Lots in Store for September … Teaser: Could the NYC Parks Department be hiding something?

Back Tuesday, 9/2. There’s lots in store for September!

I’ll tell you about the NYC Parks Department and WSP Blog: After initially being impressively eager to clarify some figures for me, the Parks Department Press Office suddenly dropped out of communication — on something that should be relatively easy to unearth (should they want to). Are they hiding something?*

*Savvy readers are asking: just one thing?

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The Villager – at last! – Reports on WSP Task Force meeting – and future WSP “plans”

The Villager at last reports on the July 17th Washington Square Park Task Force meeting (while omitting the date of the meeting, I gather, to not to call attention to the late reporting?).

There’s some interesting information in there (although right this minute, the story has the wrong title, something about a “mystery hotel”) and interviews with some of the key players from the Community Board, the Task Force, the Parks Department*, and community members.  (*A Parks Department spokesperson says — contrary to what was stated at the meeting — a conservancy is not ruled out, citing the benefits of working with “community groups.” Right.)

WSP Blog covered this, beginning last month, in a series (in 8 parts): Update on New York City’s Redesign of Washington Square Park. If you missed it, begin here.

Stop the “Arborcidal Waterfalls:” The Latest on NYC Public Art

Waterfalls Left; Brooklyn Bridge; Dying Trees

Waterfalls Left; Brooklyn Bridge; Dying Trees

The Brooklyn Paper reports on the “NYC Waterfalls,” the Public Art project by Olafur Eliasson installed in four NYC river locations, which has become “arborcidal” (tree-killing) in Brooklyn Heights.

The Brooklyn Paper is always a bit over the top and yet it captures the essence of the situation. Arborcidal waterfalls…? Perfect. (The Villager has great reporting and articles but it’s, um, pret-ty serious. In Brooklyn, the weeklies have a bit of fun with it all. It’s also effective.) The problem is that the salt water from this nearby “public art” project is spraying its mist on the surrounding trees and causing them to decline. Residents and business owners are trying to get the project to end early – by Labor Day.

Sponsors The Public Art Fund turned to the NYC Parks Department for a solution (a “solution” which seems akin to the Parks Department watering the artificial turf to keep it from reaching scorching temperatures – at times, it can get twice as hot as regular grass – at 165 degrees instead of reconsidering the actual use of it). “Every morning, arborists from the Parks Department now rinse the trees and leaves along the Promenade and in the River Café’s garden with fresh water and flush salt from the soil,” the paper reports.

In looking into the Waterfalls a bit deeper, I experienced a revelation. Here, I was thinking Public Art was about Public. Art. until I read the press release and realized in Mayor Bloomberg’s New York, it, like everything else, is about the economy. The press release informs that The Economic Development Corporation (EDC), “estimates that the Waterfalls, funded with private support raised by the Public Art Fund, will contribute $55 million to the City’s economy.”

(How do you figure they figure that estimate out anyway?)

Isn’t the creativity and inspiration of people the main goal once in awhile? (Or… Not. At Washington Square Park, the aspects of the Park that inspire were slighted by the designer and NYC Parks Department in their redesign “plans.”)

I do appreciate the artist’s intention: “In developing The New York City Waterfalls, I have tried to work with today’s complex notion of public spaces,” said Eliasson. “… I hope to evoke experiences that are both individual and enhance a sense of collectivity.”

However, upon viewing from the F train, I agree with the Brooklyn Paper assessment: “in reality, the project’s scaffolding and weak water streams look more like a giant Erector Set from the borough’s shores.”

So… What do you think? What will win out? Saving trees or boosting (allegedly) the economy?

Currently, the project is set to run until October 13th.

Exhibit — Eminent Domain: The City and Shifting views of Public and Private space @ NY Public Library 42nd Street

The New York Public Library exhibit “Eminent Domain: Contemporary Photography and the City – Shifting views of public and private space” ends Friday, August 29th. 42nd Street and 5th Avenue (near Bryant Park!). There is an exhibition and photography from five New York-based artists which take on the “theme of the modern city” and the “changing nature of space in New York City today.”  I’m hoping to see this before it closes.  At the Humanities and Social Sciences Library, in the D. Samuel and Jeane H. Gottesman Exhibition Hall, 1st floor. Free.

From the NYPL description of the exhibit:

Last summer, public outcry forced New York City officials to reconsider regulations that might have required even the most casual of tourist-photographers to obtain a permit and $1 million in liability insurance to photograph or film in the streets of the city. A majority of the objectors felt that the proposed regulations threatened First Amendment rights to photograph in public places and amounted to a kind of privatization of public space. Similarly, people have questioned the current private/public arrangements that characterize much of modern urban redevelopment, from the proposed Columbia University expansion to Hudson Yards in Manhattan, and from Willets Point in Queens to the Atlantic Yards and Coney Island in Brooklyn.

Contention particularly surrounds the legal power of eminent domain, or the taking of private property for public use: at the core of the debate is the definition of “public use” and concern that the word “public” has become a euphemism to disguise what are essentially private investments.

[the] photography poses questions that resonate with current debates about the reorganized urban landscape and the consequent shifting of public and private space, whether through gentrification, globalization, or the suburbanization of the city.

Disorientation Guide to NYU (students moved in this weekend!) includes WSP article within it

Downtown Manhattan, NYU Flags Abound

Downtown Manhattan, NYU Flags Abound

Politics as Puppetry Blog has the whole Disorientation Guide to NYU available for download. It contains material on Activism at NYU, a Flow Chart to How NYU Works, Taking Back NYU, Who the Trustees are, and more!

They write: “The Disorientation Guide is a growing tradition at NYU – the first one was published at the beginning of the 2002 school year, and students have published a new edition annually since.”

They asked WSP Blog to write a piece for the Disorientation Guide about what’s going on at Washington Square Park for new students to make them aware, engaged and hopefully involved. I’ve posted it below:

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Washington Square Park is world famous for the art, culture, music, politics, and community that has transpired there in its over 150 years as a public park in New York City. For NYC government under Mayor Bloomberg, its importance has become magnified because of its location in the midst of prime real estate in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. New York University owns much of (close to all) the real estate that surrounds the Park. The University rarely misses an opportunity to feature the historic Washington Square Arch in its advertising and promotional materials. The Park is the setting of NYU’s graduation ceremony.

In more recent years, due to neglect by the New York City Parks Department, Washington Square Park — while remaining vital to music, politics, art, students, tourists, people of all ages and from all backgrounds — was looking a little rough around the edges. That didn’t stop it from being a place where people gather in unique ways. A national organization called Project for Public Spaces did a study of Washington Square Park in 2005 and said, “As a neighborhood park and civic gathering place, it may be one of the great public spaces in the world.”

The New York City Parks Department is presently in the midst of a redesign of Washington Square Park. Currently in Phase I (of three phases), this “renovation” is really a complete overhaul of this historic, beloved space. The redesign will: align the Fountain with the Arch (after 137 years unaligned) at Fifth Avenue which entails moving the Fountain 23 feet east, level the unique ‘sunken plaza’ around the Fountain, reduce dramatically the public gathering space around the fountain, add more lawn, reduce the width of the pathways and areas at the corners of the Park, move the two dog runs, lose the small alcoves (sitting areas) on the northern and eastern sides of the Park, and basically move close to every piece of the Park into a different location.

Washington Square Park has been a counter-balance to (more…)

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

Washington Sq Park At Dusk

Washington Sq Park At Dusk

* Recycled Entry *

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 (WSP Blog Note: now three) — 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?

*One of this blog’s first entries! Originally published February 29th, 2008.*

On Second Thought … Bloomberg Said to Test a Term-Limit Reversal

Oh my…

Today’s New York Times has the story.

Have I mentioned that I consider this a bad idea?

Conclusion/Part VIII: Update on NYC’s redesign of Washington Square Park – Ways in which Americans with Disabilities Act was used insincerely

Washington Sq Park 08-16-08

Washington Sq Park 08-16-08

Here is the final piece, Part VIII, of the series Update on NYC’s redesign of Washington Square Park:

Americans with Disabilities Act(ADA) and George Vellonakis’ use and misuse of it

Some of the elements of the redesign of Washington Square Park have been championed by redesigner George Vellonakis as being necessary in order to get the park up to code under the Americans with Disabilities Act(ADA).

This came up at the Washington Square Park Task Force meeting, specifically in relation to The Fountain, the Bathrooms, and the new Elevated Concert Space.

Although it might seem to affect only one part of the community, once you dig a bit deeper, the changes – or reasons given for the changes – affect everyone.

Causes for Concern:

The Bathrooms

One of the most important elements that people with disabilities asked for at Washington Square Park was renovation of the bathrooms which are currently not accessible to the disabled. In fact, virtually everyone who utilizes the Park felt the bathrooms and the cracked pathways were most in need of immediate repair. Yet, as discussed in Part III of the WSP Blog’s series, the bathrooms are not being renovated in Phase I, or Phase II, but in Phase III (sometime in 2009).

The Fountain and Surrounding Area

George Vellonakis stated that the fountain area had to be changed to a level surface (from its “sunken” surfacing) to make it compliant to ADA and therefore accessible for people with disabilities.

Margie Rubin, from NY-based group Disabled in Action and a Village resident, counters this. I spoke with her the other day to clarify some statements she made at the WSPTF meeting.

As far as filling in the “sunken” area of the fountain – a favored aspect of Washington Square Park because of its charm and enhancement of the sound for performances – she says, “No one in the [disabled] community wanted that. … People were perfectly happy with a ramp [being put in] – except for George Vellonakis.” Apparently, the ramp interfered with Vellonakis’s design aesthetic.

Instead of retaining a unique and well-liked aspect of the Fountain area, Vellonakis was given the leeway to proceed with his own vision for Washington Square Park over countless numbers of the Park’s users.

The new Elevated Concert Space Area

In Part II of the series, I addressed the problems with the diminished height of the Elevated Concert Stage which is in Phase II of the design plans. The stage is currently 36″ high which works quite well. The new plans make the stage an astonishingly low 22″ with no railing.

This area will be utilized by the Washington Square Music Festival and other performances, protests, and overall community use. The reason Rubin believes that the stage is not the necessary height is because, at the higher height, Vellonakis would need to change his design to accommodate ADA regulations. ADA stipulates that, for every 1″ high, the ramps needs to be 12″ long. Once it reaches 30 feet, there needs to be a (5 foot) platform/resting area.

Let’s hope that reason – and functionality – prevail on this one.

Vellonakis track record & Conclusion

Rubin has dealt with George Vellonakis on other designs and is aware of his track record on projects such as Abingdon Square (Hudson Street & 8th Avenue) and Father Demos Park(6th Avenue & Bleecker). She said quite bluntly, “George Vellonakis has never met a park that he couldn’t diminish into a garden.”

And, if you take a look at the NorthWest Quadrant in Phase I of the Redesign of Washington Square Park, presently being completed, you’ll see exactly what that means.

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Part VII: Update on NYC’s Redesign of Washington Square Park — The Dog Runs

Here are the final parts of Washington Square Park Blog‘s series Update on NYC’s Redesign of Washington Square Park. This has been focusing on information on the redesign work thus far and what’s in store. I’ll post Part VIII next (yes, there are now eight parts!).

The Dog Runs

There will be a small and large dog run, both located along Washington Square South, relocated from their previous locations within the park. One or both (note: I need to clarify this) of the dog runs will be open 24 hours with a sidewalk entrance which will be open at all times (extended hours from midnight to 6 a.m.).

Small dog run will be located on Washington Square South between LaGuardia Place and Thompson Street. It will be 2 x as large as the previous small dog run.

Large dog run will remain the same size and will be located on Washington Square South between Sullivan and Thompson Street.

Causes for concern:

The dog run locations and their proximity to the street increases the chance of a dog getting out of the dog run, entering the street and being hit by a car. There also is not as much shade in these locations.

Suggestions from the Community at the Meeting: Increasing the size of the large dog run by possibly reducing some of the grassy area and expanding the dog run into it. Someone mentioned that people watch the dogs and since a prime spot in the new location to view the dog run will be the sidewalk, this will increase traffic along an already heavily trafficked route.

It was also mentioned that the WSP dog runs are really only one of two possible off-leash locations south of 57th Street. Previously, East River Park was an option but that got artificial turf-ed and Christopher Street Pier is “no longer” (I assume because it got prettified and absorbed into Hudson River Park).

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Stay tuned… there’s more!

To start at the beginning with Part I, see Key Posts (on sidebar at right).

For Part VIII and Conclusion, click here.

Today’s Daily News on Yankee Stadium “Replacement Parks”: South Bronx Residents cry foul as parks get Yanked

The tragedy that is the destruction of two Bronx parks for Yankee Stadium, a corporate entity, continues to make news.

It’s almost inconceivable to fathom that more than 22 acres of parkland in the Bronx and over 400 trees were destroyed for the Yankees to build a new stadium. When their last stadium was built, the team played at Shea Stadium for two seasons. But such is the political climate we live in today in Mayor Bloomberg’s New York that such a thing was not even considered and corporations were given favor over people as well as nature, our parks and public spaces.

Sports writer Ian Begley writes in today’s New York Daily News article, “South Bronx residents cry foul as parks get Yanked for Stadium construction:”

[Community residents] remember when they could just walk over to Macombs Dam Park and play for as long as they pleased. They were never interrupted in the large expanse across the street from Yankee Stadium, which included tennis courts, soccer and baseball fields and a running track.

But the park closed two years ago when workers broke ground for the new Yankee Stadium. …

“Before, it was good because (Macombs Dam Park) was a big field and there was room for everyone,” Villadares said. “This [replacement area] isn’t as big and it’s usually crowded. It’s not the same as the other park.”

South Bronx residents lost 22 acres of parkland, in Macombs Dam and Mullaly Parks, when new Yankee Stadium construction began two years ago.

In accordance with state and federal law, the Parks Department plans to replace the acreage with new recreational sites in the area. But soaring costs, construction delays and what some have described as questionable planning have caused residents to cry foul, castigating city officials and the Yankees for taking away some of the most popular parkland in the community.

See the full article here.