Want to become a Washington Sq Park Advocate and Volunteer? Parks Dept. Hosts First Informational Meeting Tonite February 12th.

The park in the Spring

The park in the Spring

Become a Washington Square Park Advocate and Volunteer * Bring your energy and ideas!

Information Session Tonite * Thursday, February 12, 2008 * 6:30 p.m.

Center for Architecture, 536 LaGuardia Place, Manhattan

From the notice: Washington Square Park volunteers are an integral part of the success and vitality of this historic green space. Volunteers help with ongoing programs and maintenance in the park. Volunteers are invited to join regular work days doing activities like planting bulbs, weeding, raking, and painting. Volunteer also help plan and manage programs and special events. As a volunteer you will also have the opportunity to use your unique skills or expertise, like computer graphics, mapping or writing, to help Washington Square.

To RSVP, or if you are interested in becoming a volunteer but cannot make this meeting, please send an email to Rebecca.Ferguson-at-Parks.nyc.gov or call 212-408-0297.

Note: This is hosted by the New York City Parks Department.

Heard At City Hall on Artificial Turf: “But Where Will the Tires Go?” … Mayor Bloomberg says this is “a made-up story”

According to a scrap tire recycler who spoke at the New York City Council hearing on artificial turf and rubber “safety surface” mats yesterday at City Hall, 13% of all scrap tires in New York State are used to create artificial turf. If the City Council passes a bill placing a moratorium on “crumb rubber” Turf installations in the city – which is what is being proposed – the speaker asked, “Where will the tires that would have gone to the process… where will they go?”

Now, yes, it’s true that this is technically reuse, one of the environmental tenets, and recycling, but I think that there are other environmental as well as serious health concerns that need to take precedence. They’ll find markets for the tires or find a way to dispose of them responsibly. The issue here is there are too many unknowns and a bunch of frightening knowns. Lead, cadmium, and other chemicals are in these materials. Children should not be exposed to these chemicals. The turf fields get way too hot (165 degrees on a hot day). And we just don’t know how they impact any of us, much less the birds and wildlife, dogs and other animals in our parks and public spaces.

In a city with limited green space, should we be limiting our connection with nature? The allure, the smell of, the interaction with freshly cut grass? The imperfections and uniqueness of walking and playing on fresh grass vs. a lifeless artificial surface?

Then, there’s Mayor Bloomberg.

In today’s New York Daily News (and… is it me, or does he just get MORE. ARROGANT. EVERY. DAY. ?), our CEO Mayor “blasted the controversy yesterday as ‘a made-up story’ and fumed that ‘the real risk is [in] not getting the kids to the park’ to exercise and avoid obesity.”

Right. That’s the real risk. (See 2nd paragraph.) What about giving the Parks Department an adequate budget so they could hire workers to take care of our Parks properly? Instead of giving money endlessly to corporate interests (and, believe me, the “field turf” industry was out in force at the City Council hearing), what about giving it to our city workers? Bolstering our city that way? In the last 20 years, the number of NYC Parks Department workers has been cut by 66%.

First Deputy Parks Commissioner Liam Kavanaugh told the Council that it costs $800,000-$1 million to install an artificial turf field. It costs $300,000 to $400,000 to install a natural grass field. It costs $14,000 a year to maintain a natural turf field. No figure was given for the cost to maintain an artificial turf field which needs to be replaced every ten years.

The math does not add up. How is this benefiting the city economically? Why can’t we use natural grass and hire workers to maintain it (without pesticides and herbicides)? What is wrong with this picture?

Note: I am not advocating for any artificial turf, with or without “crumb rubber.” No one knows enough about any of these materials. We need to go back to grass and dirt and work with the natural environment. I certainly don’t think artificial turf is needed at Washington Square Park around the Mounds – which is where it is being proposed.

New Entry Tomorrow!

Yes, I usually update on Monday but new entry coming Tuesday! I went to the NY City Council Parks Committee hearing on Artificial Turf and Rubber “Safety Surface” Mats today. Most interesting. More on that and my response to Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe coming regarding his letter to me re: Washington Square Park. Stay tuned!

Did you hear about this? Bloomberg handouts to Wall Street workers…

Vanishing New York has the story about CEO Mayor Bloomberg’s handouts to Wall Street “Financial Services and Information Technology ” workers:

[Bloomberg] is launching “a program along with the
Partnership for New York City aimed at helping out-of-work financial services workers recreate themselves. It includes a website, incubator space for startups, and $3 million to leverage a $10 million angel fund that will help new businesses get off the ground.” …

What about the countless small businessmen and women whose livelihoods were destroyed by Bloomberg’s urban renewal plans over the past 10 years? Those “non-professional” people who were running 2nd and 3rd-generation shops. They weren’t paying down million-dollar mortgages on luxury condos, ordering bottle service, and running up tabs at Bergdorf’s–they were supporting their families and paying the rent. Where was Bloomberg’s charity then?

Groundhog Chuck has developed into a New York City cult figure

VIVA CHUCK! Get your own t-shirts, mugs and buttons!

The Staten Island Advance story is worth checking out. The readers there were even more, um, biting than the Times’ readers as per my original post on the whole groundhog-bites-mayor-after-being-majorly-provoked story.

Thanks to Godless Liberal Homo blog for stopping by and letting us know!

Note: I would add that Chuck’s “handler” at the Staten Island Zoo is also partially responsible for not setting parameters for how the Groundhog Day event should go down.

Curbed on Washington Square Park “FenceGate”

In case you missed it, Curbed featured yesterday’s WSP Blog entry “A Tale of Two Fences” with a great post: “Washington Square Park Fence Gate.” Check it out.

Also, I’ve been corrected.  The comment referenced in yesterday’s other blog post — in relation to the new lamps in the Park as items possibly purchased on sale by the Parks Department– should mention Restoration Hardware, not Home Depot.  Oops.

NY City Council to hold Public Hearing Monday, Feb. 9th Regarding Banning use of Artificial Turf and Additional Testing on Rubber Mats

The Parks & Recreation Committee of the New York City Council will hold a public hearing on Monday, February 9, at 10 AM in the Council Chambers at City Hall around eliminating use of artificial turf in NYC parks and fields (already in ‘play’ in over 90 locations!) and requiring temperature testing (and possibly banning) of “safety surface” (you know, those rubber mats that kids have burned their feet on…) before further usage. Both are being considered for use at Washington Square Park in Phase 2 of the Park’s redesign.

Meeting details and link to actual resolutions:

Details: Int 739 – By Council Members Baez, James, Gioia, Mark-Viverito, Gonzalez, Palma and Arroyo –

A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to prohibiting the use of certain synthetic turf on surfaces used for recreational purposes.

Int 896 – By Council Members de Blasio, Lappin, Barron, Brewer, Gerson, Gonzalez and James –

A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to requiring signage warning of heat dangers of playground mats.

Int 918 – By Council Member Stewart –

A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to the surface areas of playgrounds and playing fields.

Res 1782 – By Council Member Mark-Viverito – Resolution calling upon the New York State Legislature to amend Section 399-dd of the General Business Law to allow municipalities to enact local laws regarding playground equipment and the
Department of Parks and Recreation to require a temperature test for all equipment installed in parks and playgrounds, including safety surfacing, and to prohibit such materials from being installed that pose a health or burn danger to exposed skin.

A Tale of Two Fences…

Current (and long-time) WSP fence

Current (and long-time) WSP fence

Fence being installed

Fence being installed

So Commissioner Benepe says that this new 4 foot fence (currently being installed) does not have spears on top. The issue is relevant because Commissioner Benepe made an “agreement” in 2005 with City Council Member Alan Gerson and Council Speaker Christine Quinn to install a new fence without spears and that kept the “inviting nature” of the Park.  Commissioner Benepe writes, in his letter to me: “Despite your assertion, the top of the fence has rounded balls, not ‘spears,’ as you put it. In any case, it was never intended that people would sit on top of the fence.” I’d argue that the fence has spears with “rounded balls” at the top of the spears.

Interestingly, Washington Square Park, previously, before the last redesign, had NO fence around it. It was with the 1970 design that a fence – the current 3 foot fence – got installed (correct me if I’m wrong on the time frame). Now, the Parks Department is installing a four foot fence. What will the height of the fence with the Park’s next redesign be?

Commissioner Benepe also missed my point. The community want the fence kept at the lowered height.  That would have been truly listening to the community (articulated during all that “review” Commissioner Benepe references) vs. imposing what Parks Commissioner Benepe and Mayor Michael Bloomberg wanted.

I realize people couldn’t sit on top of a four foot fence – that’s sort of the point, isn’t it? The “Gerson-Quinn Agreement” stipulates (and, note:  part of my issue with the Washington Square Park Task Force is that they have not been paying close enough attention, ensuring that the agreement is enforced, by staying on top of these things) that the new fence “preserve the park’s sense of openness and its inviting character.”

Does this fence do that?

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Note: Since there is a Washington Square Park Task Force meeting this evening, I am going to hold off on responding to Parks Commissioner Benepe until Friday so I have the most up to date information.

There is nothing wrong with the Parks Department economizing but…

Lights at Abingdon Square

Lights at Abingdon Square

Lights at Washington Square Park

Lights at Washington Square Park

Do these lights at Abingdon Square (W. 12th Street) and Washington Square look similar?

If so, it’s because they are!

Also note that the chain link fence in the background at Abingdon Square is the same as the one being installed in the interior spaces at Washington Square.

Both spaces were designed by Parks Department landscape designer George Vellonakis.

Abingdon Square also used to have a lot of open public space that has now been filled in by lawn. Do we notice a theme going on?

And, as a community member queried about the lamps, “Did the Parks Department get a discount at Restoration Hardware?” Perhaps so!  (Update: Corrected.  Not Home Depot as originally posted.)

Note: I can think of some other places the Parks Department could economize (even abandoning whole portions of their “plan”!) — in the $27 million (and rising) Washington Square Park budget … items that would make a lot of people happy and counter some of the resentment over their steamrolling of their plan — other than with important details like the lights and fencing.

Part II – Response to NYC Parks Commissioner Benepe on Washington Square Park Redesign Coming!

Update: Coming …

My response to the letter from Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe will appear soon!