Village Voice on Balloon Protest

See Village Voice article here.

(They link to our blog entry on Bloomberg/NYU/Tisch Privatization of the Park within the story.)

Report back from Washington Sq Park Balloon Protest 3/13


Yesterday’s Balloon Protest organized by NYU Theatre students was a big success! It was colorful and upbeat while simultaneously providing a platform for people to express their outrage over the City’s domineering plans for the “renovation” of Washington Square Park. The eight hour event brought attention to the issue to many people strolling by who weren’t aware of what was transpiring behind the fenced off Northwest Quadrant.

While I did not see any balloons in SUPPORT of the City’s plans for the Park, here are some of the sentiments expressed:

“I wish we respected the history and beauty of imperfection a little more.”

“I miss my fountain.”

“This is not WashingTisch Square Park.”

“Since when has Greenwich Village been symmetrical?”

“Stop killing trees.”

“You took our park. I’ll remember this when the revolution comes.”

“Don’t gentrify the park.”

“Mayor Bloom-iani commits arborcide.”

“It’s getting more fascist by the day.”

“I’m tired of walking around the Park instead of through it.”

“The renovation is a waste of energy, money, material and TIME.”

“My tuition money went to this? I want a refund.”

“We liked the Park just fine. Thank you.”

“Did you think about the squirrels?”

“Who’s going to take responsibility when the trees start dying?”

“I have nowhere to perform. Thanks for ruining my career.”

“I didn’t go to NYU for 4 years to graduate at fucking Yankee Stadium.”

“Not all change is good change.”

“While we’re at it why don’t we move the Statue of Liberty and Times Square?”

“Let it be.”

View some photos from the event, here.

Contact NYC elected officials re: Washington Sq Park

Now is a good time to contact the New York City Council as they prepare for hearings next week on the Parks Department Preliminary Budget!

The Parks Department needs further oversight by the New York City Council. The Washington Square Park “renovation” alone has skyrocketed from $16 million to $25-30 million, an outrageous figure. We’re alarmed that the city is using this radical and unnecessary overhaul (and the rising cost) as a backdoor method to privatization of the Park. Everyone agrees that the Parks Department let Washington Square Park fall into disrepair and that the Park needs some repair. It does NOT need a redesign which reduces the public gathering space, relocates and gives naming rights of the historic fountain (to the Tisch Family after they contributed $2.5 million to the Mayor’s Fund), and moves virtually every piece of this successful Park into a new location. 11 trees have been cut down thus far for this folly. As a great public space (see Project for Public Spaces study of Washington Square Park), what is the reason for this outrageous redesign?

A responsible budget by the Parks Department would allow for Washington Square Park to be modestly repaired while allocating funds to Parks throughout the five boroughs in communities that desperately need the attention.

For other problems with the Parks Department, refer to this previous entry.

Contact: Helen Foster (Chair of the Parks Committee of the City Council) #718/588-7500; fax# 718/588-7790; email: foster@council.nyc.ny.us; Alan Gerson (City Council representative for Greenwich Village, member Parks Committee) #212/788-7722; fax #212/788-7727; email: gerson@council.nyc.ny.us; Christine Quinn(City Council Speaker): #212/564-7757; fax #212/564-7347; email: cquinn@council.nyc.ny.us

** Pictures coming from 3/13 Balloon Protest! **

note: CLICK on the photo above for more detail. It shows the Arch minus the Fountain (the two had been standing together OVER one hundred years). The fountain area is all torn up.

What makes a great public space?

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A study of Washington Square Park in 2005 by the Project for Public Spaces concluded:

“Washington Square Park is one of the best known and best-loved destinations in New York City. And as a neighborhood park and civic gathering place, it may be one of the great public spaces in the world. Anyone who visits the park and who looks at how people use it can confirm in just a few minutes that it has nearly all of the key attributes of a great public space. … Its success can also be measured by other indicators such as the amount of affection that is being displayed, its overall comfort and feeling of being safe, the level of stewardship, and the way that people engage in different activities at very close range and interact with each other easily.”

This leads to only one question : Why is the city putting forth a radical redesign of Washington Square Park, a great public space?

More on this to follow.

Take Flight: Balloon Protest @ Washington Sq Park Thurs March 13th



In the Inbox, we got news of an action NYU students are putting together for THIS Thursday, March 13th, inviting EVERYONE across the city to come by and express your thoughts & concerns about the City’s “renovation” of Washington Square Park.

This is an all day event —
Thursday, March 13th * 12 noon to 8 p.m.

Come out and show your support for the Park and this creative action. See what is actually going on at this beloved Park, shut down behind gates and amidst bulldozers.

From the organizers:

“Do you have an opinion about the destruction and redesign of Washington Square Park? think it’s a tragedy? an outrage? a great idea? Come express that opinion in a quick but effective way.

This Thursday, March 13th, Washington Square Park is going to be filled with more than a thousand multi-colored helium balloons, each bearing the opinion of a Village resident, visitor or student about the destruction and redesign of the park.

Participants are given a balloon, asked to write their thoughts about the changes to WSP on the balloon, then carry it into the park, tie it to something and leave it.

At 8pm, a group of organizers and volunteers will sweep through the park popping all the balloons and removing them, leaving nothing behind.

Come by on Thursday and speak your mind, make a statement, show the Parks Department that this space is our space and that we have something to say. The powers that be have been playing deaf to the voice of the public. We aim to see if they’ll play blind as well.

We’re calling the event: ‘The Washington Square Park Blow Job.’ ”

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Clever, eh?

Two locations to pick up a balloon:

North-east side of the Park: 11 University Place between East 8th Street & Waverly (trains: N,R to 8th Street/NYU)

South-west side of the Park: Southwest corner/Washington Square So. near MacDougal (trains: A,B,C,D,E,F to W. 4th Street)

Have some time to volunteer?

Contact: andrewbutler at nyu.edu

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**environmental note: no sea turtles or wildlife will be harmed by this action. Tie your balloon tightly to the post — don’t let it go!

Speak Up for the Park(s)-NY City Council Hearings March 19


Mark your calendars …

We want money allocated for Parks in our city.

There has been a 70 percent reduction in personnel at Parks across the City. (What is the real reason the Parks Department loves artificial turf? It doesn’t need weeding by hand – by people.) We want wonderful parks streaming across the five boroughs but we also want OVERSIGHT of what happens at and to those parks.

The Parks Department is an agency of the Mayor’s office. The people only have their say when it’s budget time and are given a chance to come before the NY City Council. Otherwise, we have virtually no leverage. The place where the City Council DOES have oversight (although I would argue they could exhibit a bit more of a hands-on approach vis legislation and hearings) is over the Parks Department budget. Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe has proven that he won’t listen to the people. He’s expert at extending the Mayor’s privatization schemes, removing the grass and replacing it with the controversial artificial turf, selling off park land to corporate interests, and enabling the wealthy to buy the right to put their names on pools, tennis courts, fountains and benches. It’s like “Official Graffiti” — not carved in with a chisel or pen, but screwed into place with a screwdriver and hammer.

The Parks Department has allocated between $25 and $30 million for the smashup of Washington Square Park — almost double what had originally been proposed.

The NY City Council can call for Oversight Hearings and budget reviews. Read previous entry on the problems with the lack of oversight of the Parks Department.

The City Council is set to review the preliminary Parks Department budget on Wednesday, March 19th. It’s a chance for people to have their say about what we think is wrong and what can be improved. Plan to be at City Hall on March 19th at 1 p.m. (11:30 to hear from the Parks Department!) In the meantime, write to your City Council person about this issue.

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PARKS DEPARTMENT PRELIMINARY BUDGET HEARINGS
hosted by Parks & Recreation Committee of New York City Council

Wednesday, March 19th

11:30 a.m. Parks & Recreation Department presents Preliminary Budget to City Council followed by City Council member comments

1:30 p.m. PUBLIC COMMENT

@ New York City Hall – Committee Room
(trains: 4,5,6 to Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall, J/M/Z to Chambers Street.)

Note: This is the PRELIMINARY budget – Final Budget hearings are in May.

Music Jam Fridays at the Park


Do you have a Washington Square Park-related story? I’d like to intersperse the chronicles of the City descending on Washington Square Park with their redesign plans with historical notes and personal stories that might be of interest. Please send to me at cathryn.be at gmail.com.

The Skeletons of Washington Square Park


Washington Square Park “Renovation”
(note: fountain entirely torn up now; trees gone.)

Washington Square Park first came into being as a Park in the 1850’s. It was a Potter’s field (a “common” burial ground) from 1797-1825. It is believed that up to 20,000 people were buried there (and are still there) from that time period.

In mid-to-late January of this year, while excavating the park during their “renovation,” City workers found at least 4 intact skeletons and 70-80 human bones.

Manhattan Borough Parks Commissioner William Castro asserted previously to the community in front of local Community Board 2 – to address concerns about precisely this issue – that the Parks Department would not be digging more than 1-3 feet deep. The city then proceeded to dig from 7 to 11 feet below grade.

The City told the Associated Press in January that the bones would be “analyzed” and “reburied respectfully.”

NYC 24 blog has a new story about the bones resurfacing in Washington Square Park.

And, of course, digging up skeletons can have many meanings. Skeletons ‘of our past’ means interfering with the historical and emotional center of our beings — which is exactly what New York City is attempting to do with their excavation of Washington Square Park.

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As a new blog, word of mouth is very important. We’d like to thank Patti Smith for linking to our site. She asks, “What is happening to OUR Washington Square Park?”

Why Mayor Bloomberg Wants Redesign of Washington Sq Park/NYC

Where to start about NYC Mayor Bloomberg…?

Because of the mainstream media’s general lack of greater scrutiny of Mayor Bloomberg’s actions, the Mayor has almost succeeded in pulling the wool over the eyes of our city.

His initiatives include: taking over control of schools (non-stop ‘testing’) – and then cutting funding from them, privatizing our public parks, eliminating recycling(until activists got on his case, along with the NYC Comptroller), issuing non-stop Tax breaks to billionaire developers and corporations & misusing confiscations through eminent domain so that our city is basically owned by corporate interests and besieged by “luxury” housing. The list goes on and on.

I’m sure if I met Mayor Bloomberg, I’d find him slightly engaging. But we’re not at a society ball. We’re on the precipice of WHAT OUR CITY IS GOING TO LOOK LIKE for the NEXT 30 YEARS and drastic changes are being made with his finger on all the triggers. I could coexist with him if he’d keep on his side of the room. I’d stay on mine. Unfortunately, he OWNS the room. So what then?

Mayor Bloomberg’s imprint is stamped all over what is happening at Washington Square Park. From the complicity of the City Council members (specifically Speaker Christine Quinn and Council Member Alan Gerson – it’s Gerson’s district), to the Landmarks Preservation Commission to the Arts Commission to the Community Board. However, despite the Mayor’s control and wishes, even the local Community Board voted against the Washington Square Park “renovation,” albeit on the third try. Yet, from NYU to the “Tisch Fountain,” Mayor Bloomberg’s privatization agenda looms large.

The “renovation” of Washington Square Park is Bloomberg’s “pet project.” Why? Because Washington Square Park is the antithesis of his vision of New York City — a freewheeling cacophanous non-permitted jumble of free speech, free music, free performance, free political debate – and police cameras all over the place. Washington Square Park houses more surveillance cameras per square foot than any other 9 acre area in NYC. Bloomberg has made no proposal to remove or reduce the surveillance, only the public activities they are surveiling.

Mayor Bloomberg’s lifeline is being a CEO of a corporation. He can pretend he gets this whole democracy ‘thing’ (while buying his way into it) — but that’s a farce.

Gawker recently covered what it’s really like to work at Bloomberg L.P., the corporation he founded, and how astonishing it is that the appalling conditions there have not merited more coverage (instead .. it’s as if he liberated City Hall by banishment of walls and dividers!). Read about this here: The Other Reason Mayor Mike Couldn’t Run

NYC Parks Department-No Oversight ? Out of Control

“Thank you for your patience while we rebuild your park into a private park for wealthy kids paid for by taxpayers.” (seen at Cadman Plaza Park, Brooklyn)

When we hear the word ‘parks,’ we think of people picnicking on manicured lawns… We envision those overseeing City parks out there riding around on golf carts checking on malfunctioning water fountains (except when they are mowing down and killing seagulls and pigeons but that’s another story – unfortunately a true one).

In NYC, a much more deviant version exists within our Parks Department. Under Mayor Bloomberg, Parks are looked at as playgrounds for the corporate elite, vehicles for privatization, and places to further an agenda for a sanitized version of New York in which the gritty, the bohemian, the diverse is airbrushed away.

Some examples of what has transpired under Mayor Bloomberg’s administration with his Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe:

*Union Square Park Reduction of Public Space and Tree Destruction – Recent plans put forth by Commissioner Benepe include reducing the popular Green Market and chopping down 14 trees to make room for a high end restaurant. (In an Oedipal note, it should also be noted that Benepe’s father founded the GreenMarket.)

*Denial of Health Concerns of Artificial Turf – Ten years ago, Adrian Benepe began pushing artificial turf to replace grass and has placed it in 77 fields in Parks and Recreation areas across the city. While health and environmental concerns have increasingly been brought to light, Benepe insists it is safe. (In Newark, NJ, the city government declared one of its synthetic turf fields to be a “public health hazard” after three times the approved level of lead was found in the dust there.)

*Randall’s Island Privatization Proposed – Instead of making this a unique public space for the benefit of all, Benepe and Bloomberg were hoping to privatize this 273 acre park and give the majority of its access to 20 private schools within New York City.

*Yankee Stadium Deal leads to Destruction of two Parks in the Bronx — In the Bronx (which desperately needs parks) destruction of parts of McCombs Parks and John Mullaly Park as well as death to 300-400 trees in a deal to build Yankee Stadium.

*Ripping Up Bronx’s Van Cortlandt Park for Water Filtration Plant – The City had been attempting for ten years to put in a water filtration plant in this spot. Despite having an alternative, more favorable location to turn to, Mayor Bloomberg was able to buy favor with State legislature and rip up nine acres of Van Cortlandt Park disrupting the park usage for this under-served neighborhood, giving nothing back in return.

*Brooklyn Bridge Park Private housing – Bloomberg argues that this park needs to be “self-sustaining” (i.e., make money) and plans are moving forward for private real estate interests and hotels to be built within this Park.

*Washington Square Park — Plans include: Reduction of 23 % of the public space, manicured lawns and “plazas” which destroy the historic nature of this Park as a political and social gathering spot, “aligning” the famous fountain with the Arch (despite the fact that noted original architect Stanford White purposefully placed the two unaligned over a century ago), corporate naming rights of the fountain being given to the Tisch Family, cutting down of 11 trees thus far, and more!

We have to wonder where is the oversight? Where is our City Council?
The Parks Department being a City agency that reports to the Mayor, the City Council takes mostly a ‘hands off’ approach.

I’ll venture into the ineffectiveness and apparent duplicity of City Council Member Alan Gerson in relation to what is happening at Washington Square Park in another post. However, as the City Council Member who represents the Washington Square area and is also a member of the Parks & Recreation Committee, he could initiate hearings on the Parks Department and the issues above.

Contact City Council Member Alan Gerson at #212/788-7722 or gerson at council.nyc.ny.us