A View Through the Arch — On NYU’s Proposed Continued Expansion Throughout the Village & NYC

With news of N.Y.U.’s proposed plan to expand their New York City campus by 40%, this photo shows us what the view through the Arch would be like if there was no building at 58 Washington Square South (which NYU acquired and plans to make 6-7 stories – it was previously two – next to Kimmel Center) – right now, you can actually see through to West 3rd Street!

Speaking to the New York Times about the proposed expansion, New York University President John Sexton (reached in Qatar, near N.Y.U.’s new Abu Dhabi campus) responds as if he is new to the scene. He states, “It’s clear that N.Y.U. had a history of moving forward without listening.”  Just how long has John Sexton been President of N.Y.U.? Since 2001! A lot of that “moving forward without listening” occurred on his watch.

The paper informs us: “Between 1991 and 2001, the number of students living in N.Y.U. housing tripled to 12,000, from 4,000, as the university raised its national profile. (In the early ’90s, 50 percent of its students came from the metropolitan area; now that figure has declined to 10 to 15 percent.) By 2031, N.Y.U. expects its total student body to grow to 46,500 students, up from the current 41,000.”

The Times reports: “In its Washington Square neighborhood, the university will be creating the equivalent in square footage of a little more than the total floor area of the Empire State Building.”

Mr. Sexton, who alarmed me when I heard his perplexing speech in support of Mayor Bloomberg’s quest to overturn voted-in term limits (as I wrote at the time: More Bloomberg, More NYU), stated: “For New York to be a great city, we need N.Y.U. to be a great university.

Actually, I’m sure many would argue in order for New York to be a “great city,” we need less N.Y.U. Fewer N.Y.U. flags planted amidst every inch of our communities and neighborhoods. And historic spaces like the Edgar Allen Poe House and Provincetown Playhouse as well as cultural spots which added to the vibrancy of the neighborhood like The Bottom Line preserved – not demolished – by the overreaching arm of N.Y.U. expansion.

Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, states: “N.Y.U. seems to have worked on their P.R. machine quite a bit, but the reality of what they’re doing — which is taking over more and more of the neighborhood — doesn’t seem like it’s changed very much. They’ve given everybody the opportunity to say what they think and then they’ve largely ignored that feedback.

To learn more: Wednesday, April 14th 5:30-8 p.m. N.Y.U. will present its 2031 Expansion Plan, Kimmel Center, 10th floor, 60 Washington Square South (at LaGuardia Place)

Previous WSP Blog Posts:

* Isn’t there anyone who can outbid or outmaneuver NYU? 58 Washington Sq South Goes to the Dark Side

* NYU: “Thanks for your patience”; the University Continues Its Unregulated Building, Ignoring Community Agreements on Provincetown Playhouse

Photos: Cathryn

*** Coming Next Week: Photos of New Construction at Washington Square Park! ***

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NY City Council Committee to hold Parks Department Preliminary Budget 2011 Hearing Wednesday, March 24th — Agency Oversees 14% of City Land; Needs Larger Budget, Not Less

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Preliminary Budget for New York City Fiscal Year 2011 proposes decreasing the already way-too-low Parks Department Budget by $25 million — from $264 Million to $239 Million. This represents .37% of the City’s annual budget allocated to operate and maintain our city Parks, Recreation and open spaces. .37% of the budget dedicated to the City agency which oversees 14% of New York City land throughout the five boroughs is neglectful to our city open spaces and not forward thinking.

According to A Walk In the Park Blog, Mayor Bloomberg’s preliminary budget overall for 2011 is increased $560 Million from this year, yet he still insists on cutting the already decimated Parks Department budget. Our parks and open spaces cannot be properly and equitably maintained if the budget is so disproportionate to what is needed.

Since this is a preliminary budget, there is still time to weigh in at Wednesday’s 3/24 Parks Committee meeting at City Hall. There is a new chair of the Parks Committee in the NY City Council, Melissa Mark-Viverito, and there is hope that some change will be seen.

In a previous post on WSP Blog, NYC Parks Dept.: 2/3 cuts in workers and endless privatization schemes,” I referenced statistics from New York Jobs With Justice which informed us that as of 2008, the Parks Department budget had been cut by 66% over (I believe) the last twenty years:

“Years ago, NYC’s public parks were administered by over 7,500 municipal employees of the Department of Parks and Recreation. Today, it’s only 2,500 municipal employees taking care of NYC’s public parks. [Note: the number may have fluctuated upward a small amount since 2008 but is now going back to around this # of workers.] This number continues to shrink as the years go by. Much of the labor has been privatized through city partnerships with non-profit administrators resulting in a two-tier work force of public servants in the City’s public parks.”

A large number of jobs are being cut and positions eliminated. This is one additional reason, as NY Jobs for Justice outlined above, why our parks and public spaces are being increasingly privatized.

Show your support for our Parks by speaking before the City Council Parks Committee this Wednesday, March 24th, 2 p.m., at City Hall Council Chambers on the 2nd floor.

Learn more at A Walk In the Park Blog.

** More details on the meeting from The New York City Council web site.

Blog Update

Hi. Sorry for the lack of posting. Trying to stay focused on life and my book! But I do want to continue posting here now & again so look for a new post on Monday, March 22nd! For more frequent updates, I post other NYC-related news and thoughts on Twitter so you can check me out there. Thanks for stopping by!

-Cathryn, WSP Blog

The Washington Square Park Task Force – What is it and what are its stated “goals?” (Part I)

Part 1 of 2; 3/10/10There have been issues with the lack of follow-through of the Washington Square Park Task Force, the body designated to oversee the park’s redesign, since its inception. Since I touched on this body and issues with it back in November ’08, I thought I’d run an edited version of this post again. If you think about it, if the Task Force had been paying attention to details, as
mandated, they would have been aware that the new benches the Parks Department were installing at the park were rainforest woodmuch called into question now – and could have stopped it. Just one example!

Original post (slightly edited):

The Washington Square Park Task Force was put into play by (former) NY City Council Member Alan Gerson and (present) NY City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (both of whom voted to extend their own terms in the whole term limits fiasco).

The WSP Task Force is supposed to be the body that follows up on the Gerson-Quinn Agreement and the “stipulations” put forth in that letter (of October 6, 2005 from Gerson-Quinn to NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe).

The WSPTF is run presently under the aegis of Community Board 2 but it is also comprised of members of the public, the Community Board, and representatives of elected officials*.

Co-chaired by Community Board 2 Chair Brad Hoylman — now, Jo Hamilton — and CB2 Parks Committee Chair Tobi Bergman, the Washington Square Park Task Force meets infrequently and it is unclear how and when certain decisions are made. Yet it is the only body that has been given some jurisdiction over the Parks Department and the outcome of the redesigned Washington Square Park.

Therefore, the hope would be that it would have some teeth and it would be in there fighting for this dynamic and historic public space. But is it?

Goals of the Washington Square Park Task Force:

I have an undated document which stipulates the goals as such:

1. Make sure all points of Quinn-Gerson agreement are adhered to.

2. All bid documents, all changes of plans, and all design details should be run by task force.

3. Enable the community to have input on design details.

4. Maintain the sense of informality of the park which is so central to its charm and character.

5. Maintain Washington Square Park as a well maintained, diverse, plural park where all sorts of people feel welcome.

6. Maintain as much green space as open to the public as possible while keeping it alive.

7. Maintain as many of the trees as possible.

8. Create conditions which allow funding of bathroom renovation.

9. Step up maintenance pending the resolution of the legal issues.

10. Oppose the establish of a conservancy without a good deal of public vetting.

So how has the WSP Task Force done thus far on these stated “goals” and what are the inherent problems with it?

Part II, which follows, will explore this next.

* The elected officials represented on the Task Force are: Congressman Jerold Nadler, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Council Member Rosie Mendez, Council Member Alan Gerson(now Margaret Chin), State Senator Tom Duane, and Assembly Member Deborah Glick.

Edited from original post published November 7th, 2008.

What Needs to be Done to Have a Functioning Washington Sq Park Task Force? #1: Separate from Community Bd 2 (Part II)

Part 2 of 2; 3/10/10: The same issues I wrote about when this post first was published in November 2008 seemed abated for awhile but have resurfaced anew. No one has any idea what is being missed in relation to Redesign: Phase II details pertaining to the chess tables, the Mounds, the childrens’ playground, the alcoves, the Garibaldi Plaza, etc., because the questions are not being asked. The heads of the Task Force currently have the laissez faire attitude that since the design is “approved”, there’s nothing for them to do now. In December 2009, the body asked for an update on Phase II. Since the Parks Department said they didn’t have one ready, the Task Force now sits idly by. They do not ask to view the design details which are part of the reason for their existence. No one has any idea how many trees are being cut down in Phase II because they have not asked.

Edited version of post from Nov. 13, 2008:

Washington Sq Park Fence Being Installed

Washington Sq Park Fence Being Installed

I’ve been grappling with how to tackle addressing the Washington Square Park Task Force following Part I in which I listed its purported goals and the NY elected officials who have actual representatives on it. The Task Force has a lot of good people on it from the community who from the beginning wanted to have an impact but as Fusun Ateser, a member of the Task Force, told me recently, “we were not allowed to do anything.”‘

Task Force Linkage to Community Board 2

Part of the problem I believe is the close linkage of the WSP Task Force to Community Board 2. Presently, Brad Hoylman — now, Jo Hamilton — Community Board 2 Chair is the co-chair of the Task Force, with CB2 Parks Committee Chair Tobi Bergman.

Community Board 2 has already made its own share of mistakes around Washington Square Park approving the Parks Department’s redesign plan twice with insufficient data and despite widespread community disapproval. They ultimately rescinded their approvalalbeit on the third try.

There ought to be an independent body monitoring what’s happening at this Park. At Task Force meetings, Mr. Hoylman and Mr. Bergman are adamant that the Task Force was only created to uphold the Gerson-Quinn letter. While others on the Task Force seem ready to go further, they are continually reined in by Hoylman and Bergman. In July ’07, when people attempted to put forth resolutions, Mr. Hoylman stated that he “wanted to be sure it doesn’t resemble a Community Board resolution.” Therefore, resolutions were not allowed.

What would a Functioning Body look like?

The Task Force needs to be taken out of the hands of the Community Board in this instance. We need people to continue fighting for this park. The people who comprise the WSP Task Force feel they have no power. This is a historic park. It is a landmark in New York City. It is a dynamic public space. It deserves to have people fighting for it – who will fight for it.

Problems with Washington Square Park Re-Design not caught by WSP Task Force

Most recent example: As I noted in the updated version of Part I, the Task Force totally missed that the new benches being installed at the Park were made of rainforest wood – a wood from an endangered area that certainly could have been avoided putting into use. They never asked so they didn’t know.

Example: The lamps in the park. Ms. Atessur said the Task Force was never shown the two different lamp choices (the Task Force has oversight on design “details”) and asked for their approval on them. When I asked Brad Hoylman if the body approved the choice of the lamps, he told me he thought so but never got back to me with a confirmation. (Task Force member Doris Diether also confirmed she never saw – or approved – the lamp choices.) If they were not approved by the Washington Square Park Task Force, then what is the Task Force doing? This is part of their charge.

Note: some people wrote to me at the time this post was written and told me that the lamps were a trivial item to focus on, that they were fine enough. But I don’t think it’s trivial to note that the Task Force hadn’t been doing its job. They have not been paying attention to the “details,” as mandated.

Example: The fence. The fence (coming in is 4 feet high, as opposed to the more welcoming 3 feet that exists currently) is not supposed to have decorative spears or points on top (this is actually stated in the Gerson-Quinn Agreement). And yet – it does. (See photo above.) Is anyone looking after this?

There needs to be a point person from the Washington Square Park Task Force walking through the park regularly and monitoring each aspect. There needs to be a point person talking to the Parks Department. Now, unfortunately, if Council Member Alan Gerson is the designated elected official you go to if you are not getting answers from the Parks Department, then you may be in trouble because he will not rock the boat. But at least get the boat in the water!

Washington Sq Park Fence Now

Washington Sq Park Fence Now

Top photo (fence being installed): Cathryn/WSP Blog
Bottom photo (girl with guitar sitting on fence): Louis Seigal

Edited version of post originally published November 13th, 2008

Updated Part I here.