Private Tour of Fenced-Off Washington Square Park Led by Re-Designer George Vellonakis

My Encounter With George Vellonakis

I encountered George Vellonakis, the architect (albeit unlicensed) behind the unnecessary and controversial, extensive redesign of Washington Square Park, a few Sundays ago at the Park. I first saw Mr. Vellonakis outside the fenced-off Arch talking to a group of about 8 people who I assumed were his friends. However, once I made my way to the southern side of the Park, there he was inside the currently-under-construction NorthWest Quadrant clearly giving a private tour. I could not hear every word but for a few comments … about the Minetta stream which runs under Washington Square Park (which I learned about in preparation for my own walking tours) and the trees that had lined the fountain (those 40 year old trees are no longer, chopped down under his plan) and so forth.

George Vellonakis: Tour Guide?

As he stood there with the newly aligned fountain behind him (under construction but moved 23 feet east to be in ‘line’ with the Arch at Fifth Avenue – allegedly his idea) and this group around him, he seemed quite pleased with himself. I thought… this would be a great picture. As I attempted to take that picture of him amidst his crew, he started hiding behind them. I didn’t realize this was on purpose at first – I thought he was just moving into different locations. Mr. Vellonakis and I have never met. Once I realized what was transpiring, I was bemused to say the least. I looked at him quizzically and he smiled, sweetly, and said “No Pictures Please.” I was a bit taken aback. (Huh?) I asked him, “Are you camera shy?” The people on the tour looked at me quizzically and could not figure out what was going on.

So… why do you think George Vellonakis did not want his picture taken ? Why is he giving private tours of the under-construction part of this public space which is off-limits to everyone else? And… Who do you think the people were he was giving a private tour to?

Well… Perhaps Something Good will come from the Term Limits Fiasco…

The New York Times reports todayAfter Term Limits vote, Tensions Rise At City Hall.” Some hopeful information (at last) is revealed following last week’s vote. You remember … this is where the NY City Council voted 29-22 to overturn voted-in (two) term limits to allow Mayor Bloomberg – and themselves – a third term.

From the article:

Tensions between City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn and aides to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg are erupting just a week after Ms. Quinn shepherded the mayor’s divisive legislation to loosen the city’s term limits law through the Council.

Feelings are raw between the two sides largely because Ms. Quinn took heavy political shrapnel for the mayor during the term limits battle as she rounded up support for what became an unusually difficult vote.

The current issue that’s ruffling Speaker Quinn’s feathers – and much of the City Council – is over the Mayor’s wish to change the structure of how programs for the elderly are financed. Mr. Bloomberg is hoping to push this restructuring through the City Council next. He has rarely faced heavy opposition from the Council (particularly under Ms. Quinn’s “leadership”) except for this recent overturning-the-will-of-the-voters thing.

“The tensions reveal the degree to which the bruising term limits battle, initiated by the mayor so that he can run for a third term, altered the political landscape, with Ms. Quinn and her colleagues feeling empowered to challenge the Bloomberg administration as never before,” the article continues.

As he stated he would at the end of last week, this week, Mayor Bloomberg began calling members of the City Council to try to ease the tension over the vote. However, as a CEO, our billionaire Mayor doesn’t think that he needs to cater to the whims of the Council whose members he obviously considers his employees. So he didn’t stop, as expected, on the calls at discussing the term limits vote, he started wrestling for the next vote. His attitude is … you did what I wanted, now this is what I want next. Apparently, the City Council members are not taking so kindly to that attitude.

It’s about time.

Update: So, a reader named Steve wrote in and said “Don’t be so naive. This story was planted by the City Council!” Steve has a point. Earlier, the thought crossed my mind that Bloomberg and Quinn might have come to some agreement for her to save face and let stories like this through. But I’m looking for some hope here! A story can be planted and still be true – the question becomes what degree of truth. ? And how do we ever know for sure?