2nd Anniversary of this Blog!

This is an abbreviated, edited version of the post I ran last year on the blog’s 1 year anniversary – with an update at the end:

I recounted here how I started this blog after going to an exhibit in January 2008 at the Municipal Art Society on Jane Jacobs. Jane Jacobs had been critically involved over the years at Washington Square Park (and, of course, New York City, in general). The goal of the exhibit was to inspire community activism. I recognized that many people in the community had tried the typical routes (go to meetings, talk to politicians, talk to your community board, hand out flyers, etc. etc.). At the exhibit, a little booklet was handed out which stated, basically, if all else fails, if you’ve tried everything, START A BLOG. That got my attention. I thought, why not?

Right around the time I started, I met all these wonderful Brooklyn bloggers at a luncheon. They were all so inspiring, honest, quirky, talented, encouraging. Truthfully, if I had realized how much work it would be, I might have rethought it but this blog provided a place to practice writing in a structured way that was part activism, part journalism. I have a background in public relations so it seemed like some of that might get thrown in also.

I started out wanting to tell the story of what had happened – to that point. Then, last summer (’08), new meetings about the park’s redesign began and I was able to report the story as it was happening. Curbed called this a “watchdog blog.” Along the way, this blog got written up in the New York Times, linked to by numerous other blogs and web sites, and I had written dialogue with the NYC Parks Commissioner.

I’ve felt it was important to interconnect other issues going on in our city and public space that also relate to the issues at Washington Square Park, such as:

* the reduction and privatization of public space (particular emphasis on Washington Square Park, Union Square Park, and Yankee Stadium Parkland);

* the cutting down of hundreds if not thousands of trees in our parks across the five boroughs while the Mayor hypes his MillionTreesNYC “initiative” ;

* the dangerous and controversial use of artificial turf in our parks and playing fields;

* NYU: Washington Square Park’s influential neighbor and its reckless real estate land grabs which are decimating communities and neighborhoods throughout Manhattan as it plants its flags seemingly everywhere. (NYU owns, after all, basically all the real estate that surrounds the park.);

* Business Improvement Districts and Park Conservancy Models : The problem with the overly pervasive BIDs and Conservancies is that they get a stronghold on our public spaces, thereby influencing usage based on bolstering real estate values over community interests;

* Failure of elected officials: City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and (former) City Council Member Alan Gerson failed in protecting Washington Square Park and in responding to their constituents’ pleas for intervention;

* Washington Square Park Task Force — Largely comprised of members of Community Board 2, as well as representatives of elected officials, and community members. Too often the requests it puts forward to the Parks Department lack a true sense of advocating for the Park;

And… of course…

* Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Without him and his deft and slickly corrosive way of maneuvering through city agencies and outside groups, none of what’s happened at Washington Square Park and in our city would have been possible.

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2/26/10: Right now, we’re in full swing of Phase II construction at the Park. There is a Phase III yet to come! This blog became an important space for me personally when I first started writing it — it’s written itself at times! I’ve had to slow down and post less often (I posted once a day for close to the first year and a half) and future posting will be more sporadic. Yet, there are 492 posts in the archive (check ’em out – see Categories on right hand side bar) and a lot of material has been covered here.

I learn all the time from the other NYC bloggers, and it’ll be interesting to see where this whole “citizen journalism” movement goes (especially as mainstream journalists move in).

If there’s one change I would have liked to have seen, it would have been more transparency and less arrogance, a change in the way the NYC Parks Department related on Washington Square Park and all park issues.

While the Phase I section of the Park (around the Fountain), which opened May ’09, looks “pretty,” it also looks suburbanized, homogenized, “aligned.” Even the latest news, of those two old trees axed amidst Phase II Construction ones that landscape designer George Vellonakis insisted would be saved – confirms another untruth, on top of too many others, from the New York City Parks Department. Another inappropriate action from a city agency, as we navigate Mayor Bloomberg’s (engineered) third term.

However, the spirit of the park will live on! It’ll change (again) as the years go by. And I believe ultimately the truth (about Mayor Bloomberg, about the Parks Department under Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, about whatever behind-the-scenes deals that were done) will prevail.

As always, thanks for reading and stopping by whether it’s been often, from time-to-time, or just today!

best,
Cathryn.
WSP Blog

*The First Post: The Magical Park, February 26, 2008

*Links to many of the issues noted above (topics covered on this blog) here.

Photo: Venetia27

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Washington Square Park

Washington Square Park Upon the New Year

A really nice shot by Walking off the Big Apple on Flickr.

A little Self Promotion!

Updated 2/20

Yes, this is self promotion but, hey!, I’ve been writing this blog for close to two years, I think I can throw some in at this point! Two more days ’til fundraising to complete my book on Kickstarter ends — for each level of backing, you also get Rewards (a completed book, a thank you on the web site, a thank you in the book, etc.!) – plus I have a new video. Check it out at my Kickstarter page here!

As of this minute, I have 38 hours to go! I have til Friday, February 19th at 11:15 p.m. On Kickstarter, the end call for funding of your project is the most important one, as I only receive the funds pledged IF I reach my goal of $6500. With your help, I can meet my goal.

THANK YOU to WSP Blog readers and other bloggers that have helped out either via pledging or spreading the word. MUCH appreciated!

Cathryn
WSP Blog

Update: 2/20 — I made my initial goal! The site can still take pledges to fund my book but my Kickstarter venture was a success!

Blog Update

Washington Square Park

February 8th — I’ll be blogging less for the month of February working on raising funds and writing my book! Any WSP or Parks-related meetings coming up will be posted under Events & Actions. You can also follow me on Twitter. I will get some photos up of the recent construction soon! Thanks for stopping by.

Photo: Katherineg

NYC Parks Department Drops off Washington Square Park Phase II Blueprints at Community Board 2 Meeting; More Arborcide at Washington Square Park and by NYU

Well, yes, Community Board 2’s Parks Committee met Wednesday night, February 3rd, in the Village with a list of topics to discuss. On the agenda: Design of the Washington Square Park “comfort stations,” part of Washington Square Park Redesign: Phase III which will begin later this year or early next. There was, at last, a look at the plans for WSP Phase II construction, currently underway.

The Parks Department unveiled full Washington Square Park Phase II redesign plan blueprints, the first time anyone from the community had seen these despite the fact that the work began in the Fall of 2009. Clearly, these Phase II blueprints have existed for awhile — the fact that the Parks Department just now got around to bringing them before the Community Board is particularly vexing.

At the previous December meeting (a joint meeting of CB2 Parks Committee with the Washington Square Park Task Force), the Parks Department was unprepared and attendees were told that representatives would return at February’s meeting to give the Community Board full and final details on ongoing Phase II construction and design plans for Phase III.

Instead, the Parks Department dropped off some blueprints (which were nice to finally see, of course), placed them on a table and focused on presentations related to other parks.

No information was presented about the design of the Washington Square Park comfort stations/restrooms. (You might recall that the Greenwich Village community repeatedly insisted over the last five or so years that WSP’s failing rest rooms be addressed first in their redesign plans to which the New York City Parks Department smiled and nodded their heads while ignoring this request all along the way.)

At the meeting, other village neighborhood parks got the spotlight, including Bleecker Street Playground, Petrosino Park, and Minetta Playground. I miss the presence of Community Board 2 Chair Brad Hoylman (who left his position at the beginning of this year after a 2 year term).

With Hoylman there, the spotlight shone a bit brighter on WSP – and park – issues. CB2 Parks Committee Chair Tobi Bergman, previously a Parks Department employee, is more likely to dismiss items when they might get a bit thorny, not holding the Parks Department accountable. I can’t say for certain that Hoylman, who works for Partnership for New York City (a pro-Bloomberg, pro-development entity), increased the Parks Department’s responsiveness but the process felt more open.

Arborcide by NYU and at WSP

For example: NYU devastatingly chopped down 6 trees along Thompson Street between Washington Square South and West 3rd Street recently during construction of their new Interfaith center at 58 Washington Square South. Their reason: to install an intricate heating system. Clearly, the design could have been configured otherwise.

In December, Bergman took a strong stand, with the rest of the board’s committee, when NYU officials came before them with these plans. The Parks Committee disapproved of this arborcidal concept and instructed NYU to find a new way to proceed. Yet, it was revealed on Wednesday that the Parks Department went ahead and gave the University the jurisdiction to send the trees to the chopping block.

Trees now gone. To those who objected when this news was brought to light, Bergman told them, quickly shutting down any discussion: it was done, yes, we objected, move on.

When Mayor Michael Bloomberg says he is in favor of a MillionTrees, there may be some planting going on, but it seems for every one tree planted, another is axed. (See Union Square and Yankee Stadium Parkland, as well as Washington Square Park14 trees axed in Phase I, unclear # in Phase II to be destroyed.)

Another example: the two magnificent, non-uniform, non-aligned trees that graced the path from Garibaldi Statue alongside Teen Plaza to LaGuardia Place at WSP. I’m not certain the type tree they were but they had character, were clearly very old, and their branches drooped at bizarre angles, infusing immediate charm and an eclectic feeling.

When landscape designer George Vellonakis walked me through a tour of his plans for Phase II in May 2009, I asked specifically about those trees. As he had stated previously in public, he confirmed to me that those trees would remain. But, like most everything that shows a bit of non-conformity at the Park, as I walked through Wednesday night, I noted those trees are gone.

Parks Department Given Way Too Much Latitude

In the end, there was no presentation from the Parks Department on WSP. Bergman was vague about when they would return (March was fleetingly mentioned) and didn’t seem to recall the stated agenda items from December slated to be readdressed at this meeting.

It wouldn’t be hard for the city agency to detect that Bergman is quick to forgive – or more pointedly ignore –  failings on their part. He’s very adept at pointing out that CB2 role is advisory, instead of forging a more activist and assertive front. I’m not certain why, when the CB2 Chair was rotated at the beginning of this year, new committee chairpersons were not put into play.

Blueprints Dropped Off: Washington Square Park Phase II

The Parks Department dropped off diagrams displaying Washington Square Park Phase II which were placed on a table for viewing.

Evident from the plans:

*There will be 19 chess tables. I can’t recall the previous number (does anyone offhand?) but it looked like an increase although the Parks Department had initially said the number would remain the same. That SW corner becomes reduced in size – becoming another conformed, aligned “Plaza,” like the other three that grace the corners of the Park’s quadrants.

*Nine NYPD security cameras and devices, four within the Park, installed on poles. “2 cameras will be installed on new poles that currently do not have security devices installed.” I gather the other five will be along the perimeter of the Park.

*As we knew, four of the six seating alcoves will be preserved. Three are supposed to remain as they were, one reduced in size.

*As previously outlined, the two dog runs will be relocated along Washington Square South. (Designer Vellonakis previously has stated that no trees would be disturbed there. We’ll see…)

*Garibaldi is being moved from his position facing West to a position a bit further North, facing South.

As for Phase III design plans, it seems that they will be unveiled by the Parks Department at the Parks Committee meeting in March – at least that’s what was implied. Whether the Parks Department will keep to their word, we shall see. We’ll also see whether Community Board 2’s Parks Committee holds them to it.

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For a look at the Phase II diagrams and a report about the meeting from Curbed, go here.

My previous WSP Blog post on Phase II plans.

Community Board 2 Parks Committee to Meet Wed. Feb. 3rd – Will discuss WSP

Updated 2/3
* Wednesday, February 3rd, 6:30 p.m., Community Board 2 Parks Committee Meeting – on agenda: status report by NYC Parks Dept on Phase III design of Washington Sq Pk comfort stations/bathrooms. As far as Phase II updates…

At the last WSP Task Force/CB2 Parks Committee meeting in December, the Parks Department was admittedly unprepared and said they’d return in February 2010 with details on current status of Phase II construction including presentation of various final details of the plan plus current status of plans for Phase III, the Washington Square Park maintenance building and rest rooms. Will that be part of this meeting or will that happen at another time?

Update: According to CB2 Parks Committee Chair Tobi Bergman, the Parks Department was asked to bring information and diagrams relating to Phase II to this meeting.

Location: St. Anthony’s Of Padua, 154 Sullivan (between Houston & Prince), Lower Hall