More from the NYC Parks Commissioner! — On Washington Sq Park and WSP Blog Concerns

A follow-up letter from NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe to me in response to my letter of February 13th. We’ve had a bit of a back-and-forth. It’s true that the Parks Commissioner and I are most likely never going to agree on many aspects of the redesign – and the history of the redesign – of Washington Square Park. I have a few thoughts in response to this, but first, his letter which I’ve posted below:

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April 7, 2009

Dear Ms. Swan:

Thank you again for your correspondence about the renovation of Washington Square Park. It seems there are a number of points where we will have to agree to disagree. We may never come to an understanding on what is or is not public space (I would argue the entire park is public space), how to define a renovation versus a “spruce up,” a spear versus a ball and whether or not the Parks Department has been responsive to community concerns.

Many aspects of the renovation you wish to “come to an agreement” on were settled long ago. In fact, your request to change aspects of the renovation that have already been completed or that are currently under construction is nearly impossible to grant at this point. The fountain plaza is very close to completion and the fence is already installed. After the February 4th Washington Square Park Task Force meeting, the Parks Department made additional changes.

When Washington Square Park is completed I am confident that it will continue to be a vibrant, eclectic gathering and performance space for Villagers, students and visitors and I truly believe you will enjoy the restored park.

Thank you for your support and interest in Parks.

Sincerely,

Adrian Benepe

On the Performance Area in Phase II Redesign – “Garibaldi Plaza”

(Updated)

WSP Blog reader Elton wrote in yesterday with the following comment in relation to my post on the Landmarks Preservation Commission hearing last week. He raises some good points:

“Praise be to Commissioner Roberta Brandes Gratz for her stand in redirecting the Phase II design proposals toward stated community needs. Another community need I feel is getting very short shrift in Phase II is the PERFORMANCE STAGE. Its design and location should be restudied, especially in the light of potentially expanding long-range uses of the park, and in line with the recommendations envisioned by many park-use evaluations. For instance, in past seasons, attending musical performances at Teen Plaza, one must contend with competition from being seated in the middle of a crossroads, limited stage area, no accoustical baffles or wind (or even slight, provisional weather) protection, etc., and Phase II envisions even more compromised conditions. Why can’t a STATE OF THE ART PERFORMANCE STAGE be insisted on as a FOCUS and (geometric, if that’s the winning buzzword) FEATURE of that axis of the park, not a badly-served and watered-down afterthought? Wouldn’t this be an essential part of a long-range plan to underscore the park’s continued and expanding viability as a performance venue?”

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Thoughts?

WSP Blog Note: I can’t say I have a clear idea of what exactly is happening to the performance area, the here-to-fore (oops. I mean from here on) renamed Garibaldi Plaza, but I do know the Washington Square Music Festival stated that they were worried about sight lines, the size of the stage, the height of the stage, the fact that there is no railing, and no real back stage. While I think they could have argued more forcefully for what they want, the other side of this is, that, though they are well regarded and historically connected to the space, they only use the stage about five times a year. I’ve heard that other performers, such as “street” performers, may not want a railing although, for any body’s usage, the stage does seem too low. I gather people will be able to just sit on the stage and use that as a “public space.”

So… what is the “every day” use of this space? Will there be more professional performances – and which should the Park be oriented to? … Although I’m sure no matter how you slice it, this area’s design should be reconsidered.