The idea came to Gustavo Ajche during the pandemic. As a food-delivery worker, the virus had not just forced him to keep working when it was dangerous, but had also taken away the few spaces where he could get out of the elements and take a break, like the atrium at 60 Wall Street, long a favorite spot for him and other deliveristas. One morning in late 2020, Ajche was walking down 86th Street with Ligia Guallpa, the head of the Worker’s Justice Project, when they passed an abandoned newsstand. He wondered aloud if they could be repurposed as delivery-worker shelters. But Guallpa was doubtful; Ajche recalls her saying, “With the Parks Department, it’s not that easy to get space from them, so don’t think about that.”
But on Monday, officials announced that New York City will receive a $1 million federal grant to start turning vacant newsstands into hubs for delivery workers. For Ajche, who was at the press announcement, the most exciting thing wasn’t standing next to Mayor Eric Adams or Senator Chuck Schumer, who had joined the deliveristas for a much-publicized bike ride a year ago and promised to get the funding for the hubs. It was the presence of Sue Donoghue, the commissioner of the Parks Department. “She was there, standing with us. It makes me think nothing is impossible,” he said.
It was yet another victory for Los Deliveristas Unidos, a WJP-backed collective of delivery workers which Ajche founded in 2020. In its brief existence, it’s already achieved major policy wins, like the package of major delivery-industry reforms they got passed in the City Council, which included a minimum base pay and a right to use restaurants’ bathrooms. Creating delivery-worker hubs had become a major goal for the group since the beginning.
The first hub will repurpose a large newsstand in front of City Hall and start taking shape within the next couple of months, said Hildalyn Colón Hernández, Deliveristas Unidos’s policy director. While the precise details of the hubs are still being ironed out, the City Hall–adjacent one will be designed to provide shelter for workers to get out of the rain and snow and recharge their bikes and phones. Colón Hernández told me that workers chose the site by aggregating data that they’ve been collecting on Driver’s Seat, a worker-owned, worker-focused app that allows gig workers to track their movements through their day. The app revealed hotspots near City Hall where deliveristas spend a lot of time waiting, and the data will be used to choose upcoming sites as well, she said.
Colón Hernández said the workers had originally proposed using parking spaces to build a series of low-cost, removable worker hubs next to restaurants. But when they shared the plan at a meeting with Schumer and city officials over the summer, it was the city that suggested the concession stands. “We were like, ‘Oh, that makes sense,’” Colón Hernández said. There are about 400 of these structures across the city, with obvious advantages: They sit in high-traffic areas, have an established permitting system, and perhaps most importantly — are already connected to electricity. That should ease the burden on workers’ private residences, where battery fires have been increasing, leading NYCHA to propose a ban on e-bikes altogether.
The parking-space hubs are still on the table, though no agreement for them has been reached yet. But drafts of those designs offer us a first glimpse of how they could change New York City’s streets. In a rendering by designer J. Manuel Mansylla of Fantástica Brooklyn, the hubs appear simple and utilitarian. They have bar-height wooden countertops and a small bench installed directly on top of three jersey barriers arranged in the shape of a letter “C,” surrounding a wooden platform that opens onto the sidewalk. Two metal bike racks are attached to the outside of the structure, which is topped by a roof that could include a solar panel to provide energy for e-bike and phone charging.
Mansylla told me the parking-space shelters would give workers a place to charge their equipment while waiting for orders, an idea he started thinking about in 2021 when he was commissioned to design an outdoor dining shed for Daily Provisions (he’s now working for Los Deliveristas pro bono). The logic behind placing them in the street is to ease tensions between delivery workers waiting for orders, customers, and pedestrians jostling for space in front of New York’s busiest restaurants. Mansylla also thinks these parking space shelters shouldn’t be restricted to delivery workers, but would be shared with the public — anyone could rest and recharge there. It would be a way to build upon one of the key urban-design lessons of the pandemic: that “the city did not collapse by allowing more parklets to live on the street,” he said. Mansylla believes these shelters would serve a greater purpose than outdoor dining sheds, which only benefit restaurant patrons (“that’s why everybody else hates them”). Of course, they would likely upset residents who just want free parking space for their cars.
But there’s one element that’s conspicuously missing from both the newsstand and the parking-space hubs: bathrooms. It’s a limitation workers have been forced to accept for now, as many city newsstands are just too small, Ajche said. The problem is somewhat mitigated by the delivery bills passed in 2021, which require restaurants to let workers use their bathrooms. But not all restaurants have been complying, and it’s an issue “that we need to continue to fight about,” Colón Hernández said.
A partial solution will be the expansion of the Worker’s Justice Project’s Williamsburg worker center, which will be funded by the money left over from the federal grant, depending on how many hubs get built. The hope is to triple the center’s size to as much as 3,000 square feet, Colón Hernández said. In addition to more bathrooms, the renovated space will include a training center and event space, as the group continues to grow.
Ajche said that as more people become gig workers, the need for support infrastructure has become glaringly obvious. “It’s really, really crazy. These apps hire more workers every day. There are corners that a year ago, you’d never see a person standing there with a bicycle or waiting for delivery. Now you’ll see little groups in different areas.” That’s why he thinks the first hub can’t come soon enough — and hopes many more will follow. That, of course, depends on whether more funding comes through, though nothing has been announced so far. “This is something that needs to get into the city,” he said. “We’re gonna be here for a while.”
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