Rocker Pete Wentz and Band Fall Out Boy Attempt “spontaneous” concert at Washington Sq Park

On Monday (12/15), with the goal of channeling some Bob Dylan territory of spontaneous Washington Square Park performances (and maybe some publicity), musician Pete Wentz and his band Fall Out Boy attempted to do the same.

The announcement was posted on Sunday on Wentz’s blog in cryptic style, he wrote: “sometimes it should be free. dangerous. open and in the clear.” Accompanying the post was a picture of Bob Dylan in a park. The blog told fans to show up around 3:30 or 4 p.m. Of the location, he says, “its under construction.” When you click on the Dylan photo, it leads to the Wikipedia entry for Washington Square Park. Pretty clever, eh?

Although it leads one to believe that the park Dylan is sitting in is Washington Square Park (note the REALLY high fence – which is, thankfully, not at WSP), someone posted a comment on Wentz’s blog that it’s actually Sheridan Square.

But then, on Monday, when about 200 people showed up at the park, police arrived and wouldn’t let the band perform amplified or with instruments. Mazzah First hand Source Blog (which covers NYU and NYC) has some photos. Wentz and company performed for a short while a cappella. Not sure how long it went on.

If they had been ready to start performing before the call time for the crowd to appear(it’s doubtful the police were scouring Wentz’s blog for announcements of impromptu, un-permitted performances – it was the crowd that tipped them off), they might have pulled this off.

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.

Mounds Monday will have to be … Tuesday

Due to technical difficulties and time constraints, I couldn’t get the Mounds video to upload. So, more on the Mounds on Tuesday! Stay tuned…

NYC Indypendent Holiday Party Monday, December 15th

A bit of late notice but come on out… It’s a Monday and the perfect ‘thing’ to do. Gain some holiday spirit… Support Independent Grassroots Media and have fun!

Monday, December 15th, 6 p.m. – 10 p.m.

Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture

53 Prospect Park West (between 1st and 2nd Streets), Park Slope, Brooklyn

Music, Food, Cheap Drinks! $5-$20 Sliding Scale.

The Indypendent is out there covering the issues the local NYC media traditionally avoids or neglects to mention. Support its efforts at the paper’s holiday party this year! At the beautiful Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture in Park Slope. Live Music by the Improvised Explosive Devices! Let’s celebrate a memorable year.

Details from the Indypendent: “The Indypendent made many strides in 2008 thanks to the generosity of readers, contributors and supporters. We printed hundreds of thousands of copies full of hard-hitting, insightful reporting, and our work paid off when the Indy, for the fifth time, won the most awards from the Independent Press Association for reporting, photography and design. We also had a successful benefit “The 2008 Election: What’s Really At Stake?” featuring Naomi Klein, Jeremy Scahill, Roberto Lovato, Laura Flanders, and Malia Lazu at the Cooper Union, and editor Jessica Lee received an award for one of the top ten finalists in Project Censored.”

Subways: 2, 3 to Grand Army Plaza, B,Q to 7th Ave. or: F train to 7th Avenue, exit 8th Ave.

Expert Doctor on Children’s Health Raises Alarm on Synthetic Turf

* Recycled Entry *

Dr. Philip Landrigan is a respected pediatrician and expert on children’s health at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in NYC. He has written a letter (7/21/08) urging a moratorium and raising alarming concerns on artificial turf to the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection.

No word on whether this same letter has been sent to the NYC Department of Health or NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe (who seems to have a difficult time reversing course no matter how stunning the evidence). NYC, under Commissioner Benepe’s direction, has installed 94 artificial turf fields thus far in parks and ball fields. Despite concerns, plans move forward to install 68 additional turf fields across New York City.

Dr. Landrigan writes:

Synthetic turf fields have proliferated in recent years, and there are now more than several hundred of these installations in Connecticut and in other states up and down the East Coast. Almost no assessment of the potential hazards to children’s health of synthetic turf fields was undertaken before these fields were constructed. The stated need for their installation was a desire to improve the quality and enhance the drainage of playing fields coupled with a strong impetus to get more kids out and exercising as a way to combat the obesity epidemic.

These are laudable goals. The problem is that they were pursued without any consideration of alternatives or analysis of potential negative consequences. There was insufficient due diligence. The result now is that we are in a situation in which a number of these very expensive fields have been installed, and we are suddenly and belatedly beginning to realize that they may lead to health problems.

His recommendation is as follows:

1. A moratorium on installation of new synthetic turf fields until a careful, competent, independent study of their potential hazards has been conducted and reported to the public;

2. Immediate study of the suspected chemical hazards of synthetic turf fields.

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Dr. Landrigan’s Full Letter Outlining His Concerns Follows: (more…)

On Artificial Turf —

The entry below was taken from a July 9th post here at Washington Square Park Blog on artificial turf. Although the Parks Department insists there is a new and better version they are using, it’s still questionable. As reported in Wednesday’s (12/10) entry, the Parks Department wants to place artificial turf around the Mounds (southwestern area) at Washington Square Park.

As you’ll read below, the New York Daily News reports the results of testing done by NYC Park Advocates. Upon testing some of the “new” turf at Macomb Dams Park (one of the Parks in the Bronx obliterated and split into pieces to pave the way – literally – for Yankee Stadium), the organization found it still reached 160 degrees. In the meantime, I am looking into this “new” “not infill rubber” material to get some other feedback on it. At the time of this entry, artificial turf had been placed in 94 locations across New York City. … Entry follows

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In the July 5th NY Daily News, Jeff Wilkins and Elizabeth Hays report: “Artificial turf installed in city fields can heat up to a blistering 162 degrees even on a mild summer day, a Daily News investigation has found.” This is twice as high as the temperature of natural grass.

The writers encountered 9 year old Yannick Pena at Macombs Dam Park in the Bronx after he walked on the artificial turf there. He said, “My feet are burning! I had to dump cold water on my shoes just to walk around.”

Other than the heat, there are other problems: “Earlier this year, The News reported concerns that the millions of tiny crumbs contain heavy metals like lead and cadmium, as well as volatile organic compounds and other chemicals.”

Deputy Parks Commissioner Liam Kavanagh said the city would begin using a “carpet-style turf” and “plans to stop using the crumb-rubber infill because of excessive heat.”

However, in testing a field at Macombs Dam Park that has the “new turf,” The Daily News found that it also registered “as high as 160 degrees.”

In the July 9th Metro NY, Patrick Arden reports new signs are now appearing in the NYC parks and ballfields that contain artificial turf. The signs state:

This field can get hot on warm, sunny days. If you experience symptoms of heat-related illness, such as dizziness, weakness, headache, vomiting, or muscle cramps, move to a shaded area. Drink water, rest, and seek medical attention if you do not feel better.

Metro’s investigation, also with the assistance of NYC Park Advocates, backed up the Daily News report: “One day last month, the artificial turf at Brooklyn’s Cadman Plaza was 165.5 degrees, while a nearby plot of grass measured just 83 degrees. Waves of heat rose from the field.”

Will the Parks Department follow the logical route and abandon their turf dream of installing these substances in 68 more locations? All evidence points to the contrary.

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A longer version of this post originally appeared July 9th, 2008: “NYC Parks Department Motto: Stick to the plans no matter how irrational or unwelcome they are.”

New Posts Resume Tomorrow!

Please review my report-back – in three Parts! – on the Parks Department’s presentation on future phase redesign Work at Washington Square Park from the last few days.

Coming up… more on artificial turf and … why people like the Mounds!

Part III Report-back on NYC Parks Dept. Presentation of Future Phase Redesign Work on Washington Sq Park

Part III, the final installment, of my report-back from the NYC Parks Department presentation of the future Phase (II and III) redesign work at Washington Square Park based on information presented at a joint meeting of the Washington Square Park Task Force and Community Bd 2 Parks Committee held December 3rd.

* The Plazas – Reduction in public space seems excessive

Phase I’s NorthWest quadrant’s “plaza” is basically finished. It is a circular pattern with a large circular flower bed in the midst of it with a walkway around it and benches at its edges. I personally don’t like how large the flower bed is in the center — I think it interferes with the flow of how people interact with one another which is my critique of much of the park’s design — but it doesn’t change dramatically what was there prior. So, fine.

— What happens to Washington Square Park’s other “quadrants” in the next Phase?

Each quadrant of the park has a “plaza” and, as George Vellonakis explained, they each have different designs. (A break from symmetry. Imagine.) The Southwest quadrant and the NorthEast quadrant — these areas are addressed in the next Phase — currently are quite large. The Southwest quadrant holds the chess tables and the Northeast quadrant is a large gathering spot prone to spontaneous performances; it also has picnic tables, which people utilize. So… what did George Vellonakis reveal about his plans for these two areas? Firstly, they are both being greatly reduced in size (same # of chess tables, smaller area to congregate). It sounded fairly significant although, unfortunately, he had no numbers or percentages to share.

The question is … Why? Why does the chess area have to be reduced? Why do the picnic tables have to go or at least why does that area have to be so greatly reduced?

* The Mounds / Artificial Turf

I’ll do another post on the Mounds one day this week but they are three “hills” on the southwestern side of the Park that children use as informal and spontaneous play structures and also are used in the winter for sledding. The Mounds have their fans and they have some opponents.

The Mounds are scheduled to be recreated in Phase II. However, the two words associated with the recreation of the Mounds area that got people alarmed were “artificial turf” which the Parks Department hopes to use on the ground surrounding the Mounds.  (Note: this is a clarification which did not appear in the original version of this post.)

Although Mr. Vellonakis tried to assure people that what the Parks Department planned to use was some better version of synthetic turf and “not infill rubber,” (a) can it really be that much better ? and (b) is it really necessary to use in this area? Mr. Vellonakis tried to make an aesthetic argument for using the artificial turf stating that it would “blend into the landscape” and therefore “make [it] more attractive.” Mr. Vellonakis also stated that the artificial turf would “hold snow better.” Hmmm.

I’ve written some posts on artificial turf here and here. (Links to be added in later.) It gets very hot (although Mr. Vellonakis said that the area is shaded so that’s less likely) and the pieces separate and kids have come home with it in their shoes. What if kids eat it? We still have no idea how it affects wildlife or the environment at large.

* The Playground

The large playground on the north east side will be completed in stages so as not to close off the entire area for an extended period of time – this is in response to parents’ wishes in the community. It will remain the same size within the same footprint. Chris Crowley from the Parks Department is in charge of the playground and does seem dedicated to working with the neighborhood users on this effort. The playground will also contain a children’s garden.

— “Safety Surface”?

Another controversial item — mentioned in relation to the playground — was the use of “safety surface” which is basically black rubber mats, ya know, the ones kids have burned their feet on.

— Interesting about the Fence…

The fence around the playground is currently 7 feet high and there was talk about perhaps putting a new, lower fence in around the area but there are (first we’ve heard of this…) concerns about the cost. When the fence was put in, Washington Square Park, interestingly enough, did not have a perimeter fence (the one that was put in is the current 3 feet high fence, the one being installed is 4 feet).

There will be a meeting on January 7th to discuss the playground in more depth.

* Dog Runs

The two dog runs – small dog run and large dog run – are being moved from within the park to the southern edge of the park. They will have multiple gates to hopefully prevent dogs from getting out into the street. The dog run advocates are still hoping that the dog runs will be enlarged. Although the large dog run is being expanded by 500 square feet, it is not considered large enough. Where the dog runs are being installed, there are some large trees which Mr. Vellonakis said would not be disturbed.

* Conservancy? — No, They Say

Bill Castro, Manhattan Borough Parks Commissioner, stated that there is “no plan to have a conservancy” at Washington Square Park. There are concerns amongst community members that because the Park’s budget is so high at this point and maintenance of the park will be costly that a private conservancy will be formed including NYU, the Tisches, the local BID(Business Improvement District), and real estate interests in the area. For reasons why, Conservancies spell trouble (they are basically BIDs), see here. (Link added later.)

There will however be more park enforcement rangers.

Bathrooms

Although the Washington Square Park Task Force and community members have stressed again and again that the bathroom repairs and upgrading are a priority and therefore should have been tackled in the first or maybe even the second phase, they have been relegated by the Parks Department to phase III. When asked again about this, the Parks Department response to this “high priority” was “we will get back to you on that.” There was this strained silence but also covert smiles amongst Bill Castro and George Vellonakis and it is clearly not taken seriously – at all.

* A comment that seemed to sum it all up:

Mary seemed to sum up the underlying community sentiment:

“Washington Square Park keeps being compared [by the Parks Department] with [what’s done at] other parks. It is important to keep its character intact. A cookie cutter idea is not acceptable.”

Exactly.

New York Times calls for “Improving the Landmarks Process”

If you missed it, Saturday December 6th’s New York Times featured an editorial, “Improving the Landmarks Process,” on the Landmarks Preservation Commission, the focus of a series of articles.

The Times wrote:

Judge Marilyn Shafer of the New York State Supreme Court ruled last month that the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission habitually acted in a manner that was “arbitrary and capricious” and ordered the commission to conduct its business in a more timely manner. Her conclusions are welcome and frustratingly familiar to New Yorkers.

Of course, as is the City’s tendency, The Times writes: “The City plans to appeal. Instead…”

it should reform the commission, which is all that stands between the enormous pressures for development in this city and its priceless architectural heritage.

In addition:

Part of the trouble is that the commission enjoys little political independence. The chairman serves at the mayor’s pleasure; the 11 unpaid commissioners see only the cases the chairman recommends. These are attributes that a pro-development mayor is not likely to want to change.

It was alarming to read that Robert Tierney, the present chairman, was appointed by Mayor Bloomberg five years ago to head the Landmarks Preservation Commission despite having “no background in architecture, planning or historic preservation.”

To read more about some of the Times‘ reporting on this as well as about Washington Square Park and the Landmarks Preservation Commission (actually, I did not even go into the full story which is far murkier than this post reveals), and a chance to see George Vellonakis’s tarnished testimony on the Park’s redesign plan before LPC, see this previous entry.

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!