Film Premiere: “SQUARE: Straightening Out Washington Square Park” Sunday, June 1st in Manhattan

Deserted Washington Square Plaza - fountain & Arch“SQUARE: Straightening Out Washington Square Park” is a one hour documentary which focuses on the redesign of Washington Square Park and what’s taken place over the last four years: how the Bloomberg Administration pushed through its agenda to get this famous park in ‘line’ – literally.

The film gets its premiere screening on Sunday, June 1st at the Bowery Poetry Club. In the meantime, you can get a preview of director Matt Davis’s work by watching this 5 minute video clip with up & coming performer, Farbeon, which places the Washington Square Park issue in the midst of an engaging music video. (And there’s some extraordinary footage of NYC Parks Department designer George Vellonakis in action.)

“SQUARE: Straightening Out Washington Square Park” Screening / Film Premiere

It begins with the fountain, that famous theatre-in-the-round, home to political protest, art and musical freewheeling. The new design calls for this structure to “align” with the historic Arch (after over a century unaligned), more “picture perfect” for tourists traveling down Fifth Avenue, and reduction of the voluminous public space that surrounds it transformed into quaint areas with landscaped lawns.

The film shows the government’s bait-and-switch games with the outraged community, whose members watch the City attempt to transform the Washington Square Park that they know and love into one that is pretty and pacified and far from its artistic, bohemian roots.

If you’ve been wondering how it got to this – with much of Washington Square Park behind gates and bulldozed – “SQUARE: Straightening Out Washington Square Park” will bring into sharp focus what’s happened thus far and what’s in store.

This is the premiere screening of this documentary. Directed by Matt Davis.

With Musical Guests: The Fools, A Brief View of The Hudson, Jeff Dickinson

This SUNDAY, JUNE 1st, 7 p.m.

BOWERY POETRY CLUB

308 Bowery between Houston & Bleecker

F train to 2nd Avenue; 6 train to Bleecker

Four Dollars

Film site: square-movie.com

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Event: Union Square: Not for Sale – Rally Thursday, June 5th 5 P.M.

Keep Union Square Park Public KEEP UNION SQUARE PARK PUBLIC

Announcement for June 5th Rally from Save Union Square:

Bloomberg and his cronies have a vision of New York City where parks are for-profit, people are squeezed out of public spaces, and free assembly is made impossible. Their plans to privatize Union Square Park were “approved” through a rigged process that steam-rolled widespread opposition. But the privatizers have over-reached. They tried to sidestep the law and a judge said “Wait a Second!” Now it is OUR time to BLOW THE LID OFF this scam and PUSH BACK THE PRIVATIZERS!

On June 5th, at 5:00 p.m., the Union Square Partnership (the schemers behind the scam) will hold their annual back-slapping, self-congratulation dinner, just a block or two off the park. We will gather at the Northwest corner for a raucous rally and celebration of FREELY ASSEMBLED PEOPLE IN PUBLIC SPACE!

Expect marching bands, a “Heroes of Union Square Walking Tour,” community visioning sessions, and soapbox preaching. Expect surprises and spectacles and a glimpse of what the city CAN be! Come out and meet your neighbors in the square and defend the public’s right to public space!

What you can DO:

*Sign the petition.

*Contact City Council Member Rosie Mendez and tell her NO RESTAURANT: #212/677-1077 email: rosie. mendez -at- council.nyc.gov

*Contact the Union Square Partnership and tell them NO RESTAURANT #212/460-1200 email: jfalk -at- unionsquarenyc.org

*Come to the Rally June 5th, 5:00 p.m., NW Corner of Union Square

*Want to get involved? email: saveunionsquare2008 -at- gmail.com

Today’s NY Times: Save Ridgewood Reservoir from NYC Parks Department

Ridgewood ReservoirToday’s New York Times features an Op-Ed by NYC Comptroller William Thompson Jr. and Robert Kennedy Jr. calling for the preservation of Ridgewood Reservoir on the Brooklyn-Queens border, “a teeming wildlife preserve,” 20 acres of which the Parks Department wants to cover over with ball fields (artificial turf, no less).

It’s yet another example of the New York City Parks Department’s astounding and caustic attitude against preserving natural and wildlife habitat in our city.

The writers state that “this plan flies in the face of Mayor Michael Bloomberg‘s widely hailed environmental blueprint, which bemoans the loss of the city’s natural areas.” Really? I guess they are not familiar with what happened at Yankee Stadium, for starters, where two parks were sacrificed in the Bronx by the Bloomberg Administration. And, I’ve previously outlined the tree destruction that’s occurred at parks across our city.

Ridgewood Reservoir was built in 1858 to provide drinking water to the city of Brooklyn. It wasn’t until the end of the century that Brooklyn merged with the City of Greater New York and then gained access to its water supply system. It was abandoned entirely in 1989 at which point nature took over.

The article continues:

Ridgewood Reservoir on the Brooklyn-Queens border is an oasis where an amazing range of plant and animal species thrive in a verdant landscape of steep hills and narrow valleys amid the city’s paved sidewalks.

But what’s more astounding, the city’s Parks Department could wind up destroying it.

Ridgewood is an accidental wilderness, tucked alongside the Jackie Robinson Parkway. …

As the 50 acres reverted to wetlands, meadows and forests, tens of thousands of plants and trees took root and flourished. Turtles, fish, frogs and millions of insects moved in. Songbirds nested in the glades, transforming the area into a migratory rest stop. According to the National Audubon Society, 137 species of birds use the reservoir, including eight rare species. It is a place as close to unspoiled nature as you’re likely to find anywhere within city limits.

Yet, the New York City Parks Department is considering a $50 million “renovation” project that would cover more than 20 acres of the reservoir with athletic fields and facilities.

Our friends at Save Ridgewood Reservoir led a tour of this spot earlier this month with 70 people and 10 elected officials attending, all stunned at the beauty of this spot and the audacity of the Parks Department to want to pave it over. Let’s hope – and help spread the word – that they don’t accomplish their goal.

Event: The Selling of Brooklyn Bridge Park @ Judson Memorial Church Fri. May 30th

Brooklyn Bridge Park \'08Discussion: The Selling of Brooklyn Bridge Park

Friday, May 30th; 6:30 p.m.

Judson Memorial Church (Washington Sq. Park South, entrance on Thompson St.)

Background information:

Urban parks are becoming our newest endangered species. It has been a 20-year effort by the surrounding community to secure the Brooklyn Bridge Park in an 85-acre strip along 1.5 miles of Brooklyn’s East River waterfront.  Yet, it has become an example of the implementation of “parks that pay for themselves,” increased privatization and the further demise of public parks.

Requiring parks to pay their own way is an extension of the relentless cutbacks in public funding for NYC parks in recent decades, from 1.5% of the municipal budget in former years to only 0.4% currently.

Unlike traditional New York City parks, which are administered by the NYC Dept. of Parks & Recreation, the Brooklyn Bridge Park is being created by a subsidiary of the Empire State Development Corp., a state agency whose primary mission is promotion of economic activity.

Apart from $150 million committed by the city and state for construction, the park will have to generate enough income to pay for ongoing operation and upkeep. The main source, under the approved plan, will be payments from owners of apartments in high-rise housing with 1,200 luxury units that private developers will be allowed to build within the park – a massive intrusion into its narrow swath of green space.

Speakers:

Judi Francis, President, Brooklyn Bridge Park Defense Fund

Roy Sloane, civic activist

Free and open to the public. Wine, cheese and snacks will be served.

Presented by the Sierra Club.

Film Premiere Sunday June 1st: “SQUARE: Straightening Out Washington Square Park” in Manhattan

“SQUARE: Straightening Out Washington Square Park” is a one hour documentary which focuses on thewashington sq arch and fountain in full swing redesign of Washington Square Park and what’s taken place over the last four years: how the Bloomberg Administration pushed through its agenda to get this famous park in ‘line’ – literally.

It begins with the fountain, that famous theatre-in-the-round, home to political protest, art and musical freewheeling. The new design calls for this structure to “align” with the historic Arch (after over a century unaligned), more “picture perfect” for tourists traveling down Fifth Avenue, and reduction of the voluminous public space that surrounds it transformed into quaint areas with landscaped lawns.

The footage shows the government’s bait-and-switch games with the outraged community, whose members watch the City attempt to transform the Washington Square Park that they know and love into one that is pretty and pacified and far from its artistic, bohemian roots.

If you’ve been wondering how it got to this – with much of Washington Square Park behind gates and bulldozed – SQUARE: Straightening Out Washington Square Park will bring into sharp focus what’s happened thus far and what’s in store.

This is the premiere screening of this documentary.

Directed by Matt Davis

With Musical Guests: The Fools, A Brief View of The Hudson, Jeff Dickinson

This SUNDAY, JUNE 1st, 7 p.m.

BOWERY POETRY CLUB

308 Bowery between Houston & Bleecker

F train to 2nd Avenue; 6 train to Bleecker

Four Dollars

More information: square-movie.com

Union Square Park Pre-and-Post Tree Destruction

union sq pre-tree destruction may 08

union square post-tree destruction may 08

The photo to the left illustrates the luscious trees that existed at Union Square Park just a week ago. The photo below portrays the area as it looks now.

NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe has issued strong statements in the past about “serial tree killers” in our city who destroy trees for no reason and how it is a crime with a $5,000 fine. But I’d have to say that he ranks up there as one. The tree destruction under his Parks Department, at the direction of Mayor Bloomberg, often in the interest of privatization, is outrageous and criminal.

What’s important to be aware of is that the Parks Department plays public relations word games in dealing with communities. They’ll state… but look we’re going to increase the playground to THREE TIMES the size!

First, did the playground really need to be tripled? Would doubled have worked if it meant saving these mature, healthy trees that are integral to the park?

Also, it’s important to be aware that this redesign plan is being put forth by the local Business Improvement District, Union Square Partnership, with influential restauranteur Danny Meyer as co-chair. There is a decrease in the public space for free speech, for the GreenMarket, for the artists, for everyone to utilize. And don’t be surprised if the restaurant idea for the historic Pavilion creeps back into the picture now that they are working on a fresh canvas.

Next up amongst Parks Commissioner Benepe’s standard responses is … but we’re planting MORE trees!

As if most of us will be alive in 80 years to see the new baby saplings reach the magnificence of the ones they’ve destroyed. We live in an urban environment. Much has been discussed about the importance of trees. Parks Commissioner Benepe and CEO Mayor Michael Bloomberg are businessmen through and through. Neither one of them should be in charge of our city’s trees. But perhaps what I find most offensive is that they get a free pass on this and the media spouts back their p.r. about “MillionTreesNYC” so that is all that most people know about.
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Read this too: “Crimes Against Nature: The NYC Parks Department” for further background.

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Photos: Jessica Alfieri

More old trees cut down at Union Square Park

Timber !  at Union Square May 08This amazing tree, a Siberian Elm, was cut down at Union Square Park last week. I would say that this tree was most likely between 80 and 100 years old.

It would seem fitting that the media, which is always capturing Mayor Bloomberg and NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe at their “tree-planting” photo ops, would capture the sadness – and the reality – that is embodied in this shot.

14 trees are being axed at Union Square Park. 14 trees have been chain sawed at Washington Square Park – thus far. (In both instances, just because they were in the way of their grand and unnecessary redesign plans.) I’ve documented the tree destruction under Mayor Bloomberg that has occurred throughout our city’s parks.

When will the New York City Parks Department start treating the trees in our urban environment with the respect and care they deserve? The trees are part of these parks – their history and environment. They are not just expendable.

I will run additional photos to show just how barren Union Square Park looks now tomorrow.

Thank you to Jessica Alfieri for documenting what’s been going on there.

NY Times: Time and Cost Rise for Yankee Stadium Parks (in the Bronx)

Today’s New York Times has an article by Timothy Williams which covers the delay and increase in cost in rebuilding parkland that was sacrificed for the Yankees’ new stadium in the Bronx.

The Bronx lost part of John Mullaly Park (18.5 acres) and ALL of Macombs Dam Park(28.4 acres). Yes. ALL. of. this. park. (and part of another) was given away in the Bronx so that the Yankees, a private corporation, could build their new stadium there. It tells you something about the climate in our city under CEO Mayor Bloomberg that this idea was initiated – and achieved.

As the article notes, “The stadium is being financed by the Yankees with city subsidies, while the eight new parks for the South Bronx, which range in size from .24 acre to 8.9 acres, are being paid for by the city.” (We give away 2 parks to a private corporation and the City pays to rebuild them.) The cost is now projected to be $174 million; the original estimate was $95.5 million.

Williams writes: “Some residents have been critical of the trade-off. While Macombs Dam and Mullaly Parks were almost contiguous stretches of grass and trees amid the concrete topography of the South Bronx, the replacement parks are small parcels scattered around the area. The sites include sports fields atop a planned stadium parking garage and a park along the Harlem River, which is on the opposite side of the Major Deegan Expressway.”

The original parks housed tennis and basketball courts, a running track, baseball and soccer fields as well as 400 trees – all eliminated for the Yankees Corporation. Yankee Stadium is scheduled to open on time in April 2009. The parks, which were supposed to be up and accessible at the same time, will not be ready for close to a year later.

Bronx resident Anita Antonetty told the Times, “We’ve lost our biggest park, and what we’ve been reduced to is this parking lot. … We’ve lost hundreds of trees that were 80 years old, and now there’s this monstrosity of cement across the street from where people live.”

NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe was not available for comment for the Times’ article.

Where is N.Y. Dosas ? Missing at Washington Square Park

N.Y. Dosas, Washington Square Park‘s much acclaimed vegan food cart stationed on the south side, returned on May 15th to the Park after a four month break! However, a poster wrote in on Thursday, May 22nd saying he came in search of the famous dosas (vegetarian crepes from South India) with no success – no cart in sight. And today, at the Park, no sign again of N.Y. Dosas. I don’t know how the food cart permits are regulated but I would think they are rather competitive. It seems a bit odd that someone could take a four month break and return to the same spot and then have irregular hours. N.Y. Dosas’ Thiru Kumar won an award last year for best food cart (something called The Vendys). He was there last Sunday, fittingly, for the Veggie Pride Parade. Hopefully, he’ll return soon.

This Week In the News: Toyota gets naming rights to an East Village park… NYPD wants precinct in Flushing Meadows Park… Randalls Island ruling allows athletic field construction… Privatization and Parks

Toyota Park*Toyota gets its own park in the East Village! Curbed and the New York Times report on the Toyota Children’s Learning Center (photo) on East 11th Street. The landscape architect told the Times, “The notion of the Toyota Garden is of learning and discovering.” But as Curbed noted, “Discovering the joys … of driving a Toyota!” In addition: “The park was spearheaded by Bette Midler’s New York Restoration Project, and the opening was accompanied by a VIP gala in Tompkins Square Park.” The New York City Parks Department hands oversight of certain parks and community gardens over to New York Restoration Project. I read the The New York Times article first and there was no reference to Toyota’s monetary involvement so I naively sat there pondering … could this park really be named for Toyota, the car company? Then it was confirmed that, yes, it is.

*The New York City Police Department wants to place the 110th Precinct IN Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens. As the New York Sun reports, this is NOT to oversee the park but the whole district – to take the place of the precinct currently on 43rd Avenue. It’s hard to imagine there is no other location in Flushing, Queens that the NYPD could utilize versus putting a police precinct within a park, which should be open, public space.

*At Randalls Island: The New York Times reports that despite a court ruling last year stating that NYC – against the wishes of Mayor Bloomberg and NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe – could not “grant [20 private] schools priority in using the [athletic] fields in exchange for $45 million,” construction of the fields continued. Now, a new ruling states that the city can continue building (even though they had been – ?) but they still can’t utilize money from the private schools. Where the money for the construction is coming from, no one knows. Commissioner Benepe stated, “We are pleased that today’s decision lifts a cloud over this important endeavor.” The NYC Parks Department seems to have a lot of clouds over their endeavors since most every project they put forth encounters a lawsuit by communities attempting to stop them.

*Reverend Dr. Donna Schaper, Senior Minister of Judson Memorial Church and author, writes about privatization and parks in “When is a Gate Not a Gate” in this month’s Brooklyn Rail. She relates an experience she had ‘sneaking’ into Gramercy Park (which is a private private park — the park is only ‘accessible’ to the nearby neighbors whose buildings line the park). In discussing how Gramercy Park is open three days a year to the public, she comments that sometimes it doesn’t even open on those days, much to the confusion and disappointment of those awaiting these brief opportunities.

Reverend Shaper writes: “I wondered about the privatization of parks. Gramercy is the gold standard. But Bryant Park is also a new “public/private cooperation.” Soon Washington Square Park will have the Tisch Fountain at its center, although the movement grows to name it the “People’s Fountain.” Let the Tisch’s pay for it if they must. But giving them the name and the privatization feels like more than the fountain, which is nearly priceless, is worth.”