denny’s Pub is open until 4am, Walgreens until 10pm, and New McDonald Fruit 24/7. Moreover, long before the benches were installed at the Plaza, one often saw neighborhood men standing on the sidewalk at McDonald Avenue near the F train exit talking with friends until midnight – right around the corner from where the Plaza is now. Their presence had an unexpected benefit: that corner was safe. They were its eyes and ears.
Last Tuesday, in a surprise move, Transportation Committee member Jacque Friedman proposed removing two benches: the one directly in front of Ms. Ryan’s front door – near Denny’s – and another. The committee, however, had voted on this very issue less than two weeks earlier, on Thursday, December 6, choosing to postpone a final decision about the benches until April to see if the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) new “no smoking” signs would relieve Kensington Plaza of smokers and secondhand smoke, the most critical point raised by Ms. Ryan’s petition.
Was the new “noise” issue simply a pretext that allowed Mr. Friedman to plow into a settled issue and scoop out the benches immediately? Ms. Ryan was delighted with the final outcome. After complicated parliamentary maneuvers to undo the earlier decision, the Board voted to recommend that the DOT take out the offending benches.