The Vanishing City… and Vanishing “CitiField” name?

Technically, this blog writer is on a blogging break til Monday, April 13th. Except, as you might have noted, the blogging thing sort of gets in your blood and it’s hard to stop. !

With that in mind, I write a short entry below:

I went to the second Vanishing City event Sunday afternoon at Dixon Place Theater featuring films, including the work-in-progress documentary “Vanishing New York” (20 minutes was shown) and “The Over Successful City,” and speakers discussing the changing neighborhoods of the Lower East Side, Chinatown and Bowery (largely attributed to Mayor Bloomberg‘s policies, giveaways to developers, and “rezonings” of these areas). Doris Diether, of Community Board 2 and a highly regarded Village activist and advocate, was added to the line-up at the last minute. All the speakers and audience members’ points were spot on.

I’ll try to write something about it in the near future or perhaps when I return writing new entries. I’m sure Kirby at Colonnade Row blog will write an update. I’ll link to it when he does. You can read my report back of the first event in late January here.

In the meantime, at Vanishing New York blog, Jeremiah has an interesting write up today on the new Mets Stadium and the unfortunate selling of the naming rights to CitiBank. It is now called “Citi Field” – but, as Jeremiah notes, only if we agree to call it that! He advocates boycotting the name (I agree) and taking a cue from the MTA which lists the stop as just Mets (the old stop was listed as Shea Stadium) and heretofore calling the new stadium Mets Field.

I’d read that the reason for the missing “CitiField” name on the subway stop is that CitiBank, one of the banks bailed out by our taxpayer money, would not pay the MTA to have their name listed as a subway stop – so the stop is just referred to as Mets. (That seems a bit dubious on the part of the MTA but anyway…) If you think about it, they bought the naming rights to the stadium – for $400 million – for only 20 years.

Hopefully, 20 years from now, corporate naming and selling off of everything to corporations – a la Mayor Bloomberg – will no longer be a trend.

Jeremiah recalls that the Flatiron Building was originally named the Fuller Building but people didn’t like it so it never stuck. That’s interesting, isn’t it?

Sort of like … hmmm… at Washington Square Park, the “Tisch” Fountain, perhaps? Somehow I don’t think that name will ever stick. The Tisch Family may not have realized what they were getting themselves into when they brokered that one.

See you soon —

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Screening of Film on Rachel Carson’s life “A Sense of Wonder” Friday, March 27th at Anthology Film Archives – And it’s free!

Updated 1:30 p.m.: This is a one time screening at Anthology and it is suggested that you RSVP to senseofwonderrsvp -at- gmail.com.  The actress who plays Rachel Carson and others will be speaking after the screening.

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Check out the screening of “A Sense of Wonder,” a new film about the last year of environmental activist and pioneer Rachel Carson’s life as she battles cancer and in the wake of publishing her groundbreaking book “Silent Spring.” The film will be shown Friday night, March 27th, at Anthology Film Archives in Manhattan.

Jay Feldman, of environmental group Beyond Pesticides, says of the film: “I just saw it on the big screen for the first time last week in D.C. It was fabulous. Kaiulani Lee, the actress, is Rachel Carson in the film and is powerful.”

The film is free and the screening is open to the public.

Details: Friday, March 27, 7:30pm Anthology Film Archives Theater, 32 2nd Avenue at E. 2nd Street (trains: one block from the F or V train, 2nd Ave. stop)

More information:

This year’s National Women’s History Month will honor Rachel Carson. Carson’s bestseller Silent Spring led to the banning of the chemical DDT, the creation of the Clean Water Act and the Environmental Protection Agency, and the birth of the organic food movement.

March activities celebrating Rachel Carson include 100 nationwide screenings of the newly released film, “A Sense of Wonder.” The film depicts Rachel Carson in the last year of her life, as she battles cancer and the chemical industry and focuses her final energy on getting her message to Congress and the American people amidst the publishing of “Silent Spring.”

This film is absolutely remarkable. You cannot walk away unmoved.” — Bill Moyers.

Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine: “Rachel Carson taught us that the natural world and human society are, indeed, interdependent and indivisible, and moreover that we have an obligation as stewards of the environment to safeguard and protect the world around us. … Her life and the guiding principles that shaped it … continue to inspire us all.”

“A Sense of Wonder” stars Broadway, film and television actress Kaiulani Lee and uses Carson’s own words in telling her story. Noted drama critic Christopher Rawson says, “What Lee achieves in barely an hour is something rare; she merges herself with Carson’s spirit.”

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For more information on pesticides and how they affect our health and environment in New York City, please check out the work of the No Spray Coalition!

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Note: After this post, this blog writer is resuming a break until Monday, April 13th barring any ‘breaking’ news on Washington Square Park! Thank you.

Mayor Bloomberg’s Washington Square Park Redesign: Over budget. Delayed. And NYU can’t even hold their graduation ceremony there…

Not this year...

Not this year...

Well, that blogging break lasted one day but I have a bit of information for you … NYU has announced that this year’s graduation ceremony will again take place at Yankee Stadium (the new one for which close to 400 trees and 1.5 parks in the Bronx were sacrificed*) because Washington Square Park, their favored graduation spot, will still be under construction by the May 13th date.

New York University President John Sexton announced yesterday that Hillary Rodham Clinton will be the speaker at the commencement and she will also receive an honorary degree. According to Mazza First Hand Source Blog, they are now saying (who exactly “they” are is unknown) the park will open “late spring 2009” (note: at all the meetings I’ve attended, the Parks Department has declined to give a time frame) and, as MFHS writes, “which we really know, judging from construction-speak, is probably Summer 2009 at the earliest.”

NYU has used Washington Square Park as the site of its graduation ceremony for 32 of its 177 years of commencement ceremonies. (It’s been tradition that the students jump into the famed fountain at the end of the ceremony.)

In 2008, the first in which NYU used Yankee Stadium as its graduation site, it was believed that location was a one time thing and that Washington Square Park’s reconstruction would be finished in time for the 2009 ceremony. But as the project is delayed, it is also over budget.

The original budget for the dramatic redesign of Washington Square Park, once $16 million, is now close to $30 million, if not more. Money that could be spent on other vital NYC services (elder centers? libraries? police officers? fire houses? day care centers? park maintenance perhaps?). But Mayor Bloomberg’s bluster about his unique ability to save New York City in a budget crisis continues. (What creative, innovative thing is he doing that any other Mayor wouldn’t? Have we heard any brilliant financial advice from him? No.)

NYU gave a rather paltry $1 million towards the park’s redesign. They consider Washington Square Park part of their campus and they own basically all the real estate surrounding the park. As we know, in NYC, real estate talks. NYU is definitely playing a behind-the-scenes role in Washington Square Park’s radical overhaul. So, it is a shame that the park is not ready for this year’s graduation so that this very important ceremony could take place in their Park, don’t ya think?

As I wrote last year, I think NYU and Yankee Stadium are perfect together.
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* Related WSP Blog Post: Play Ball: How New York City destroyed Two Bronx parks

Blog News

Some News: Washington Square Park Blog is on a deadline for a project so this blog writer will be taking a three week break beginning today and will resume new blog entries Monday, April 13th.

Be assured if the Landmarks Preservation Commission schedules their next meeting during that time or the Washington Square Park Task Force resumes meeting … if I get some hot video footage or any other event related to Washington Square Park occurs, I will post it here so check back.

And, if, for example, Mayor Bloomberg decides to do the honorable thing and not run for a third term as NYC Mayor (a person can hope, can’t they?), well, I will be back in a flash writing about that!

In the meantime, there are lots of events going on between now and early May. I’ve listed them in the post which follows.

Remember there are 355 posts and 53 categories in the archives. Check ’em out. (Start with posts at sidebar on the right if you are new here…) You can always e-mail me at cathryn.be -at- gmail.com.

See you soon.

Cathryn, WSP Blog.

Calendar of Upcoming Events

Calendar of Some Upcoming Events …

Sunday, March 29th

* REALLY REALLY FREE MARKET

The Really Really Free Market is a bazaar and a celebration, where capitalist notions of interaction are discarded and people have fun trying new models of exchange. Expect and share free food, skills, music, clothing, books, other things!

3- 7 p.m., Location: Judson Memorial Church, 55 Washington Square South @ Thompson Street, Manhattan. (A,B,C,D,E,F trains to W. 4th/Washington Square)

* THE VANISHING CITY: Part II – Films & Townhall Discussion: The Changing Bowery, Chinatown and Lower East Side.

View 20 minutes of the work-in-progress documentary “Vanishing New York” as well as the short film “The Over-successful City” followed by a discussion on the changing face of our city and neighborhoods focused on The Bowery, Chinatown and the Lower East Side. The first event was a big success. More info on speakers at Colonnade Row blog.

3 p.m., Location: Dixon Place Theater, 161 Chrystie Street (between Rivington and Delancey), Manhattan. $15, $12 students and seniors. Followed by reception. Reserve tickets in advance.

Saturday, April 4th

* TRIBUTE AND MEMORIAL TO ROBERT GUSKIND, GOWANUS LOUNGE BLOGGER AND JOURNALIST (Must RSVP.)

2 p.m., Location: Brooklyn Lyceum, Fourth Avenue between Union and President Sts., Gowanus (next to Park Slope), Brooklyn (R train to Union Street)

Saturday, April 11th & Sunday, April 12th

* ANARCHIST BOOK FAIR

Judson Memorial Church, 55 Washington Square South @ Thompson Street

Tuesday, May 7th

* 4th Annual BROOKLYN BLOG FEST

Meet local bloggers, learn about blogging, discussion of the impact local blogs have had, watch some great photo montages of ‘old’ and ‘new’ Brooklyn, socialize, and more!

7 p.m., powerHouse Arena, 37 Main Street, DUMBO, Brooklyn, NY; Admission: $10. ($5 for students and seniors)** After-Party, Galapagos Art Space, 16 Main Street, DUMBO, Brooklyn, NY

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For subway information and directions to venues: check out HopStop.

Highlights from the Landmarks Preservation Commission Public Hearing March 17th on Washington Sq Park

Here are some of the highlights from Tuesday’s (March 17) Landmarks Preservation Commission public hearing on Washington Square Park Phase II Redesign:

* Charles McKinney from the New York City Parks Department gave the overview of the City’s retooled plan for Washington Square Park in Phase II focusing on the alcoves and the performance area. (Landmarks was also supposed to look at the pathways but these were not addressed – verbally, at least.) The landscape designer behind the City’s dramatic and oh-so-symmetrical redesign plan for the park, George Vellonakis, was there to assist him with visuals for the presentation.

Seating Alcoves

* Currently there are six seating alcoves at Washington Square Park which exist on the north, northeast, and southeast sides of the Park. The Parks Department’s plan is to eliminate all except for one (which will remain in its entirety on the north side, across from the playground) and to retain a 1/4 or a 1/2 of another (on the eastern side).

… Council Member Gerson: Alcoves are part of the “core Washington Square Park experience”

* New York City Council Member Alan Gerson appeared (!) and made a very important statement to the Commission advocating on behalf of the alcoves and the performance area. Council Member Gerson asked the LPC to hold off on a decision and not approve the plan before them. He remarked that the Washington Square Park Task Force and the Parks Department have “come so far” in their discussions over this and are “almost there” in reaching an agreement. He spoke of how important the alcoves are to “the core Washington Square Park experience” and said the replacement of seven (I count six but hey…) with one “deprives the community.”

* Council Member Gerson also stated that the removal of the majority of the alcoves “violates the spirit and letter between Speaker Quinn and myself on the one hand and the Parks Department on the other” (referring to the Gerson-Quinn Agreement). The Gerson-Quinn Agreement (which Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe doesn’t consider binding) called for keeping the alcoves in the Park’s design.

* Tobi Bergman spoke on behalf of the Washington Square Park Task Force in agreement with Council Member Gerson asking for modifications to the Parks Department’s plan.

... LPC Commissioner: Why can’t the alcoves be included? Parks Department: Here’s why….

* Many other Park users and advocates made compelling statements on behalf of the alcoves as places where people read, study, socialize, perform, eat lunch or just observe the park from a different vantage point to such a degree that by the end of the meeting, one of the Landmarks Commissioners finally asked, “why can’t the alcoves be included?Great question!

So what was Mr. McKinney’s reply to this? According to Mr. McKinney, the Parks Department’s view is that the alcoves …. “attract activities that are undesirable.” Hmmm.

Performance Area

* The current Garibaldi / Teen Plaza area (to east and southeast of the Fountain) acts as a stage for the Washington Square Music Festival and a host of other uses including rallies, protests, traveling high school bands, book festivals, musical performances, food festivals, and more. Mr. McKinney stated that as currently configured the area is “too isolated.” (??) Apparently, the Parks Department’s goal was to create a “centralized” space but truthfully it seems more isolated when you look at the plans.

… Washington Square Music Festival: “stage too small, too low, and without a backstage preparation area.” stage height “creates sight line problems for viewers beyond the first few rows.”

* Peggy Friedman, the executive director of the Washington Square Music Festival made a perplexing statement, first saying to the Landmarks Preservation Commission “with reluctance, I ask you to approve this plan.” She then elaborated on this statement remarking that the stage is too small, there is no appropriate back stage and that the stage height (it is currently an acceptable 36″ tall; in the plan, it is reduced to 28″) creates “sight line problems for viewers beyond the first few rows.” She said the area is “too small, too low and without a backstage preparation area.” (As currently configured, the “backstage” is located to the west and “in clear view of the audience.”)

* Another woman from the Festival spoke and stated that the stage itself is so improperly designed that if they want to present their typical 24 musicians and a conductor they would “not fit on the stage as currently proposed” and the Festival would have to “curtail the scale of some of our programs.” She said that the plan is “sadly inadequate for our needs.” Note: we are talking about a plan that was created fresh, right? It is supposed to work for the community’s needs and yet clearly does not.

Random

* Mr. McKinney stated at the end that the Parks Department believed a “small amount of people” were “somewhat unhappy” with this plan and they’d “prefer not to have a delay.”

* There were about three people who spoke in favor of the design… one who just wanted to see the plan move forward… and including community member Gil Horowitz who referred to it as the “Olmsteadian-inspired Vellonakis design.”

* Susan Goren from local group, ECO (Emergency Coalition Organization to Preserve Washington Square Park), read from a letter she wrote to Parks Commissioner Benepe stating: “Despite promises to the contrary, Washington Square Park’s historic use as a gathering space and as a performance space is being destroyed as the park is turned into Henry James’ Washington Square Park, lovely in the early 1800s, but hardly desirable in our modern world.”

LPC vote in 2005 one of the questionable moments in history of Park’s redesign plan

Another bit of trickery is that when Landmarks Preservation Commission approved the City’s redesign plan in May 2005 (another dodgey moment in the history of this plan), as Mr. McKinney explicitly noted, there were no alcoves and there was no performance area. One of the Landmarks Commissioners asked on Tuesday, “I don’t remember an outcry over the alcoves” (at the time). This is because it was stated – at that time – that this all would be revisited in later phases and yet the Parks Department believes the entire plan was approved without these elements so now anything they add in looks like a bonus. To them.

So… what’s next?

Head LPC Commissioner Robert Tierney said he’d like for the LPC Commissioners to “come back, discuss and then take an action.” He stated that that meeting shouldn’t be too far off in the future. Once that date is set, I will let you know.

Report back from Landmarks Preservation Commission Public Hearing on Phase II WSP Tomorrow

Look for a report back on Landmarks Preservation Commission Hearing that took place yesterday, March 17th, on Phase II of Washington Square Park redesign tomorrow!

Landmarks Preservation Commission Meets Today Tues. March 17th on Washington Sq Park

Today Tuesday, March 17th Phase II of Washington Square Park Redesign goes before Landmarks Preservation Commission at 4:15 p.m. Public comment is encouraged. Arrive 3:30 p.m.

The major historical, aesthetic, and cultural usage being destroyed relates to:

* loss of public space in the destruction of four and a half of the six seating alcoves (eastern side of park and southeastern – visible on right side of map). Much utilized and beloved and add character to the Park;

* the reduction in space and usage around Garibaldi/Teen Plaza (area in middle of diagram, to right of fountain circle);

* the removal of the entrance to the park at Thompson Street, shifting it to the east so that it can (like the Fountain) align with the Arch at Fifth Avenue. (Does this represent symmetry run amuk?

*The great reduction of space at the northeast corner (upper right hand corner of diagram). Soon to be a “plaza” (one at each corner of the Park – neat and pretty and functional. No picnic tables allowed).

If you plan to speak at the Landmarks Preservation Commission, please consider orienting your comments to the historical, cultural, and aesthetic aspects of the park’s design plan.

It’s not clear if Community Board 2, Washington Square Park Task Force, Council Speaker Quinn, Council Member Gerson, etc. will weigh in with their feelings to LPC (supposedly against this…)… ? Although the hearing was delayed a month so that, supposedly, the NYC Parks Department could respond to “community” concerns, it appears they made some small modifications to accommodate the Washington Square Music Festival (figuring not doing so would get them in hot water) but did not address any of the community’s other (real) concerns.

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Details: Tuesday, March 17th, arrive 3:30 p.m.; hearing 4:15 p.m. Landmarks Preservation Commission Public Hearing on Washington Square Park Next Phase Redesign, 1 Centre Street (at Chambers), 9th floor, Manhattan

Trains: 2, 3, 4, 5, N, R, J, M, Z (Centre-Chambers Streets, City Hall-Brooklyn Bridge stops)

Former Times’ Food Critic and Author Mimi Sheraton shares her thoughts on Minetta Tavern, NYU and Washington Sq Park

I thought it might be interesting here at Washington Square Park Blog to spotlight local businesses or local people from time to time. I’ve been following the press around the reopening of Minetta Tavern, the famed 72 year old eatery on Macdougal Street, just a few blocks off Washington Square Park, which had fallen more recently on hard times, closed for nine months and opened last week under the direction of restaurantur Keith McNally (Balthazar, Pastis, among others).

Former New York Times’ food critic and author Mimi Sheraton weighed in with her thoughts about the new menu and renovated space on Eater.com which she experienced via a private tasting before the restaurant officially opened.

I contacted Ms. Sheraton and asked her if she’d answer some questions via email about living in the Village (64 years!), NYU(she’s an alum and has strong feelings on the University’s buildings – “hideous”), living near Washington Square Park(she has some nice recollections about it, including floating crap games!), and, of course, her thoughts on the new Minetta Tavern. (Note: She’d commented here at WSP Blog last year in relation to a story on the potential restaurant in the historic Union Square Park Pavilion — she was against placing one within this public space.)

Q&A with Mimi Sheraton:

Q. You grew up in Brooklyn with a mother who loved to cook and father who was a merchant in the Washington Market, a wholesale produce market. Where did you grow up in Brooklyn?

A. I grew up in the Midwood section of Flatbush.

Q. You’ve had a career in the food industry as a prominent reviewer (many years for the New York Times), but also as a writer, researcher, consultant, teacher, and more. You attended NYU as an undergraduate and live in Greenwich Village. How long have you lived in the Village?

A. I moved into the Village in 1945 and have never left…64 years & that after 2 years at NYU so I really spent that time here before moving in at the start of my junior year.

Q. What are your memories of Washington Square Park? Do you remember when traffic went through the park and when there was no fence?

A. I remember the Square when there was often water in the fountain but often dry so people went every Sunday to read newspapers and there were folk-singers and guitar players like Susan Reed around what we called “the circle”, and when the traffic went through the Arch and there were no fences. I believe the Arch was also a turn around for the 5th Ave double decker buses and there were floating crap games in the park.

Q. Have you followed the city’s redesign/renovation plans for the Park? Do you have feelings about it?

A. I have followed all of the re-designs for the park and have hated all of them..the former mounds of black whatever, the dog run, the moving of the fountain, the fences and the hideous NYU buildings surrounding it…especially the Kimmel Center. I am embarrassed to be an NYU alum. if they had their way, they’d close it to the public and make it their campus.

Q. Did you review Minetta Tavern during your years as a food critic? Did you have a history with the place? Was Minetta Tavern ever known for its food or was it more about ‘the place?’

'old' Minetta

'old' Minetta

A. My history with Minetta was only as a romantic typical Village tavern to go when I was new here..the food used to be OK but not great and it got worse..I had not been back in at least 20 yrs before last Sat. night. I do not remember ever reviewing it..certainly not for the Times. It was a place we all wanted to love and now maybe we can.

Q. There’ve been articles highlighting the preservation work Keith McNally had done to retain the historical and much loved aspects of the previous establishment. What are your thoughts on the food and the ambiance of the new restaurant?

A. (Ms. Sheraton directed me to her Eater comment which she felt summed it up.) A menu is one thing. Delivery on its promise is another. So it is great to be able to say that a two-person tasting at Minetta this past Friday night resulted in these absolute winners..and so early in the game, too: What we loved were the oxtais and foie gras terrine, the 3 tartars, the grilled veal chop, the stupendous boned pigs’ feet and the aligot..to say nothing of the setting itself which is classic McNally genius and feels as it did about 60 years ago when I was there for the first of many meals.

Q. Keith McNally told The Villager that of course he’d welcome “the locals” but didn’t know if he’d truly be able to deliver on that. Once the place is up and running, it’s understandable that people will flock to it and there might not be room for “locals.” Do you see any way that the old-time “regulars” could still be welcomed back to the place they had such a connection with?

A. I think Keith will welcome locals but they will have to call for reservations in enough time to get them. I cannot imagine that they will exclude locals in favor of others..he doesn’t do that at Pastis or Morandi. Why would he here?..but they will have to call for reservations..wandering in might not work if this becomes as popular as I think it will. There may well be preference given to celebrities, especially those who are regulars at this and other of his restaurants, but all places do that.

He himself is a local resident and loves the Village and has fought unsightly inroads in Meat Packing District..etc. and he knows the value of having a place locals like. As for old-time regulars, who are they? Not me. It might be that such locals will be priced out of this but after all a restaurant is not a philanthropy. I also think if Minetta continues to grow and be good, it will upgrade the neighborhood and attract other quality establishments. Macdougal is a sleazy mess right now and Minetta Lane is a stark nightmare. … If not for Keith, Minetta might have been torn down, or, worse yet, taken over by NYU.

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For more coverage of Minetta Tavern including before and after photos, info on the menu and more , go to Eater archives here.

New Post coming today – Check back!