Part I: Update On NYC Parks Department Redesign Work on Washington Square Park — Status and the Fountain

"working to improve your park"

"working to improve your park"

The Washington Square Park Task Force, convened by Community Board 2 and local elected officials to give some community oversight over the Parks Department “renovation” (redesign) of Washington Square Park, gathered recently for a public meeting in the NYU Silver Building on Waverly Place. This was the first meeting of the Task Force after a long hiatus.

Rebecca Ferguson, Washington Square Park Administrator, gave a presentation about the status of Phase I work on the Park, some future details and took questions. The meeting was presided over by Community Board 2 Washington Sq Park Task Force(WSPTF) co-chairs Brad Hoylman (also CB2 chair) and Tobi Bergman. Also present were Steve Simon, Manhattan Borough Parks Department Chief of Staff, and representatives from the offices of local elected officials, including Council Members Alan Gerson, Christine Quinn, and Rosie Mendez as well as from Assembly Member Deborah Glick’s office.

Here is Part I of Up-to-the-minute Facts about NYC Parks Department’s Redesign Plans for/Work On Washington Square Park:

Part I : Status of Redesign and the Fountain

1. STATUS : Presently, the Parks Department is at work on “Phase I,” the North West Quadrant of the Park, which includes the “scrabble plaza,” the Alexander Holley Plaza, and the Fountain and its Plaza. According to Rebecca Ferguson, the project is “100% on time” and “60% complete.” The contract for the work is up in November and the Parks Department has every expectation that it will be done on time.

2. FOUNTAIN : Piping and drainage are 70% done. The stones from the original fountain are in Long Island City and being rehoned. They will be placed in the new fountain. The Diameter of the Fountain will be the same. There will be benches around the fountain which will be 16″ high with no backs. (For those who haven’t been by the Park recently, a large hole has been dug in the new location which aligns the fountain with the Arch – after 137 years unaligned – and the structure is being built.)

Causes for concern:

THE WATER PLUME/JETS OF THE FOUNTAIN: When on, when off, who decides?

Jane Jacobs said about the famous Washington Square Park fountain, “In effect, this is a circular arena, a theater in the round, and that is how it is used, with complete confusion as to who are spectators and who are the show.”

The jets on the new fountain will be adjustable but it is unclear just who will determine how they are regulated. (Mayor Bloomberg, perhaps?) It’ll be nice for those tourists coming down Fifth Avenue viewing the Fountain through the Arch (per the wishes of redesigner George Vellonakis) to see the large water plume from their taxis. However that was never really the point of this fountain, used for politics, music, art, juggling, shout outs, etc., as Jane Jacobs so admirably expressed.


“Inner Circle” Around Fountain

An issue that the WSPTF did not address at this meeting is the square footage of what is deemed “the inner circle” around the fountain — from the outermost edge of the fountain wall to the innermost edge of any seating. The WSP Task Force wishes expressed in an August ’07 document to the Parks Department allowed for it to be “no less than 90% of the current area,” allowing for a 10% reduction (why?… I could not tell you).

This report stated: “The fountain plaza appears to be smaller than 90% of the current area, and thus does not comply with the Gerson-Quinn Agreement*. The question is, however, by how much. The Task Force did not have enough information from the Parks Department to draw a clear conclusion on the size of the inner circle in the Plan. Rough calculations made by Task Force members of the total square footage of the inner circle ranged from 88% to 77% of the current area.”

There was no indication at the meeting that this question was ever answered. It was not addressed. (I did not have this August ’07 document: “Report of the Washington Square Park Task Force,” which CB2 chair Brad Hoylman provided to me at the meeting, so I did not ask.)

Entire Plaza

And what about the entire Plaza, extending outward from the “innermost circle?” This is certainly well utilized by the public and is part of the experience of being in Washington Square Park. Presently, there is a 23% reduction planned – a significant amount – something the WSPTF, to my knowledge, never addressed.

What is the Gerson-Quinn Agreement?

*“The Gerson-Quinn Agreement” is a somewhat dubious document, drafted by Council Member Alan Gerson and Speaker Christine Quinn, dated October 6, 2005, and sent to Parks Commissioner Benepe. In the document, the Council Members put forth a framework for “resolving the outstanding major issues pertaining to the renovation of Washington Square Park.” The only problem is that the outstanding major issues were: the reconfiguration of the entire park, the loss of public space, the aligning of the fountain, and the moving of the dog runs, among others. These issues are not addressed in the Gerson-Quinn Agreement in any substantive fashion. Nonetheless, it contains guidelines within it that they ask the Parks Department to adhere to. (I’ll report back on that another day.)

Basically, the Gerson-Quinn Agreement followed the principle of ‘ask what you think you can get, vs. what you want.’ (Many would argue they just stayed cozily in line with what Mayor Bloomberg and Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe wanted.)


I think the Community Board could get some traction on this issue of the public space around the Fountain.

… Stay tuned… there’s more!

*This WSPTF meeting took place July 17th, 2008.

**Go to Part II here.

Gone Fishing* — Taking a Blogging Break Today

New Entries Resume Tomorrow.

WSP Blog has existed for five months now with over 148 posts. You couldn’t have read them all! Check the archives and ‘categories’ to see what you’ve missed.

* Not really.

Politics As Puppetry Provides a Report Back of Washington Sq Park Blog’s Walking Tour: A Guide to NYC’s Redesign of a Perfect Public Space

Politics as Puppetry Blog attended WSP Blog’s Walking Tour this past Sunday, July 27th. The tour, “Washington Square Park – Past, Present and Future: A Guide to NYC’s Redesign of a Perfect Public Space,” is an initiative of this blog and the Washington Square Community Improvement District(CID).

Politics as Puppetry gives a report back on the Walking Tour! There’s great photos and commentary which help put the pieces of the redesign together (while still leaving a lot of questions about the “why” factor).

You can read about it here.

Do you want to write a guest blog article?

If you have a perspective and something to say on parks, public space issues, NYC government (Mayor Bloomberg), etc. and you are interested in putting a comprehensive (researched) piece together with a point-of-view, then send it in! (Please be open to editing and provide some background on your interest.) Send to : -at- ** Thanks. **

p.s. Personal stories about something that happened in a park/public space welcome also.

Brooklyn journalist challenges NYC Parks Commissioner Benepe at Red Hook Park food vendors “return” ceremony

The Red Hook Park Latin food vendors were operating their food carts for over 30 years in that location when the NYC Parks Department threatened to remove them and replace them with more corporate, shiny entities (think Shake Shack-like). Local and political uproar (Senator Chuck Schumer, included) caused the Parks Department (which has oversight over the Park and vendors) to reverse course, a rare and welcome occurrence.

However, the City insisted they get new trucks (costing up to $50,000) and meet other regulations while moving them out of their original location. The vendors had to bid on the location of the spots they’d occupied for three decades when they were “under the radar.” Before Ikea and Fairway were moving into the neighborhood.

Gersh Kuntzman of the Brooklyn Paper, who has been covering the issue, challenged Parks Commissioner Benepe recently at the ceremony commemorating the return of the vendors to Red Hook Park.

Kuntzman writes:

…When I went to the “Welcome Back” press conference, I was ready to listen to the speeches, get a few benign quotes, and chow down.

But Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe treated the vendors — and the media — like such children that I lost my appetite. First, Benepe laughed about all the red tape he and his agency forced the vendors’ main organizer, Cesar Fuentes, to cut through.

“We really put him through the ringer,” Benepe joked. “When bureaucrats get together, they can make almost anything impossible. I’m surprised he didn’t give up.”

Many did. Only six of the original 13 vendors were back — now consigned to the street outside the park, rather than inside the fence next to the soccer fields where they belong. And those vendors complained bitterly — though certainly not to Benepe — about their added expenses and the needless three-month delay in getting their final approval from the city bureaucrats who hold too much power over their right to earn a fair day’s pay.

Read the full story and see video (of the event) from the Brooklyn Paper.

2 things of note

1. Don’t forget ! See you Sunday, July 27th, 12 noon, Washington Square Arch, the Walking Tour, presented by Washington Square Park Blog and Washington Square Community Improvement District(CID). “Recommended” by this week’s Time Out NY.

2. In case you were wondering, my report back from the Community Board 2 Washington Square Park Task Force meeting is delayed! Expect it by early next week.

Chanel Park? Parks Commissioner Benepe: “Everything has a sponsor”

Metro NY’s Patrick Arden’s consistent coverage of what’s going on in our City’s Parks is always spot on. In today’s Metro, he covers the NYC Parks Department – via the Central Park Conservancy – allowing a “traveling advertisement for the Chanel handbag” in the middle of Central Park this fall.

Yes, you read that correctly.

Arden writes, “For 150 years, Central Park has been a green refuge in the commercial city. But when a spaceship-like art exhibit lands on 1.5 acres this fall, New Yorkers may wonder whether a commercial enterprise has claimed their oasis.”

So what’s the cost to place a 7,500 square foot ad in Central Park? Well … “Chanel will reportedly pay the Central Park Conservancy at least a million dollars for a three-week stay, and the city will collect another $400,000.”

(And the Tisch’s paid a paltry $2.5 million to get their name – arguably – forever on the Washington Square Park Fountain?)

When Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe was asked by the New York Times whether he “anticipated criticism for allowing Chanel to advertise one of its products in the park … Benepe countered, ‘Everything has a sponsor.'”

Well at least everything under Parks Commissioner Benepe and Mayor Bloomberg.

At the end of the article, Metro provides some suggestions on other ways the Parks Department can maximize parkland for profit:

1. Brooklyn Bridge: McDonald’s can paint the arches golden.

2. Ellis Island: Presented by your local immigration attorney.

3. Washington Square: Sell it to NYU (oops, that’s happened).

* Read Metro’s full story here.

* New York Times “slide show” of the future “exhibit” which is equal parts art/spaceship/Chanel handbag ad.

Photo: Metro Photo Composite

BIDs setting alcohol policy at City Parks. The latest at Tompkins Square Park: Want to see the movie on the lawn? Have your bags searched first.

wine bottle picnic at bryant park

wine bottle picnic at bryant park

It would be lovely to openly have a glass of a wine or a beer in a park. New York City Parks technically don’t allow that.

The New York Times reported recently about a certain permissiveness around this in Bryant Park.

I was happy to see a loosening of the endless array of rules.

But, it’s never quite so simple when something happens in a park in New York City, is it?

It seems the “policy” is dictated park-to-park and very often by the local BID (business improvement district) or Conservancy (pretty close in composition to a BID).

So Central Park and Bryant Park – most likely perceived as accommodating a certain clientele – sip their wine but Prospect Park and Tompkins Square Park – perhaps a bit more mixed crowd – get ticketed. Or, in the case of Tompkins Square, people have their bags searched before going on the lawn!

On Wednesday, at Tompkins Square Park, as a requirement to gain access to a spot on the lawn to watch the scheduled movie, private security at a gate began searching every person’s bag. At a public park! This is to keep out undesirable elements and undesirable alcohol. The “private security” is hired by several local businesses which are “sponsoring” the movie nights in the park.

So what is the policy? Who determines it?

The New York Times story (July 16) covered the Monday movie nights on the lawn at Bryant Park and the fact that, despite a no-alcohol “rule” in the Parks, people come in with full bottles of wine, sangria, beer and the like.

The security guard, hired by the Bryant Park Conservancy, told the Times, he “turned a blind eye” on movie nights, “so long as it is covered, like in a bag.”

The article states, “The official line from the city’s parks department is that alcohol cannot be brought into city parks, though in the summer of 2003, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg suggested that drinking wine at concerts was O.K.” (As I recall, at the same time, at a beach in a poorer neighborhood, people were ticketed for drinking beer in public and this caused some controversy in light of the Mayor’s statement allowing Central Park wine sipping.)

The BID’s or Conservancies (or some other business-related facsimile) – private entities allowed to govern our parks by Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Benepe – set the rules.

Will the Parks Department ever stop astounding me by their endless privatizing actions?

However ! The Tompkins Square crowd is fighting back. Join them to protest this bag searching policy by coming to Tompkins Square Park (at gate at entrance to central grassy area) on Wednesday, July 30th, 7 p.m. and … refuse to have your possessions searched.

Read more on this… The full Letter about the incident In the Inbox:

On Wednesday, July 16, the gentrification and privatization of Tompkins Square Park (and the Lower East Side) hit a new low as residents of the neighborhood were told they were not allowed to enter the central grassy area of the park–usually accessible to all–UNLESS THEY WERE WILLING TO HAVE THEIR BAGS SEARCHED by private unidentified “security guards”.

Under the guise of “searching for alcohol” and “keeping out people like the squatters” (an actual quote), a private group that is organizing film showings in the park, hired private security guards who (more…)

Film: “An American in Paris” Showing in Washington Square Park Friday night, July 25th at 8:30 p.m.

"An American in Paris"

"An American in Paris"

There’s a lot going on at Washington Square Park this week!

Just got word that the film “An American in Paris” will be showing in the Park Friday night, July 25th, 8:30 p.m. on the middle lawn on the East side of the park, presented by the NYC Parks Department.

About the film: This 1951 MGM musical is directed by the award-winning Vincente Minnelli and stars world famous actor and choreographer Gene Kelly. (more…)

At last…

I am going to report back on Community Board 2’s Washington Square Park Task Force meeting of last week later today (or tomorrow). Stay tuned…

(7/25: It’s coming but may be delayed another day or so.)