Bloomberg’s Privatization of the Park: NYU, Tisch, Who Else?

Phase I of the City’s extensive planned “renovation” of Washington Square Park has gone from a projected $6 million to over $13 million. The “renovation’s” TOTAL costs — in two Phases — were stated to be $16 million at the onset (an excessive sum to begin with) but are now lurching upwards to $25-30 million.

Where will the money come from? Since most everyone believes that Washington Square Park could manage with a few repairs on a relatively minor budget, it seems like a tailor made scheme for future privatization of the Park.

Of course, the elephant in the room is New York University whose advertising pitches and promotional materials all feature Washington Square Park’s Arch (a public space, last we checked) larger than life. On the subway the other day, I saw five ads across the car for NYU’s School of Continuing Professional Studies — the Arch was bigger than anything else in the ad.

NYU is throwing in $1 million thus far for the “renovation” of the Park despite their insistence that they are “not involved.” We received a copy of a letter the University sent from their Community Affairs office to their “neighbors” recently. It stated that “the University believes it (the Park) has been in need of renovation for some time” … “though NYU had no hand in the specifics of the Park’s redesign.” ??

With the Tisch Family providing $2.5 million towards the reconstruction of the historic circular fountain — guaranteeing them the naming rights, thereby “officially” renamed TISCH FOUNTAIN with a plaque on each side — NYU’s $1 million(a small sum, for them, towards this spot that they use in all their advertising and as the site of their graduation ceremonies), will the city ultimately – with costs skyrocketing out of control – commission other corporate naming rights within the Park? (The Walmart Garibaldi Statue perhaps?)

Now, I realize Mayor Bloomberg would not have a problem with this, but I do. I don’t want every last inch of public space corporatized and particularly not Washington Square Park.

Other questions: Will the City set up a Conservancy and further privatize the park enabling them to hold exclusive ticketed events? Will they close off the Park to the public which, of course, will be easier once they erect their proposed four foot fence?

Advertisements

Jane Jacobs

In 1961, Jane Jacobs released The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Jane Jacobs had already made a name for herself as a community activist in the West Village.

At one point, the Washington Square Park Arch had cars running around – and through – it. Jacobs was involved with others in ending this. (See photo: Arch from 1955. Note cars.)

In her groundbreaking book on how we view planning of cities, she writes of NYC’s recurring plans to play around with Washington Square Park: “The city officials regularly concoct improvement schemes by which this center within the park would be sown to grass and flowers and surrounded by a fence. The invariable phrase to describe this is, ‘restoring the land to park use.’ That is a different form of park use, legitimate in places. But for neighborhood parks, the finest centers are stage settings for people.”

Forty seven years later, the city is bent on destroying Jacobs’ vision of what makes a successful public park.

Look who didn’t sign off on Parks Department plans

When the City puts together a plan to, say, redesign a park, they put out something called a Bid Document. This is the actual plan and is signed off on by numerous parties within the appropriate agency. In this case it is the City of New York Parks & Recreation Department. This page of the Bid document outlines the number of trees scheduled to be cut down (up to 16! just in the northwest quadrant). There’s something interesting about this Bid Document. You will see the “designer” George Vellonakis signed off, “team leader” signed off, “director” approved it, Chief of Design, and Chief Engineer signed off. Then there is the box for the Forestry Department on a drawing titled “Staging and Tree Protection Plan.” forestrydept.pngThat box is empty. — The Forestry Department oversees the trees. Why didn’t the Forestry Department sign off on the plan to cut down the trees, and what does this mean, if anything, for the City’s plans?

More trees hit chopping block.

tree1.png11 trees have been cut down thus far — the two most recent were chopped down on Monday, February 25th, 2008 after a brief hiatus.

Washington Square Park – NYC

Trees that line the fountain – now gone.

Fountain – now dismantled.

Why do the City and the Mayor want to change every last thing that works (and people love) about this Park?

The magical park

When I first got involved with what was going on at Washington Square Park, someone referred to the park as “magical.” It took me awhile to see that. Certainly… I’d been to Washington Square Park over the years. I’d sat and listened to music or watched strange happenings within the fountain. I’d marveled at the almost laid back ’60’s bohemian feeling it retained which co-existed amongst college students, chess players, old-timers, newbies, dog walkers, families, tourists. Every type person coexists and intermingles within Washington Square Park.

My renewed interest in the Park, in relation to the massive changes and radical overhaul the City has planned for it, occurred late last year initially out of concern for the cutting down of the trees and what that would mean for the wildlife in the Park.

As I looked closer, I realized what was going to be taken away by these mysterious, suddenly “necessary” changes — changes that would affect the whole essence of the Park … the things that make it work… those inexplicable factors which make it such a special place for so many people. To want to change that seemed to me an extension of the long arm of gentrification and homogenization of our city by our current Mayor, Mayor Bloomberg.

Then, it became even more important to oppose these changes and advocate for something different. This blog is my attempt to document what I’ve learned in a short time and share that information.