Happy New Year from Washington Square Park Blog!

Well, no, 2008 wasn’t a perfect year and we’ve had to contend with the possibility that Mayor Bloomberg might linger in office much longer than anyone wanted, but, let’s be optimistic! For Washington Square Park, things can only get better as we see exactly what can be done (i.e., changed) with the plan from here on. Here’s hoping for a new year in which lies, lack of transparency, apathy, arrogance, catering to corporate interests and overemphasis on real estate values get put to rest and inspiration, truth, negotiation, strategy, logic, people coming together, change, tenaciousness, and the magical park win out. Happy New Year.

New Posts return Monday, January 5th, 2009.

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Washington Square Park, As It Looks Now, and What’s Been Happening Of Late

Washington Sq Pk, early Dec. 08

Washington Sq Pk, early Dec. 08

For a refresher, or in case you missed ’em, read more about what’s been happening lately at Washington Square Park from these recent posts:

* Update from Washington Square Park Task Force Meeting 12/3, featuring a Parks Department Presentation on Next “Phases” of WSP Redesign, Part I.

* The “Tisch” Fountain plaques have arrived!

* Rocker Pete Wentz and Band Fall Out Boy Attempt “Spontaneous” Concert in Washington Sq Park 12/15.

Photo: J. Bary

Some Predictions for NYC in 2009 from Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates via Gotham Gazette

New York, NY

Photo: Image © Richard Wanderman

Geoffrey Croft, source of much imperative information about – and protector of – our city’s parks and public spaces via his organization, NYC Park Advocates, was asked by Gotham Gazette to list his predictions for 2009.

Here they are:

* Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Speaker Christine Quinn will hold a joint press conference to apologize for misleading statements made during the term-limits debate: Both had repeatedly insisted the public could actually choose not to re-elect them in November. They acknowledge that out in the last 107 City Council races, 98 percent of the incumbents were reappointed. They admit council members have only a slightly less chance of returning to office than former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein did during his last re-election bid. (He garnered 101 percent of the vote.)

* For the first time in more than four decades, elected officials will abide by the City Charter and begin to allocate adequate expense dollars to maintain, secure and program parks.

* The Bloomberg administration will apologize for installing more than 100 million pounds of chemically laden recycled tires in our parks and schools and realize natural grass is good for the environment.

* The city will voluntarily agree to test all materials installed in playgrounds for heat before they burn more children.

* Mayor Bloomberg will initiate community-based planning and consultation for all park projects. He agrees to send out $400 rebate checks to victims of poor park policies. The program will be suspended 24 minutes later after 311 is overwhelmed by calls from residents living near the new Yankee Stadium, the Van Cortlandt Park water filtration plant, Washington Square, the Ridgewood Reservoir, Randall’s Island, Union Square, the planned Brooklyn Bridge Park and others. The mayor will respond, “Don’t they know we’re experiencing the golden age of parks?

* The New York Yankees will give back their city financing and admit the new stadium places an undue burden on taxpayers.

* After being visited by the Ghost of Christmas Future, all 29 Council members who voted to ignore two voter referendums on term limits will have a sudden change of heart and not seek re-election. Bloomberg holds out. Tipped off about the coming visitation, he posts extra security at his Upper East Side townhouse and prevents entry. However, the next day — after receiving a note left by the spirit saying he would return soon — the mayor agrees to participate in the city’s campaign finance program.

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You can read others’ predictions at the Gotham Gazette site.

To see the above photo with specific locations pin pointed, including Washington Square Park, check this out.

Christmas Eve at the Washington Square Arch

I went to the Christmas Eve festivities under the Arch. There was a small band and song sheets and caroling and some people wearing holiday gear (reindeer hats?). There was a good sized crowd. The event seemed to draw a lot of people from the community and beyond. The rain held off until just as the music ended. Afterwards, a woman with her children (maybe they missed the caroling?) sang their own carols under the Arch. Two people appeared practicing Tai Chi against the inside ‘legs’ of the Arch. There was basically no one else left at this point.

This photo was taken afterwards; it had started raining and the crowd had dispersed but there was something almost meditative and redemptive about the rain against the backdrop of the decorated tree and the magnificent Arch(now out from under its gates), amidst the close-to-deserted Washington Square Park on Christmas Eve.

Happy, Merry, Enjoy — “Merry Mounds” Video Showcases Winter Frolic at Washington Sq Park

Merry Christmas Eve! I’m taking a blogging break until Monday, December 29th but there’s so much more in store for the New Year!

And, since you can never get enough of the Mounds, I know, this is a delightful video clip of kids at Washington Square Park using the Mounds for sledding and frolicking in the snow produced by Matt Davis (“SQUARE: Straightening out Washington Square Park“).  The song features Karen Carpenter’s irresistible version of the  song “Sleigh Ride” and illustrates how the children gravitate towards the Mounds as places of spontaneous play. The music fits in perfectly and it is worth your time watching especially if you are in need of a bit of holiday spirit.

* Be sure to check out the archives; there are 290 posts which cover many topics – see the Categories to search for a few.

NY Daily News reports “Lead in [artificial] turf shuts East Harlem field”

You know that artificial turf that Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe has advocated for and previously wouldn’t consider had any problems, to the point where it’s been installed in over 90 ballfields and parks across New York City? This despite the fact that in New Jersey they closed two ball fields when high levels of lead were found. Well, now those same high levels have been found in a field in East Harlem and it’s been closed, according to today’s New York Daily News.

Frank Lombardi reports:

An East soccer field has been closed after elevated lead levels were detected in the synthetic turf installed five years ago, park officials said Monday.

The exact cause of the lead contamination at Thomas Jefferson Park, at First Ave. and E. 113th St., is not known, according to Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe.

But Geoffrey Croft, a park advocate and frequent critic, blamed the lead contamination on the city’s use of a type of synthetic turf that includes a cushion of pulverized tires, known as crumb-rubber infill.

There’s this reassuring comment from the Assistant Commissioner Nancy Clark, “health effects from previous exposures are unlikely.” Right. Lead exposure can cause brain damage and other illnesses.

However, even after being alerted to the two fields in New Jersey being closed back in April, Parks Commissioner Benepe was quoted in Metro: “There’s no doubt in my mind it’s safe.”

Tell me why we are entrusting our city’s natural parks, public spaces, environment and wildlife to this public official’s control. There is no other way to say it. While I believe that the Parks Commissioner is ultimately under direction from Mayor Bloomberg and has too minimal a budget to work with, there are just too many questionable statements and actions to feel comfortable with his leadership of the parks in our city.  (What’s happened at Washington Square Parkthe manipulations, the lack of transparency … – alone would cause most anyone to want a new person in charge.) Which leads me to wonder…

Why should we trust the Parks Department (and Commissioner Benepe) when they say there is some new version of artificial turf to be used in Washington Square Park, and other locations across New York City, that’s “not infill rubber,” that’s better?

Wednesday December 24th, Christmas Eve Festivities/Caroling, at the Arch 5 p.m.

Washington Sq Park Arch Tree

Washington Sq Park Arch Tree

So if you, like me, missed the tree being lit and the caroling earlier this month, you can come by the Washington Square Park Arch on Christmas Eve, December 24th, at 5 p.m. and join in on some holiday festivities (including caroling).

New York Daily Photo has a doctored photo of the tree and Arch bathed in white in a post from earlier this month. Brian Dubé who runs the site stopped by the tree lighting and here is an excerpt of some of his thoughts:

Historically I have been rather scroogish in my attitude towards Christmas, bristling at its overly commercial nature. But over time, I have softened, and realize that nothing is gained in being a curmudgeon. Why stand alone on principle and isolate yourself, while the rest of the world is busy singing around you? I am not saying that one should throw principle into the wind, but certainly looking for the good is not the worst life approach. So I see holidays as opportunities to celebrate – and there are so many ways and places to celebrate everything imaginable here, both religious and secular.

He writes that the Washington Square Park tree lighting is in its 82nd year and that “the ritual actually dates back earlier than the tree lighting in Rockefeller Center.”

The photo above was taken by J. Bary.

The Union Square “Holiday Market” and Selling Off and Shutting Down Our Public Space

Union Square "Holiday Market"

Union Square "Holiday Market"

Fascinating reading this Sunday’s (December 21st) New York Times City section Cover Story on the Union Square “Holiday Market” which it proclaims “The Jewel Box of Union Square.” Comparing the Washington Square Park City section cover story “The Battle for Washington Square” and this Union Square piece, one starts to think maybe the City section has a great love for the New York City Parks Department despite so much evidence, if given a close look and taken seriously, that would cause that love affair to go real sour very quickly.

The New York City Parks Department sells off a large section of the public space at Union Square for four weeks, at the time of year when it might be nice, important even, for people to actually come together in that space. The space at Union Square Park is unique (like Washington Square Park) because it has a large plaza, people sit on the steps, they watch (and participate with) musicians, performances and political speak outs. And yet that all gets SHUT DOWN at this time of year for an entire month.

Then there is the issue of the harassment of street artists who have won their right to sell art in the parks based on First Amendment protection. During their legal battles with the city – primarily from 1998-2001 – according to A.R.T.I.S.T. President Robert Lederman, “the city claimed that artists were completely ruining the parks by selling art. They claimed that by, ‘commercializing the city’s parks,’ we were denying the entire public their right to use that same public space.” Funny how that doesn’t apply to “Holiday Market” vendors who – if you study the photo above – take up a huge amount of our public space. Though the street artists have prevailed in court, they are still harassed by the New York City Parks Department, and the NY City Council wants to limit their access – in order to open up access for further privatization of public space. Tricky, eh?

But you see, the issue is actually the right of the city to sell the public space, and, while the GreenMarket and the artist street vendors work within the public space, the “Holiday Market” takes over the space – which is much more offensive to those of us who like to utilize the public space.

More from Robert Lederman here. (more…)

Washington Square Park in the Snow

The Magical Park (2006)

The Magical Park (2006)

.To see video of Washington Square Park in all its “Winter Wonderland” glory, click here.

NYC Parks Dept. – 2/3 cuts in workers and many privatization schemes

Parks Dept. Logo, old Grate, Flatbush, Bklyn

Parks Dept. Logo, old Grate, Flatbush, Bklyn

According to New York Jobs With Justice:

“Years ago, NYC’s public parks were administered by over 7,500 municipal employees of the Department of Parks and Recreation. Today, it’s only 2,500 municipal employees taking care of NYC’s public parks. This number continues to shrink as the years go by. Much of the labor has been privatized through city partnerships with non-profit administrators resulting in a two-tier work force of public servants in the City’s public parks.

That is a 66% reduction in Parks Department workers.

Since so much has been willingly privatized (by the City), it’s hard to know what the actual number of workers is now.

Another result of the Parks Department budget cuts and the City government’s focus on privatization of our public spaces is emphasis on private entities which manage the space and also deem how that space is used.

* The City sells off naming rights to the fountain at Washington Square Park under the ruse that they can’t afford to repair it otherwise, and they agree to re-name it Tisch Fountain for $2.5 million (it ends up being moved, unnecessarily “aligned,” along with the deal) …

* At Central Park, the Central Park Conservancy – the private entity in charge of the park – has fought workers’ efforts to unionize.

* At Union Square Park, the Parks Department accepts a $7 million “anonymous” donation with STIPULATIONS – strings attached – that this donation ensures that there is a private restaurant in the historic Pavilion at Union Square. Although it hasn’t been revealed who the donor is, somehow restauranteur Danny Meyer, who is also co-chair of the Union Square Partnership (the local BID-business improvement district), is the only name bandied about as the choice to helm the restaurant. The restaurant is held off – for the moment – by a judge’s decision; the result of a lawsuit that a community group brought against the Parks Department to stop the privatization of this public space. (Meyer insisted in an affidavit that he has no plans to run the restaurant – but he supports it.)

You can see how much of a slippery slope this whole privatization game is.

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Photo: Cat

* This is an edited and expanded version of a post published April 25, 2008. *