Come to the Walking Tour! * Washington Sq Park: Past, Present and Future – A Guide to NYC’s Redesign of a Perfect Public Space * Sunday, July 27th

Washington Sq Park Under Construction

Washington Sq Park Under Construction

* Time Out NY: “Recommended”

Come to the Walking Tour! The very first walking tour last month was a lot of fun (amidst the concerns about the proposed changes to the Park) and had such a nice group of people. There’s still time to come to the second!

WASHINGTON SQUARE PARK: PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE: A Guide to New York City’s Redesign of a Perfect Public Space

Sunday, July 27th, 12 noon

Meet Up at Washington Square Arch, Washington Square North @ Fifth Avenue ; $5 donation (Raindate Sunday, August 3rd, 12 noon)

Time Out NY 7/24/08 wrote: In the 1950s, Jane Jacobs helped keep cars out of Washington Square. But a new redesign – which will entail dismantling the fountain, removing the chess tables and cutting down decades-old trees – puts the beloved green space in jeopardy all over again.”

Trains: A,B,C,D,E,F to West 4th Street/Washington Square

Presented by Washington Square Park Blog and Washington Square Community Improvement District(CID)

Expert Doctor on Children’s Health Raises Alarm on Synthetic Turf – What will it take to reach Parks Commissioner Benepe?

Dr. Philip Landrigan is a respected pediatrician and expert on children’s health at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in NYC. He has written a letter urging a moratorium and raising alarming concerns on artificial turf to the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection.

No word on whether this same letter has been sent to the NYC Department of Health or NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe (who seems to have a difficult time reversing course no matter how stunning the evidence). NYC, under Commissioner Benepe’s direction, has installed 94 artificial turf fields thus far in parks and ball fields. Despite concerns, plans move forward to install 68 additional turf fields across New York City.

Dr. Landrigan writes:

Synthetic turf fields have proliferated in recent years, and there are now more than several hundred of these installations in Connecticut and in other states up and down the East Coast. Almost no assessment of the potential hazards to children’s health of synthetic turf fields was undertaken before these fields were constructed. The stated need for their installation was a desire to improve the quality and enhance the drainage of playing fields coupled with a strong impetus to get more kids out and exercising as a way to combat the obesity epidemic.

These are laudable goals. The problem is that they were pursued without any consideration of alternatives or analysis of potential negative consequences. There was insufficient due diligence. The result now is that we are in a situation in which a number of these very expensive fields have been installed, and we are suddenly and belatedly beginning to realize that they may lead to health problems.

His recommendation is as follows:

1. A moratorium on installation of new synthetic turf fields until a careful, competent, independent study of their potential hazards has been conducted and reported to the public;

2. Immediate study of the suspected chemical hazards of synthetic turf fields.

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Dr. Landrigan’s Full Letter Outlining His Concerns Follows: (more…)

“Cinderella Samba” for Kids coming to Washington Square Park Wednesday, July 23, 10:30 a.m.

"Puppets in the Parks" Production

Cinderella Samba: "Puppets in the Parks" Production

It’s called Cinderella Samba and it’s making its way through the New York City Parks. A “puppet production” (as opposed to show?), New York magazine provides the background: “Set in the lush landscape of Brazil, this puppet version of the timeless fairy tale finds Cinderella and her prince in a samba contest at the carnival ball.”

This photo was taken at the production at Greenbelt Recreation Center on Staten Island and shows Cinderella, “pre-transformation,” and “Eeka” Mouse. The show is put on by the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater.

Cinderella Samba will be presented (more…)

Washington Square Music Festival Two Concerts Left — Tuesdays, July 22nd and July 29th – Don’t Miss It!

Washington Square Music Festival July 8, 2008

Washington Square Music Festival July 8, 2008

The New York Times review (July 18th) of last week’s concert of the Washington Square Music Festival at Washington Square Park included some history, commentary on the Park and festival audience:

Perhaps it’s an illusion fostered by the fenced-off reconstruction work in Washington Square Park, but it seems as though the Washington Square Music Festival is shoehorned into a smaller section of the park every summer. The festival, in its 50th year, has done its own shrinking as well. Once a series of orchestra concerts, it is now a handful of chamber music programs, framed by folk and jazz concerts, with ensembles amplified to overcome the ambient noise of the park and the not-so-distant rumble of traffic.

But the festival has an audience, a larger one than its tiny slice of the park can accommodate. On Tuesday evening a reasonably large crowd watched from outside the metal barriers that set off the seating area, and as soon as a seat emptied, someone came in to fill it. In terms of age and race, you could hardly ask for a more diverse audience.

* Next Concert! * Tuesday, July 22nd at 8 p.m.

Pianist David Oei and Gamelan Son of Lion

An eclectic concert of works by (more…)

Recommended Film: “The Visitor” * Footage of Washington Sq Park Pre-Construction * Now Playing at Cinema Village

The Visitor
The Visitor

A few months ago, on a spur-of-the-moment whim, I caught the film “The Visitor” while it was playing at BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music). I was very touched by the story and recommend seeing it.begins with Walter, a professor at a college in Connecticut, who is sleep walking through his life when he is coerced into presenting a paper at a conference at N.Y.U. He has an apartment in the Village that he rarely frequents. Once he arrives, he discovers he has house guests and, in an unusual mode of behavior, he invites them to stay with him. This opens him up to a re-awakening of his spirit and soul through music, friendships and locales. The story takes some unexpected turns, some sad, some sweet. The acting is all very strong and holds up the premise of how a chance encounter, the moment when a person steps out of his day-to-day conventions, how the reaction to that moment can change a person’s life and open up new vistas.

The film at points takes Walter through Washington Square Park and the footage of the Park, pre-construction, is bittersweet.

It’s a bit heartbreaking to see the trees that once lined the fountain (now chopped down). They were an integral part of the much loved look and feel of Washington Square Park. (How many movies feature that shot from above of the Arch, the fountain, and the trees lining it? Yes, the fountain unaligned with the Arch, this was a classic shot – New York City, Greenwich Village, Washington Square Park.)

“The Visitor” is now playing at Cinema Village, 22 East 12th Street between University Place and 5th Avenue, #212/924-3363.

A. O. Scott of The New York Times’ wrote of “The Visitor”: (more…)

Walking Tour: Washington Sq Park Past, Present, and Future: A Guide to New York City’s Redesign of a Perfect Public Space * Sunday, July 27th, 12 noon

Washington Sq Pk under construction

Washington Sq Pk under construction

Mark your calendars and come out for the second Walking Tour if you missed the first!

Walking Tour: Washington Square Park Past, Present, and Future: A Guide to New York City’s Redesign of a Perfect Public Space * Sunday, July 27th, 12 noon.

Meet up at Washington Square Arch, Fifth Avenue and Washington Square North
* $5 * (Raindate: Sunday, August 3rd)
TRAINS: A,B,C,D,E,F to West 4th Street/Washington Square

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Washington Square Park Blog and Washington Square Community Improvement District(CID) present this unique walking tour of Washington Square Park.

Washington Square Park Blog will offer a guide to the redesign of Washington Square Park combined with history of this wonderful Park.

Some background on the redesign of Washington Square Park :

The pretext: They say they want to align the fountain with the Arch.

In the 1890s, noted architect Stanford White purposefully kept the two unaligned, and that way has worked just fine – thank you very much – for over a century. About this magnificent fountain, Jane Jacobs writes: “In effect, this [fountain] 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 reality: They are cutting away public space to control public gatherings and un-permitted performances.

The City is:

• Digging up 18th Century and 19th Century burial grounds

• Ruining the historic nature of the park with much reduction in public space

• Chainsawing 40 to 80-year-old trees (14 cut down thus far. Plans allow for more to be felled.)

• Fencing in the Park

• Removing the famed chess tables (and rebuilding SOME of them)

• Dismantling the large circular Fountain, which also serves as public rallying venue, rebuilding it in a much smaller version eight yards away with vast reduction of the ad-hoc seating

* Renaming the fountain (a plaque on each side) for the billionaire Tisch Family media tycoons … after the Tisch family contributed $2.5 million to the Mayor’s Fund.

• Adding lawn space — more “picture perfect” for NYU’s graduation ceremonies.

• Narrowing the public walkways

* Spending $25-30 Million on this unwanted redesign (the original budget was an already high $16 million; it has now skyrocketed past that).

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Hope to see you — !

Update coming on Washington Sq Park Task Force meeting…

Update on last night’s Community Board 2 Washington Square Park Task Force meeting to come.

Mayor Bloomberg, Part II – The Blanding of New York City

Mayor Bloomberg "Dead End"

Mayor Bloomberg at a "Dead End"

Chinatown and Lower Manhattan residents protested on Tuesday in front of the Municipal Building bearing 10,000 signatures signaling their opposition to the City Planning Commission’s new rezoning proposal which omits their neighborhood. This omission signals open season for developers, endless construction and the displacement of long-time residents and businesses leading to the further homogenization of another of the city’s unique neighborhoods.

The International Herald Tribune reported in June that Mayor Bloomberg “has rezoned vast swaths of the city to accommodate bigger, more densely populated buildings, encouraging the construction of millions of square feet of office space, hotel rooms and housing. Over all, the number of construction permits for new buildings or major renovations issued by the Department of Buildings has soared 23.3 percent over the past five years.”

The result of all this is a construction boom, signaled by large signs on virtually every block blaring the same two words: “luxury housing.” Existing tenants in smaller, quaint buildings get displaced, the buildings are torn down, diversity and any resemblance to the ‘past’ is bulldozed over, and neighborhood after neighborhood starts to look the same.

As these changes go on around them, long-time landlords with long-time small business tenants start to raise rents, doubling, tripling the figures and those tenants are soon gone and replaced. As if they’re expendable. As if they never existed. The fabric of one too many neighborhoods is frayed, coming apart at the seams.

Yet, this is the climate Mayor Bloomberg’s New York promotes and encourages.

Juan Gonzalez writes about the “Lower East Side rezone plan another Mike Bloomberg boondoggle” in today’s New York Daily News:

“Theirs [Chinatown/Lower East Side residents] is a story that has become all-too familiar during the Bloomberg era: another stable neighborhood turned upside down by a massive rezoning. The sheer number of these rezonings – from Columbia University to Hudson Yards to Greenpoint-Williamsburg (Brooklyn) to Willets Point – boggles the mind.”

Gonzalez continues, “City officials routinely claim it’s for the good of the neighborhoods, but in the end a handful of well-connected developers and Big Box stores end up the big winners. Small businesses and low-income New Yorkers keep getting pushed out.”

It’s no coincidence that our city is vanishing at such a quick pace. It’s the blanding of our city, put into place in neighborhood after neighborhood, public space after public space, to create the City that Mayor Bloomberg, a billionaire, envisions. It’s a less interesting one but the billionaires and their friends are happy. That’s what matters, right?

What’s the answer?

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Photo: RS Eanes

Mayor Bloomberg, Part I – on his finances

Today’s headlines provide the information that Bloomberg L.P., Mayor Bloomberg‘s private company, and one of the Mayor’s earliest business partners, Merrill Lynch (which provided the “seed money” for the venture) are “parting company.”

The New York Times reports that the “deal … places a public value on the mayor’s private company, Bloomberg L.P. That figure: At least $22.5 billion.”

The article continues, “Mr. Bloomberg is expected to buy Merrill Lynch’s 20 percent stake in Bloomberg L.P., the financial data and news provider he founded, for about $4.5 billion, people briefed on the deal said Wednesday. The sale will be handled through the trust that manages the mayor’s assets.”

Bloomberg easily spent $73 million on his election campaign in 2001 and more than that in 2005 on his re-election campaign, when presumably people of New York City were familiar with him.

The Times’ article omits mention of the what & why of the “trust.” The “trust” was put in place when Michael Bloomberg became Mayor of New York City. It was suggested by a city regulatory agency at the time he was running that Bloomberg divest himself from Bloomberg L.P. advice he quickly ignored. With the news today clarifying the company’s worth, we can see why.

NYU: If someone is going to eat up and destroy neighborhoods, it might as well be us

Downtown Manhattan, NYU Flags Abound

Downtown Manhattan, NYU Flags Abound

New York magazine covers NYU in their Real Estate section this week with a piece entitled “NYU’s Olive Branch.” Subtitled: “The school wants to expand – and says it’ll be a better neighbor. Good luck, guys.” With no mention of the pending destruction of the Provincetown Playhouse or any outline of NYU’s history of disregard for its West and East Village neighbors as it plants its flags seemingly everywhere, the article feels incomplete.

Yet the writer, S. Jhoanna Robledo, does get some choice quotes and information from Alicia Hurley, NYU’s vice president of government affairs and community engagement. (Gotta love that title.) She says, “We finally realized we were on an unsustainable track. We decided we [had] to restructure and invite the community to the table.”

In February, NYU “unveiled its plan for 6 million square feet of new space, half of it housing” for their 23 year plan, Plan 2031.

The university’s plan is to add of much of this in downtown Manhattan – for the convenience of its students and faculty. A faculty member is quoted: “It’s a huge lure – Greenwich Village, subsidized rental. If I wasn’t employed by them, I’d feel like NYU is a huge monster eating up the best neighborhood.”

As recently as June, NYU announced plans to destroy basically all of the Provincetown Playhouse and adjoining buildings, except for four walls and the theater entry facade, despite overwhelming community opposition. So where’s the sustainability?

Ultimately revealed is NYU‘s true position on the subject: If someone is going to gobble up the neighborhood, why shouldn’t it be them? Hurley says, “What would be around Washington Square Park if it wasn’t NYU? Do you think it would be a soft, gentle area of brownstones? Or high-end condos?”

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New York Magazine article here.

NYU’s Plan 2031.

Previous coverage of Provincetown Playhouse (including its history) and Community Board 2 vote in support of NYU’s plans despite overwhelming community opposition.