Reportback on NYC Parks Dept. Presentation on Next Phases of WSP Redesign — Part II (of III) 12/3 Meeting

washington sq park as it 'was'

washington sq park as it 'was'

Part II of III (yes, I did say two originally but now it’s three parts!):

My report-back on the New York City Parks Department presentation on the future phases (Phase II and III) of the redesign work at Washington Square Park. This presentation took place at a meeting of the Washington Square Park Task Force and Community Board 2 Parks Committee on Wednesday, December 3rd.

The New York City Parks Department‘s landscape designer George Vellonakis — whose plan informs much of what people are displeased with — was at hand to inform us of the following:

* Teen Plaza / Stage Area … Can you give an inch (or 14)?

The current “Teen Plaza” area (off the Fountain Plaza and near Garibaldi statue) contains the stage which the well-regarded Washington Square Music Festival performs on each summer. Currently, the stage is a standard height of 36″ used for classical music performances and has also worked well for the many uses of this stage throughout the year. The stage in Mr. Vellonakis’ plans was scheduled to be 22″. Although it was requested by the Music Festival and others that the stage be 36″-48″, the Parks Department gave an inch. Well… seven inches, and is scheduled to make the stage 29 inches high, still under a traditional professional stage height.

No Handrails — There is no railing or handrails in the new design around the stage and it was a concern to the director of the Music Festival that the conductor might …well… fall off. When asked, Mr. Vellonakis informed the audience at the meeting that a temporary barrier/rail with rope could be installed for performances. (The current stage has a railing.)

Children’s Tiles — There are numerous tiles on the elevated area of the “Teen Plaza” designed by neighborhood children and installed at some point in the last 30 years. Mr. Vellonakis seemed more than happy to not have to deal with them, informing the audience members that they could be “salvaged” and “reused somewhere else.” (The likely choice, suggested by Mr. Vellonakis, was the renovated playground – not under his jurisdiction – which is being handled by Chris Crowley.)

* Mr. Vellonakis said that people could sit on the steps of the “amphitheater” (apparently part of the design for the stage) “all the time” and that does sound like a nice feature.

* Seating Alcoves — Parks Dept: You like them? Too bad. “So far we’ve decided not to include them.”

If you walk through Washington Square Park, one aspect of the park’s charm is the sweet seating alcoves which grace the edges of the northeastern, eastern, and southeastern borders. People read, perform music, chat together, study in these little nooks of the park. They are not “aligned”… they are not “straight lines” … they are not “symmetrical” … they do not create “viewing corridors” … so one could imagine that they are not viewed by George Vellonakis as pertinent to his design.

However, the community likes them. The WSP Task Force issued a strong recommendation to the Parks Department from the last meeting in July that the seating alcoves be left in the park’s new design. The answer – at the meeting, when asked – to this by Bill Castro (Manhattan Borough Parks Commissioner): “So far, the Parks Department has decided not to include them.”

It is essential that these areas be saved or else it’s just another way that this space will become the blandest, most symmetrical, uncharacteristically formal park one could imagine.

* When GreenWashing isn’t a strong enough term

Environmentalists are more than familiar with the term “green washing.” I have done a lot of work on environmental issues, but I also greatly see the value of public space and I don’t think the two — “green space” vs. “public space” — should be pitted against each other. Washington Square Park has a lot of lawn space as it is. If maintained, you might notice it more.

And yet Mr. Vellonakis insists on reducing the public space in order to add MORE lawn, thereby ignoring and eliminating what is great about Washington Square Park. So he speaks of the “great big green space we created,” “trying to get more green,” adding “sweeping plantings” and “sweeping of perennials.” In this case, greenery is being used to pacify the space.

Part III will cover dog runs, the Mounds, the playground, Conservancy, bathrooms, the Plazas, and anything else I haven’t covered thus far!

Leave a comment


  1. LewisR

     /  December 10, 2008

    Cat, I think you make some good points in this post, but I would ask you to just reconsider one, and that’s the height of the stage. If you ask yourself why a music festival is about the only group who repetedly uses this space, I think you’d start to think about what we in the theater call “sight lines”. The higher the stage, then the higher the audience needs to be to see what acutally happens on that stage. So, this doesn’t matter so much for music, because listening, not seeing, is the #1 consideration. With the Park having the audience at ground level, then the higher the stage, the harder it is to see anything that happens on it. But maybe more importantly, the higher the stage, the more elitest the Park becomes, because the stage is then only good for groups like the music festival that can afford to rent bleachers. So, I guess you can create a Park that’s best for a limited few, but if the stage is lower, then you open it up to smaller theater and dance groups like mine who can’t afford to build or rent audience seating. I’d suggest that in addition to talking with groups that use the stage, maybe consider asking dance and theater groups who do not use the stage as to why they don’t. I bet that you’ll find “sight lines” to be on their lips in no time.

  1. NYC Parks Department Presentation on Next Phases of WSP Redesign — Reportback from December 3rd Meeting (Part I of II) « Washington Square Park

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