What’s Up with the Mounds? Why People Like Them.

I admit to at first being a little confused by the Mounds, the “three hills” located in the southwestern part of Washington Square Park. After doing some research on them, I can see their value. The Mounds were created during the 1970’s design of the Park and were part of an “adventure playground” for older children. Ten years after they were installed, the Parks Department paved them over with asphalt, a substance, according to Mounds advocates, they were not meant to be covered in, and it led to a decline in their appearance as it broke down.

The linked footage is from the documentary, Square: Straightening Out Washington Square Park. The first person speaking is the Parks Department’s (controversial) landscape designer George Vellonakis. Later in the piece, sitting at a table with advocates for the Mounds, you’ll encounter City Council Member Alan Gerson informing people – at a point when it did not look like the Mounds would be saved – that temporary sledding structures would be brought to the Park in the winter to counteract the loss of the Mounds for that usage.

Thus far, the Mounds have been saved and are scheduled to be recreated. The most controversial part in that plan at this point is the use of artificial turf around the Mounds (see previous entries on the plans and on artificial turf).

You’ll see in this video (at the link) children actually using the Mounds (they have been closed off for use for awhile). As one advocates states: “They are places of spontaneous play which is different from play equipment which sort of mandates play. The Mounds allow spontaneous play, discovery, risk taking, all the things that are part of growing up.”

Watch video “The Three Hills” here.

“Places of spontaneous play…” Isn’t that part of Washington Square Park‘s charm overall and what makes it so unique … part of its renown? It offers places of spontaneous play — in the form of music, art, protest, conversation. Yet the New York City Parks Department insists on attempting to pacify this public space by … reducing the areas in which these activities occur, adding more and more LAWN and little plazas (has anyone been to a suburban town square lately?), removing the unique and widely used seating alcoves, reducing the area around the chess tables, heightening the fence, and more.

Leave a comment


  1. Stacy

     /  December 16, 2008

    In a much more concrete sense, the mounds were often used by older children, 6 to 12, or so, for skate boarding, before there were any skate boarding parks with halfpipes. Parents and children also enjoyed using them for sledding when there was snow. Since the Village has relatively flat terrain without the mounds there are few opportunities for a nice downhill slide.

  2. Ray

     /  December 16, 2008

    Clearly they represent an “innovation” from an earlier time. As was pointed out, we have since invented structures for young males to enjoy their skateboards and bikes. The mounds have been obsolesced.

    Rather than conserve something that has questionable value, with astroturf no less. I’d support their removal and installation of grass. At reasonable intervals during the warm weather months the trust programming the park can bring in the structures for youth to enjoy (and we can enjoy watching them). The rest of the time, we all can enjoy the aesthetically improved space.

    Let’s move on.

  3. amanda

     /  December 17, 2008

    Ray, skateboarding is not an exclusively male activity. Nor is BMX.

  1. Project for Public Spaces » Blog Archive » Places in the News: December 22, 2008

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