NY Post follows up on Story of W 4th Street Courts Takeover Today for Fashion Event

WSP Blog broke the story first but I’m happy that the NY Post covered the issue alerting people to this takeover of NYC public space in a story today. The event, the debut of Joseph Abboud’s new Fashion line, happens today, Monday, May 18th, from 6-8 p.m. at the W. 4th Street Courts. The popular basketball courts will be closed all day. At the Community Board 2 meeting where this information was revealed, the figure quoted as the amount Abboud, et al. paid for use of the courts was $17,000. The story quotes the amount as $14,100.

The Unveiling of Washington Square Park’s NW Quadrant & Fountain Plaza: Word Is Fencing To Come Down Monday, May 18th

Well, I was close… Word from a reliable source is that the fences that surround the long under construction NorthWest Quadrant of Washington Square Park will start coming down on Monday, May 18th after 16 1/2 months of the area being closed off. The unveiling will be done without much fanfare. Originally, a ceremony with elected officials was also scheduled for Monday; that will now happen at a later date.

Some thoughts: It’s important to note that this Park could have gotten to where we are now without the acrimony if the New York City Parks Department had been upfront and honest and transparent in their statements and their actions.

No one was against a true renovation of Washington Square Park the park had fallen into serious disrepair due to lack of maintenance by the Parks Department. What people were against was the pushing through of a design with a lack of community involvement in the decision-making process.

When you look at the newly completed section, there’s new green lawn and bright flowers, there’s new pathways, there’s new fencing, there’s new lighting, there’s new benches. A true “renovation” of the existing space would have also put forth most of these same changes – except the fence would have been lower and the lighting would have been different (not the stock lighting used at oh so many other George Vellonakis-designed city parks, including City Hall and Abingdon Square). Yeah, the aligning of the Fountain with the Arch seems ridiculous and the leveling off of the sunken plaza unnecessary. That ‘other’ renovated version of Washington Square Park would have looked gorgeous.

Nonetheless, the park is probably opening at the perfect time – people throughout the City are reconsidering their finances and their values. It’s not the same political or cultural climate as it was when the Park’s redesign plans were first presented.

People may look at the newly designed Washington Square Park and have heard of some controversy and mistakenly think “Why were people against this?“. The truth is important here — no one was against a *renovation* of Washington Square Park – it was the process and the design (and lack of input into the design) that people took issue with. (In many ways, the future phases add more dramatic changes than Phase I did.)

The Park will, in the end, be what people make it.

Photo: Cat

Is Yankee Stadium’s Rough Start Bad Karma?

Today’s Wall Street Journal takes an intense look at the new Yankee Stadium with an article entitled, “Yankee Stadium’s Ugly Start : Cheap Home Runs, Empty Seats and Lopsided Losses Have Some Asking, ‘Can a Stadium Fail?‘” It’s a well done piece which looks closely at what (overall) make a stadium succeed. However, the article does not mention the destruction of one and a half Parks in the green-space challenged South Bronx or the axing of the 400 trees in the creation of the new Yankee Stadium. Or the fact that the team could have just played elsewhere for a year and then rebuilt on the site of the former Stadium (as had been done in the past) but that would not happen in Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s New York because corporations are not supposed to encounter any difficulty or inconvenience. Just every day people.

From the article:

The new Yankee Stadium has seemed cursed from the beginning, as if Babe Ruth disapproved of the abandonment of the house he built. That it opened during a recession, with a major-league-high $72.97 average price for a nonpremium ticket (up 76% over 2008, according to Team Marketing Report) has created contempt among fans who otherwise love the team. “They don’t have a good enough team to charge those prices,” says 35-year-old fan Jeff Burrows of Brooklyn, who toured the park recently with his father. “They’ve made almost every mistake you can make,” says Roger Noll, a professor of economics emeritus at Stanford. “There’s nothing that’s been as unpopular as this.”

And then… who pops up at the end of the article? NYU President John Sexton, no stranger to destruction of old, charming and neighborhood-oriented New York.

Some Yankee fans are optimistic. John Sexton, president of New York University and a longtime season-ticket holder, says the park isn’t perfect — he wishes Monument Park weren’t so hidden from view. Still, he says, “In five years we may be looking back on this and saying we’re glad we did it.”

Previous WSP Blog Entry: Play Ball: How New York City Destroyed Two Bronx Parks

Counting Down the Days? (Or Not) … Some Last Minute Work at the Arch.

I’d love to be doing a countdown til Washington Square Park’s Fountain Plaza reopens but, since the NYC Parks Department won’t reveal anything concrete, I am not able to. I really do believe they are going to start taking the fences down without informing anyone of when that will happen — despite widespread curiosity. (It just seems the way the redesign of this Park has been handled from Day One – with minimal communication to the community and park users.) And then the Grand Re-Opening Ceremony with elected officials will take place shortly afterwards. Last I heard was Monday but my feeling is that could change. Then perhaps a separate ceremony for the “community.”

They’re still doing some things around the fenced-off Park. Yesterday, the Arch was the site of some work. Apparently there are nets up at the ledge near the top. Who knew…? (I assume to catch bird droppings although I never see any birds up there. I hope it’s not to catch birds that dare go near the precious Arch.) The nets were covering up access to changing the Arch’s lights and they needed to be reconfigured. So “BirdMaster” was brought in to the rescue.

Rumor Has It that Washington Square Park’s Grand Reopening Ceremony Will be Monday, May 18th (Not confirmed)

"Working to Improve Your Park"

"Working to Improve Your Park"

Well, word on the street is that Washington Square Park‘s NorthWest Quadrant which, of course, includes the famous Fountain Plaza will be feted with a grand reopening ceremony — with elected officials and such — on Monday, May 18th. No other details at this time but it sounds very possible to me. I’ve also heard the Park may open in advance of that date and that that could be as soon as Friday, May 15th. When I went by the Park on Monday, it looked ready for unveiling and use. Note: These dates are unconfirmed. More details as they become available…

Washington Square Park Fountain Looks Lovely ON … but Do you Think They’ll ever Turn it OFF?

I had this strong desire to see Washington Square Park’s Fountain turned ON before the long-under-construction and fenced off Plaza opens (it looks like any day now). I’d heard they’ve been testing the waters. (And I bet they were, um, happy to discover that the Fountain actually worked after re-routing all the underground water pipes to gain that oh-so-necessary alignment with the Arch at Fifth Avenue.) I was starting to lose a bit of hope that I would actually see it on. But, then, by chance, the other day, I did! Everyone else walked by barely taking a glance at the water spouting upwards in the middle of the fenced-off isolated Plaza. But, for me, it was exciting.

The Arch and Fountain Together Again

The Arch and Fountain Together Again

"New" Fountain ON

"New" Fountain ON

It just makes me wonder… as lovely as the new Fountain looks ON, do you think they’ll ever turn it OFF?

"Old" Fountain flowing with people

"Old" Fountain flowing with people

"Old" Fountain

"Old" Fountain

As Jane Jacobs wrote in The Death and Life of Great American Cities of Washington Square Park’s famous fountain, “In effect, this [fountain] is a circular arena, a theater in the round, and that is how it is used, with complete confusion as to who are spectators and who are the show.”

About Washington Square Park overall, she stated, “The city officials regularly concoct improvement schemes by which this center within the park would be sown to grass and flowers and surrounded by a fence. The invariable phrase is ‘restoring the land to park use.’ That is a different form of park use, legitimate in places. But for neighborhood parks, the finest centers are stage settings for people.”

Top Three Photos: Cat

Photo#4: CharlotteWebGal (on Flickr)

Photo#5: NicoletteSara (on Flickr)

Washington Square Park: Final Construction of NorthWest Quadrant Before Reopening

ConstructionbyArchMay0609(Blk Squirrel)

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

(More coming…)

Photos: Cat

New Photos of the Park Coming Monday —

A look at Washington Square Park as of last week (including some special revealing shots) – as we build up to the grand re-opening of the NorthWest Quadrant – coming Monday!

Animal Adopt-a-Thon at Washington Square Park Saturday, May 9th 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The Mayors Alliance for Animals* and the Washington Square Park Dog Run organizers will be holding an Adopt-a-Thon at Washington Square Park at the Southwest corner on Saturday, May 9th from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. If you’ve been considering adopting a dog or cat, come on by! Too many animals (the number is astounding) are euthanized in New York City shelters just because there’s too many of them. I think we are responsible for reducing this number. Don’t shop, adopt!

* The Mayors Alliance is not really affiliated with the Mayor, fyi… and is a great organization.

— More photos of the Park this week coming today or tomorrow!

The Selling Off of our Public Space by the NYC Parks Department — Private Fashion Event To Take Over West 4th Street Ball Courts; Parks Dept. Bypasses Community Board Approval

Yes, there was a Washington Square Park Task Force/Community Board 2 Parks Committee meeting last night addressing Washington Square Park’s Redesign: Phase III.  But truthfully what was perhaps more interesting was what happened after that part of the meeting ended.

CB2 Parks Committee chair Tobi Bergman announced that they had a last minute addition to the agenda. At that point, four young women who had entered the Task Force meeting mid-way (they didn’t look like the regular Washington Square Park folks) went to the front of the room and sat down, clearly ready to give some kind of presentation. I couldn’t even fathom what it might be but it had ‘this is going to be interesting‘ written all over it.

Turns out it was.

These women represented clothing designer Joseph Abboud, who, along with JC Penney and the NBA are launching a fashion line, and have been given the go ahead by the Parks Department to take over the West 4th Street (Basketball)Courts for a day and night on Monday, May 18th for a private event – an “editors’ preview” – for the sum of $17,000.00. The event planners met with the Parks Department about a month and a half ago and just now, one and a half weeks before the event will occur, the agency sent representatives from the company before the Community Board to present the plan – after the contracts have been signed.

The New York City Parks Department basically threw these four women into the fray with no idea what they up against (community disapproval, for one). Instead of the Parks Department sending its own representative to explain this decision – which is supposed to receive Community Board approval first – they sent company representatives who clearly didn’t realize there was any issue with what they were doing.

And, really, why would they? In Mike Bloomberg’s New York, why would you think there’d be any problem with a corporation taking over and seizing a public space for a private event, shutting out the … uh… public?

There’s no possible reversal or canceling of the event at this point. I gather the Parks Department figured it was better that the Community Board hear of this now rather than after the fact and alerting them before hand (as is technically required) might have put this plan in jeopardy. The Community Board might have not approved it or put stipulations on the event.

Tobi Bergman commented, “We don’t love people using parks for private purposes.” That was the basic sentiment of the Board during the meeting which was outraged and concerned that approval of the event did not come before them first.

I asked Geoffrey Croft from NYC Park Advocates about this privatization of parks and the bypassing of the Community Board and he said: “This is common practice by the Parks Department. This administration goes out of its way to avoid community based planning and consultation.” In addition, “The City is using Parks as cash cows. The money doesn’t even go into the parks. However, that also becomes a slippery slope because [if it did] the temptation to exploit our parks becomes so much greater.”

Part of the problem – which perpetuates situations like this – is that the Parks Department is severely underfunded and neither the Mayor or the City Council seem ready to address this anytime soon.

It was suggested at the meeting that the company (or someone) put up notices in advance to alert the basketball and handball players at the West 4th Street Courts – it’s a very popular court for both playing and watching – that their courts were being taken over for a day and therefore unusable. The company has the public space from 6 a.m. to midnight. The event occurs from 6-8 p.m.

I’ve written here before about privatization-of-public-space in New York City. See previous entries: Union Square and pervasive influence of the local Business Improvement District, the selling off of the Washington Square Park Fountain to the Tisch Family by the Parks Department ($2.5 million) and another well publicized take over of public space in Central Park by Chanel last fall given the green light by the Central Park Conservancy.

Photos: Left, Wallyg; Right: Footprintzstars