Michael Jackson “Birthday Party” Prospect Park Saturday, August 29th

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It was exciting and fun to see Prospect Park used for something very different on Saturday as filmmaker and director Spike Lee presented an event for people to come together to celebrate what would have been Michael Jackson’s 51st birthday. Spike Lee originally intended to utilize Fort Greene Park but there was concern that, due to the anticipated size of the crowd, that venue would not be appropriate.  It was then moved to the much larger Nethermead section of Prospect Park.

I have worked many music events, so, when I attend them, I do notice where I think things could be improved.  And perhaps for many in the crowd, it was more than fine to just have a place to celebrate the music and come together.  That being said, I will mention the areas I felt could have been handled differently for a more cohesive, energetic event.

The event was mostly music programmed by a DJ accompanied by images on a video screen, primarily words such as song titles (“I’ll be There,” “Thriller,” “Forever Michael,” “Hey Brooklyn!  Make some Noize!” etc.) and audience shots. The screen needed to be larger and the music should have been piped in from at least one other location other than the front of the staged area — that would have certainly raised the energy level in the crowd.  I mean… they wanted people to dance, right? (Or maybe not.  Maybe it was purposefully kept low key.)  And, when they said there would be “music and videos,” most people thought that meant Michael Jackson videos but apparently not.

The momentum of the event would have benefitted from actual video – or even a picture? – of Michael Jackson. And I understand the need for crowd control measures but the splitting up of the crowd via metal barricades definitely diminished the spontaneity of being at an event in a large public park. I spoke to a few people there but I don’t know what the overall consensus was (if there was one). The event was held from 12-5 p.m. on Saturday, August 29th in the Nethermead section of Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.  Still, it was a unique idea. People were very aware of it and turned out in large numbers (I don’t have a good sense of how many at this moment – the New York Times “blog” article I read didn’t get into numbers).  And perhaps it will lead to other unique events being presented in our public parks.  Except, maybe those events, while paying attention to “crowd control,” will also leave room for a bit more spontaneity.

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Photos: Cat

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Washington Square Park Fountain and The Arch at Night


Photo: Re-Newelled

Also, a bonus in the shot: The Empire State Building!

Squirrel at Washington Square Park

Squirrel
The squirrels at Washington Square Park have a lot of fans.  They are quite the characters often coming right up to you on a bench or if you linger for a moment watching them on the paths around the Park! They are an integral part of a day at the park, more so, I’d say, than at most other city parks. You might gain a new appreciation for them here.

Photo: NDinneen

Last Call, Bohemia?

Greenwich Village, 1960

Will New York City recognize the importance of “Bohemia” in societies, including its own?

In a July ’08 Vanity Fair article titled “Last Call, Bohemia”, Christopher Hitchens observes how London, Paris and San Francisco — renowned for neighborhoods which foster climates of creativity and culture, havens for “the artists, exiles and misfits” — have “learned” and adopted a hands off policy towards building un-affordable, big box monstrosities in these areas.

What will it take for real-estate-obsessed New York City to do the same?

Hitchens’ focuses on these havens as places for people who “regenerate the culture.”  He targets the St. Vincents/Rudin Management “plan” to remake a large swath of the West Village for “luxury housing” and a new medical building as exactly the type development that should be stopped. He explores what it means not just the Village, but for the City at large.

Hitchens writes:

It isn’t possible to quantify the extent to which society and culture are indebted to Bohemia. In every age in every successful country, it has been important that at least a small part of the cityscape is not dominated by bankers, developers, chain stores, generic restaurants, and railway terminals.

This little quarter should instead be the preserve of—in no special order—insomniacs and restaurants and bars that never close; bibliophiles and the little stores and stalls that cater to them; alcoholics and addicts and deviants and the proprietors who understand them; aspirant painters and musicians and the modest studios that can accommodate them; ladies of easy virtue and the men who require them; misfits and poets from foreign shores and exiles from remote and cruel dictatorships. Though it should be no disadvantage to be young in such a quartier, the atmosphere should not by any means discourage the veteran.

In her 1961 classic The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs argued for the need for “the old” amidst “the new.”  She wrote:

To be sure, city areas with flourishing diversity sprout strange and unpredictable uses and scenes. But this is not a drawback of diversity. This is the point, or part of it. That this should happen is in keeping with one of the missions of cities.

Under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, there is the homogenization factor going on in our city… certainly our bland Mayor doesn’t get that “mission” that Jacobs refers to.  And our NY City Council, led by Speaker Christine Quinn, just falls in line with her friend and benefactor, thereby eliminating any protection or preservation of the unique in our city.

The City’s redesign plans for Washington Square Park further illustrate no understanding or acknowledgment (perhaps, indeed purposefully) of the “strange” (Jacobs’ term for something worth preserving) or the unique, bohemia or diversity.  The design, by landscape designer George Vellonakis, seems to purposefully gloss over – almost sneers at – what made the Park unique.

Instead of Mayor Mike’s emphasis on protecting Wall Street, real estate interests and tourism, wouldn’t we like to live in a place where the historical buildings throughout the West and East Village that NYU has subsumed would be off limits to being altered … forever

Hitchens concludes:

Those who don’t live in such threatened districts nonetheless have a stake in this quarrel and some skin in this game, because on the day when everywhere looks like everywhere else we shall all be very much impoverished, and not only that but-more impoverishingly still-we will be unable to express or even understand or depict what we have lost.

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*This is a revised and edited version of a post first published on June 18th, 2008.*

Photo: Ed Yourdon

Theater for the New City Presents New Musical “Tally Ho!, or Navigating the Future” At Washington Square Park Sunday, August 30th at 2 p.m., Other Venues Throughout City

East Village’s renowned Theater for the New City will bring their award-winning Street Theater Company to New York City streets, parks and playgrounds, unveiling a new “rip-roaring” musical “Tally Ho!, or Navigating the Future.”  The group will perform at Washington Square Park Sunday, August 30th at 2 p.m.

 The new production is about a young bank teller’s adventures in high finance with the big bankers and the heads of industry. The tale gets cosmic as Hera and Athena jump in to help when toxic assets and old mortgages join the runoff from the earth–the dead batteries, pesticides and rotting garbage–that have begun piling up on Mount Olympus

All performances are free and open to all.  The new musical has book, lyrics and direction by Crystal Field and musical score composed by David Tice. 

The production was first performed August 1st at Theater for the New City and will perform in all five boroughs before it finishes its run.  

Dates remaining include:   Central Park Bandshell August 16, Prospect Park Concert Grove August 22, Travers Park August 23, St. Mary’s Park August 29, Washington Square Park August 30, Sobel Court & Bowen Street September 12, and St. Marks Church September 13.

See the full schedule and location details here or call #212/254-1109.

So… *is* the Washington Square Park Fountain aligned to the Arch?

irony or... poetic justice, perhaps?

irony or... poetic justice, perhaps?

There’s been a lot of under-the-radar discussion about whether the Washington Square Park Fountain is actually aligned with the Arch.  

This has been a topic of discord since it was first announced a few years back that the Bloomberg Administration intended to move the famous fountain in its location since the 1870’s and in the exact center of the park in that spot23 feet east to line up with the Arch at Fifth Avenue.  The relocation of the Fountain also led to the destruction of seven of the eight trees that lined the Fountain Plaza because they were in the way (note:  two of the replacement trees are already dying or dead – more on that another day).

Having reviewed a lot of the history of the redesign and controversy around it, there was pretty much close to no one, other than designer George Vellonakis, who thought this was important.  It’s never been clear if it was solely the landscape designer’s whim or a directive from elsewhere.  

However, someone determined early on in Washington Square Park’s history (1870’s), when the fountain was first placed, that it should be located in the center of the Park on its east-west axis.  It’s not obvious symmetry but it makes sense.  It works.  To just obliterate this history – on top of the fact that park users liked where it was – seemed wrong when first announced and still does now.

And you have to wonder about the NYC Art Commission (now called the Design Commission – as of July ’08) which gave the approval on moving the Fountain.  What was their criteria?  … Then again they are ALL appointed by the Mayor.

I first published a post on whether the Fountain and Arch were misaligned in August of last year while the Park was still under construction after seeing the above photo.  The photographer, J.Bary, later wrote in saying he’d watched them meticulously figure out where the center was and that it’s the angle from which the photo was taken that makes it look unaligned.  

But when you’re on the Fountain Plaza, it does look a bit, um, off.

At the Phase I Grand Opening Ceremony May 28th of this year, I overheard someone from the NYC Parks Department say he was surprised that no one had said anything about the Fountain not being aligned with the Arch.  (I don’t know that he was confirming this, or just saying that they’d probably gotten some comments like that.)  I’ve heard other people mention this tho’ since then, and then, on August 5th of this year, WSP Blog reader named Steve wrote in as follows:

Is anyone ever going to admit that the fountain is now aligned to nothing — not the center of the park as it was before, not the arch and not 5th Avenue? What was the point of moving it?!?!?! It is NOT aligned to either the arch or the avenue.

The only stated reason George Vellonakis has given on the record for moving the Fountain is that it makes a better shot for tourists to take back home with them.  Putting that aside as not a very good reason… If the Fountain is now not in the center of the park (as it was for over 100 years) and if it’s not aligned with the Arch… what was the whole point?

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Original August 7th, 2008 WSP Blog entry:  Wouldn’t it be ironic if – after everything – the Washington Square Park Fountain was off-center to the Arch?

Photo:  J. Bary

WSP Blog Updates Mondays in August!

Hi WSP Blog Readers!

I took a break the last few weeks.  I will be posting on Mondays in August.  Please write as always with anything you’ve noted.  Hope you’re having a great summer!

Cathryn
WSP Blog