Neighbors on Laight organize to bring back street trees

During the pandemic, Laight Street resident Jared Sheer noticed there were nine empty tree pits around the Holland Tunnel rotary along Laight, Hudson and Varick. So he mapped them out and got to calling 311 and the city to see if they could be replaced. No luck.

The Parks Department will replace street trees, he learned, but there is such a backlog it takes up to two years to get one. Then he read about an effort to redesign the rotary by architects Dasha Khapalova and Peter Ballman, and roped them in. Between the three of them, they contacted eight local buildings, raised $12,000 from neighbors and the Port Authority, and fast-tracked the Parks Department’s tree planting schedule.

He also now has the makings of what I would call a robust block association on the connected blocks of Laight and Vestry east of Hudson.

“I thought there would be some aligned interest to do something like this,” Shear said. “Now we have eight buildings talking to each other and we’re organized, so maybe it’s an opportunity to address some other issues.”

Neighbors dug three of the trees pits on Saturday and planted flowers in planters on the Hudson Street side. This week, a contractor will come to remove the dead trees in other empty pits, dig three entirely new tree pits into some stretches of sidewalk and plant new trees for a total of 12.

The Parks Department chose 5-year-old Heritage Oaks, which they are using more frequently (they now make up 13 percent of street trees) for their hardy nature and low pollen count; and Hackberry, which has a small fruit that birds love.

The Rotary Park creators — an Ithaca-based husband and wife team — saw this as a first step in making actual plans for the rotary. Their history on the site shows that in 1800, it was developed by Trinity Church as a park surrounding St. John’s Chapel; in 1866, Cornelius Vanderbilt bought the site and built a freight depot over the park, destroying 200 trees in the process. (The depot was leveled in the 1920s and the rotary was constructed in the 1960s.) Ballman and Khapalova have started an effort to replant those 200 trees in the city; Saturday’s planting represented the first dozen.

This year they hope to get more attention for their plans for the park, even if from afar. They have been plugging at it for three years so far, and continue to gain a little traction each year.

“This is 4.5 acres of open space that is totally unused in a city that is starved for open space,” said Khapalova. “It needs to be done.”

Is there a way congestion pricing could pay for it? Hmm.



  1. This is wonderful; more of this please!

    We’ve been regularly submitting street tree requests with the city (via 311). The more residents that do so, the more likely we’ll (eventually) start to build a decent canopy (and/or greenery via planters w small trees, for those sidewalks not suitable for street trees) in TriBeCa, and in particular the concrete-heavy southern/eastern portion of the neighborhood.

    FWIW, Hudson Square’s BID has done a tremendous job w the streetscaping along Hudson north of Canal.

    • Yes, they have planted 500 trees — literally.

    • I’ve been doing the same! Submitted 311 requests in that area of Laight Street multiple times. Another great candidate for more trees, which I’ve requested, is Hudson between N. Moore & Duane—very wide sidewalks, lots of sun, and not a tree in sight.

      The 311 app is an amazing resource.

  2. Bravo! great work.

  3. I love the idea of the Holland Tunnel rotary park!

  4. Regarding tree planting: The developer of one Franklin Street (?) the newish brick building on the east side of 6th ave between Franklin and White promised to develop that triangle bordered by those streets and Church in exchange for certain building concessions. The design was submitted about 5 years ago. No one seems to be forcing them to make good on their promise.

    Am I right about this? Does anyone know what’s going on with this? We need more greenery especially where the traffic for the the Tunnel backs up on a daily basis.

    • You are right and it is on my list. CB1 is also involved. The developer is not easy to reach, however.

      • Isn’t this something that Council Member Marte should focus on? He needs to lean in on this one and do something for our community if he wants to get re-elected in the future. All eyes on him to see if he has any ability to actually get things done.

    • Department of Transportation and Department of Parks should be pushed for answers.

      From: ManhattanBC_DM
      To: ‘james.bogardus’
      Sent: Monday, July 27, 2020, 11:37:32 AM EDT
      Subject: DOT-465549-Y1X4 ACK

      Dear Mr. Bogardus,

      The Department of Transportation is in receipt of your web-form dated July 26, 2020 concerning

      The “Church & White Plaza” in Manhattan on Church Street between Franklin Street and White Street that was approved in 2015 for DDG Foundation as a giveback for its variance at 100 Franklin Street. Their building is complete, but they have not funded the public plaza work. Would you please look into this?

      We will respond to your request with our findings and your case # DOT-465549-Y1X4.

      Thank you for writing concerning this matter.

      From, queried today:

      Case Number DOT-465549-Y1X4
      General Topic Pedestrian Plaza Programs
      Issue Other
      Status Active
      Resolution Click here to Follow this Case and be notified when it is resolved.

  5. I’m all for trees and would love to get involved as a long time resident of Hudson and Laight St. but a park in the middle of the rotary? Who wants to sit in the middle of all that traffic?

  6. We need oversight to make Hudson Street safer. The traffic has become lawless and dangerous.
    Trees are great, but safety is more important.

    • I love trees, absolutely but couldn’t agree more re; traffic. It’s horrible and dangerous for adults and kids. I have spoken briefly to CM who says congestion pricing is happening. WHEN?? It should help a little but we need real help.

  7. What a wonderful initiative! I live Warren and Greenwich, after scaffolding off our side walk has no trees on Greenwich side. I wi def reach out 311 to push, but I would love to expand ideas to community donation and maybe we can do something faster (per unit 30-50 usd we CBD get it done) can you share with me Jared Sheer contact then we can reach out to him to get tips and nurseries contacts etc? Thank you very much!

  8. Has there been any updates here?