WSP Blog Presents apparent Conundrum to the NYC Parks Dept with the Question: What is Amount of Public Space around the Washington Square Park Fountain?


In attempting to clarify a simple point of information from the NYC Parks Department Press Office last month, I first received a gracious response — followed by a drop-off in communication.

Did I per chance hit upon something that the Parks Department does not want to admit or state publicly?

It’s basic information contained within Phase I of the redesign work. The same work they state will be completed in November.

My curiously difficult-to-answer question to the NYC Parks Department? … : What will the size of the Plaza area (the public space) surrounding the Washington Square Park Fountain be?

(As regular readers know, due to the Park’s redesign, the famous fountain is now moved 23 feet east of its original location in the center of the Park to “align” with the Washington Square Arch.)

Jane Jacobs and the Fountain’s Importance As a Public Space

Whether the fountain really needed to be moved, that’s a question most people answer NO to. However, perhaps a bigger point of concern is the amount of public space around the Fountain — the Plaza. As Jane Jacobs wrote about the Washington Square Park Fountain in 1971 in her renowned book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities: “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.”

WSP Blog and Parks Department Press Office Communication

I wrote to Jama Adams, the head of the Parks Department press department at the suggestion of Amy Freitag, #2 to NYC Parks Commissioner Benepe, in early August. Adams assigned Press Officer Cristina DeLuca to assist me.

I wrote the following on August 5th:

Hi Cristina,

Thank you for getting in contact.

I want to know from the Parks Department what the square footage of – what is usually termed – the “interior plaza area” or “inner circle” around the Fountain at Washington Square Park will be with the renovation of the Park.

The figure that I have is that the new interior plaza (which goes from outermost edge of fountain wall to innermost edge of any seating) will be 20,662 square feet.

In addition, the Entire Plaza Area around Fountain (which includes and goes beyond this area) will be 39,419 square feet.

Can you verify this?

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Cathryn.

On August 7th, this interchange occurred:

Hi Cathryn,

Hope to have this confirmed for you soon. Waiting on borough staff to give me the info. Just resubmitted request as a reminder.
Best,
Cristina

Sent: Thursday, August 07, 2008 4:41 PM
To: DeLuca, Cristina
Subject: Re: Washington Square Park

Hi Cristina,

When do you think you might have the information I requested ? It should be within Parks Department documentation for Phase I work of Washington Square Park.

Thanks for your help.

Sincerely,
Cathryn.

Then … what happened?

Nothing. Since then, I’ve sent numerous emails, I’ve called and left messages. No response.

Is the New York City Parks Department is hiding something?

Could it be that this plaza area is going to be less than what was stated and stipulated ? *

Background on the Public Space issue around the Fountain

*The Gerson-Quinn Agreement (drafted October 2005), a mild (but weak) document, written to Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe by NY City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Council Member Alan Gerson, states its goal as: “a framework for resolving the outstanding major issues pertaining to the renovation of Washington Square Park.” The G-Q Agreement did not in fact even attempt to resolve the major outstanding issues (NOTE: This has made close followers of the redesign question Gerson and Quinn’s intention) but it did stipulate a few things that should nonetheless be adhered to.

One such stipulation: That the Fountain Plaza be no less than 90% of the current area.

In August 2007, The Washington Square Park Task Force issued a Report. It addressed the Plaza area and stated that: it “did not have enough information from the Parks Department to draw a clear conclusion on the size of the inner circle of the fountain plaza 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.”

When I questioned WSP Task Force co-chair Brad Hoylman last month if this question was ever answered, he directed me to lawsuit documents* from which I obtained the figures above that I queried the Parks Department about.

(*If you hadn’t heard, there were numerous lawsuits around Washington Square Park trying to stop the project from going forward and calling the Parks Department on its lack of transparency and accountability. They ultimately failed to stop the project from going forward.)

What is the Parks Department hiding?

It appears that the NYC Parks Department does not want to answer this basic – but important question – which impacts our public space. The Press Office is caught in the middle.

Perhaps the bigger question is…

Who is minding the store?



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Hint: Is it Community Board 2? The Washington Square Park Task Force? Community Groups? Alan Gerson? Christine Quinn? None of the above?