When the pandemic began in 2020, Rhoda Dunn, a Compass broker, was one of the many volunteers schlepping barricades into the middle of 34th Avenue in Jackson Heights to limit cars from entering the road. It was part of the city’s then-burgeoning Open Streets program, which designated certain roadways as car-free spaces for play and exercise. 34th Avenue, which is mostly home to residential buildings and a handful of schools, quickly became the city’s longest Open Street, which Dunn herself often runs and cycles on.
In 2022, when the city advanced a “Paseo Park” makeover that cemented the corridor as a permanent pedestrian-only boulevard, Dunn considered it a “big plus” for her work. Her listings, like one for an airy co-op on 80th Street, started to sound like this: “You’re just inches from the 26-block-long 34th Avenue Open Street, including a permanent pedestrian plaza and wide bike lanes.”
“There’s no better selling day for me than Sunday,” Dunn told me. That’s the day when the weekend farmers’ market at Travers Park overlaps with the Open Street, with kid-friendly events and activities like dance classes and races taking place out in the wide lane. For young families, who make up the bulk of Dunn’s clients, it looks pretty appealing. “It’s like, ‘Oh my God, this is a lively, fabulous neighborhood,’” she said.
It’s a departure from the hostility directed at the program since its early days. Opponents like the Jackson Heights Coops Alliance and some members of local community boards said the program would depress property values, snarl traffic, and block emergency vehicles. Critics sent letters and emails to elected officials, saying that it discriminated against New Yorkers with disabilities and predicting that it would draw illegal street vendors and more homeless people to these areas. One neighbor even said the granite sitting blocks which line 34th Avenue resembled a “fortress-style Berlin Wall.” Across the city, lawsuits and occasional interference from deep inside City Hall have challenged the program’s implementation.
But now Open Streets have entered their real-estate amenity era, where they are placed on par with parks and subway stops. And Dunn isn’t the only one who’s noticed. Other listings mention the “gold standard of Open Streets” — which 34th Avenue is often called— early on in their copy. It’s also a neighborhood highlight for StreetEasy. In its list of “NYC Neighborhoods to Watch in 2024,” the site ranked Jackson Heights No. 4, just below Soho’s Hudson Square, and included the Open Street as one of the area’s best features: “In the heart of the neighborhood, residents can enjoy the 34th Avenue Open Street, a 1.3-mile stretch of car-free space (the longest in the city!) with community events all year round.”
Kenny Lee, an economist at StreetEasy, found that the number of sale listings mentioning Open Streets has “steadily increased” since April 2020, when the program began. The mentions hit a high among rental listings in early 2022, which Lee said made sense, since people were still limiting their indoor activity then. But, he said, “Buyers are likely to consider things like the neighborhood and nearby amenities more in-depth than a renter might.”
Recently, Lauren Chao, a broker for Compass, also began adding the Open Street on Berry Street in Williamsburg to her listings. Like Dunn, Chao included it once the Open Street was baked more permanently into the streetscape; last year, planners converted Berry into a “bike boulevard,” slowing down cars by switching up traffic flow at different stretches, daylighting each corner, and adding lots of paint to intersections from the Williamsburg Bridge to McCarren Park. Now, one of Chao’s listings, for a corner condo on North 10th Street, mentions the Open Street as a “quiet refuge.”
On a recent weekend afternoon — peak Open Street hours — Chao showed a two-bedroom property to a client, when Berry was bustling with strollers, runners, deliveristas, bar hoppers, and people going out to eat. “The client commented, ‘Oh, it’s really nice,’” she said. “The idea of cars not driving by on your street feels comforting.” The “town” feel of Berry Street also meshes well with the international profile of many of her prospective buyers from Europe and Asia, where pedestrian spaces or plazas are more common.
Has Chao met a client who has balked at the Open Street or felt buyer’s remorse afterwards? Berry Street does have its fair share of drivers who gripe about having to move barricades to get into the Whole Foods parking garage and routinely ignore the signage to slow down, and Williamsburg seems like it would be a magnet for the SUV-owning class.
But Chao hasn’t seen anyone fazed by it. “A lot of people try not to have a car,” she said. Newer families are looking for space to roam, not park. (Plus, the newer buildings she shows usually have garages.) In her mind, a listing with an Open Street stands out. “People sometimes associate New York City with honking cars in traffic, right?” Chao added. “So it’s highlighting that there are alternatives to that. Especially post-COVID — everyone wants a little more space.”
It’s the same for Rhoda Dunn. In fact, sellers often give her the go-ahead to add the 34th Avenue Open Street to the listing. “You have to think: ‘What does the neighborhood have to offer? What’s going to appeal to the buyers that I’m trying to reach?’ I’d say it’s in the top two or three,” she said.
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