What and who defines public space in New York City?

amNY today delves into the Bloomberg Administration‘s “vision” for transforming New York’s public spaces. Yet, the article doesn’t touch upon parks as public space which is too bad because highlighting what the Bloomberg Administration has done to take away and adversely impact public space at Washington Square Park, Union Square Park, the giveaway of Bronx parkland to the Yankees, the privatization of Randalls Island, etc. would counter city “planner” Amanda Burden‘s gushing spin on the whole thing.

Ms. Burden and Mayor Mike’s idea of expanding public space is more about putting tables in the midst of city streets (seriously) and not so much about how people interact. It is more about figuring out how tourists can sit and have a cup of coffee amidst Times Square congestion versus people actually engaging with one another in unplanned, unusual and spontaneous ways.

Jeremiah of Vanishing New York blog is thankfully quoted and provides some balance, saying, ““There is a kind of mono-cultural aesthetic that everything is being made too coordinated and the style is this kind of glass and chrome where everything looks like a condo. …It’s nice to have a place to sit, but it feels too antithetical to what a city is supposed to be, which is chaotic and organic and wild and hard to tame.”

Ms. Burden tells amNY that many of her initiatives are informed by time spent in Europe. Of course, on the surface, there’s nothing wrong with that. She says, ““I really believe you can measure the health of a city by the vitality of its streets and public spaces. … In the end, that’s what draws people to a city. That’s what makes people fall in love with a city.”

That sounds great — until you look closer. When city “planning” starts worrying too much about changing a city as unique as New York for tourists and doesn’t preserve what New Yorkers already love about their city, I think there is a problem.

“The Vanishing City” event a success !

The Vanishing City event Saturday night 1/24 at The New Dixon Place (a pre-opening event) was a sold-out success! The film “Twilight Becomes Night” movingly emphasized why our local “mom and pop” stores are so important to communities (and our sense of community) vs. endless blocks of Duane Reade, Chase banks, Staples, and Starbucks. The preview trailer of the film “Vanishing New York” looks great. I met the filmmakers Jen Senko and Fiore DeRosa and look forward to seeing the finished result coming this spring.

Kirby from Colonnade Row organized the event. (You can read his report back on it here.) New York State Assembly Member Deborah Glick was particularly hard hitting and didn’t spare any words as to her feelings about Mayor Bloomberg! (Hint: Not so positive.) All the panelists, the moderation, the vibe, etc. were excellent and the turnout reflected the interest – and concern over – our Vanishing City.

The topics discussed – the non-stop giveaways to developers and corporations under the Bloomberg Administration; the lack of emphasis on preserving and valuing community; people and their neighborhoods being sold out for the benefit of real estate interests and “luxury” housing; community members being denied a voice in the “process” – are all relevant in relation to what’s transpired at Washington Square Park thus far.

When asked, Andrew Berman from Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) didn’t have a clear answer as to why his organization supported – or purposefully abstained from taking a real position on– Mayor Bloomberg’s radical revisioning of Washington Square Park.

I have a lot of respect for the work GVSHP does. But that decision truly is a puzzling one. The old ‘line’ that the park needed a “renovation” just isn’t an appropriate one anymore. We all agree on that. The work being done is not a renovation. (In discussing Washington Square Park, Deborah Glick spared no words for the New York City Parks Department declaring it “arrogant” and stated that the tone is set from the top – meaning Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe. Correction: I’ve been informed that she meant Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  Unfortunately, they’re both arrogant!) Berman asserted that landscape designer George Vellonakis, who is in charge of the park’s redesign and inexplicably also on the board of GVSHP, recused himself from any votes in the matter. But the fact that he’s on the board is telling enough.

(Original details about the event here.)