Does Washington Square Park “feel haunted”?

NewYork.com features a piece on Haunted Landmarks in NYC. They list definite “ghost sightings” at the Empire State Building, Radio City Music Hall, Wollman Rink. About Washington Square Park, they opine that, due to the “mass grave below the park” (they write this without any context) “the place just feels haunted.”

Does it?

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More… WSP Blog breaks story of discovery of 18th century tombstone at the park earlier this year during Phase II construction.

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Books, Coffee, Democracy: Now Shuttered Coffee Shop & Political/Community Space Vox Pop at LUMA Blog

Read about now defunct – and much missed – Ditmas Park coffee shop and political/community gathering space, Vox Pop, over at LUMA Blog.

Update on “The Vanishing City”; Documentary Screens Tonite, Saturday, September 25th at Williamsburg Film Festival

Tonight, Saturday, September 25th, catch the completed version of documentary “The Vanishing City” at the Williamsburg International Film Festival, aka WilliFest, at 10 p.m. at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn. The Festival began Thursday, September 23rd and ends tomorrow, Sunday September 26th.

You can’t miss the dramatic changes in our New York City neighborhoods that have transpired at an escalated pace during the Bloomberg years, particularly throughout Manhattan but creeping into the other boroughs. The film attempts to answer “why?

The Daily News featured an excellent write-up on the film’s creators, filmmakers Jen Senko and Fiore DeRosa, yesterday:

“The more questions we asked, the film became more of journa-listic expose, a detective story,” says Senko.

“Essentially, we found that the city was using taxpayers’ money to more and more finance luxury housing, pushing out people and businesses that had been there for generations. These developers got huge subsidies and tax breaks, while taxes on small landlords and co-ops were going up nearly 40 percent.

“The result is changing the whole culture of Manhattan, and the film took on that focus.”

To view the excellent trailer for the film, and more on why the city is vanishing so quickly, take a look at this piece from Examiner.com:

The film points out that New York, while always changing, used to change in increments. In the 90s luxury development started ramping up and by the aughts exploded, slashing and burning its way through neighborhood after neighborhood. Luxury development has become the norm and entire neighborhoods have been re-zoned to not only allow it, but to preclude any other kind of development.

“The Vanishing City” just opened the Harlem International Film Festival on Thursday 9/23 and is receiving a lot of important and much deserved attention.

For tickets for tonight, or the rest of the festival, visit here.

Get Your Wellness on At Washington Square Park Saturday

On Saturday, September 18th from 1-5 p.m. at Washington Square Park‘s Holley Plaza – Get Your Wellness On – a Suicide Prevention and Awareness Fair will take place with “activities to promote physical and mental health and the awareness of suicide prevention, including relaxation workshops, musical performances, sporting demonstrations and informational displays. Organized by Esmeralda Williamson-Noble, a writer-activist and mother of a suicide victim; with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the National Alliance on Mental Illness and other organizations.” (New York Times listing.)

Check out Ms. Williamson-Noble’s blog Forever Invictus:

Since starting this blog in October 2009, Esmeralda lost her beloved twenty-year old son, Andrew, aka Tigger, to suicide. A junior in East Asian Studies at NYU, in the pre dawn hours of Nov 3 2009, Andrew jumped from the 10th floor of Bobst, NYU’s library.

As well as this blog, Esmeralda writes for The Huffington Post and she is working on a memoir.

Esmeralda says:
“I intend to work in the area of suicide to bring understanding and light to this painful subject.“

The site regularly mentions the following as a place for help: If You Are Feeling Suicidal Or If Need To Talk Please Call The National Helpline 1-800-273-8255

Washington Square Park Phase II: Lack of Transparency & Oversight Continues – Part II (Updated)

Updated 9/8/10, 12:48 p.m. — A couple months back, I called a Greenwich Village community member who has been involved from the very beginning with the redesign plans for Washington Square Park.

Washington Square Park Task Force (and Community Board 2) Chair Jo Hamilton had requested that I put together my “list of questions” around Phase II and said she’d try to get answers. I stated that these were not my questions alone; people in the community had questions. Ms. Hamilton didn’t appear to grasp my repeated attempts to infuse more transparency into the process. I wasn’t trying to write a blog piece – I wanted the Task Force to do what it’s supposed to do (and I’d happily report on that).

Frustrated that I couldn’t get this concept across, I started to put together some semblance of a list. When I asked this community member what questions she had, she responded, “Well, it’s kind of hard. We’ve been given so little information – it’s hard to even know what the questions are.”

And there you have it. We’re in the middle of a multiple-year, $30 Million Dollar New York City project – a redesign of a historic landmark park in Greenwich Village – and all the bodies assigned oversight of the project (as outlined in Part I) have fallen asleep at the wheel.

So, here is my list of some of the unanswered questions plus information I’ve gathered including causes for alarm:

  • OVER BUDGETThe Washington Square Park Redesign project was originally budgeted – all three phases – for $16 million TOTAL but Phase I alone cost that.What will Phase II – budgeted at $9 million – come to? With the delays in work and numerous changes as it proceeds, I’m guessing way over that. The park is nowhere near done and the cost is already $9 mil.
  • COMPLETION OF PROJECT MONTHS BEHIND SCHEDULE – HELLO 2011? Projected date for Phase II’s completion was September 2010. The Villager reported that the Parks Department and contractor Tucci are working towards December 2010 but in all likelihood this project will be going into early-to-mid 2011. The reason: numerous design changes by the Parks Department, mismanagement by the city agency of some of the finer details of the project, and lack of oversight by the appropriate bodies.
    Dead … second time around…
  • DYING TREESWhy do these same two trees around the Fountain keep dying? 2009’s newly planted trees died, were replaced, and now the replacements are dead in less than a year. If you’ll recall, the forty year old original trees that lined the fountain were chopped down to make way for the aligning of the Fountain with the Arch at Fifth Avenue. Could these repeated deaths be due to the re-designer’s error? I think so. (Look for a separate post on this later this week.)
  • JUST HOW MANY TREES ARE BEING AXED IN PHASE II? – How many trees are being chopped down for the extensive work on the SouthWest, NorthEast and SouthEast Quadrants? No one knows. It hasn’t been revealed publicly. Since the blueprints were dropped off on a table with no explanation at the last Community Board 2 Parks Committee meeting, there’s been no discussion of this.
    Site of Future “Mounds”
  • WHAT WILL THE “NEW” MOUNDS LOOK LIKE? HOW TALL WILL THEY BE? – The Parks Department says the three Mounds — which seem to elicit a “love ’em or hate ’em” response — will be recreated at 5 feet tall (previously they were 6 feet) but the blueprints show them at 3.5 feet tall with an “elevation” of 26 inches. Call me confused. Of course, a public meeting would answer these questions. The original Mounds, created as part of the 1970 design, were considered an area of “spontaneous play.” In more recent years, they had been closed off to public use and were used in the winter for sledding.
  • CABLE NET PLAY STRUCTURES FOR CHILDREN WITH 6 FOOT DROP? – The concept behind the “new” Mounds makes them part of a more extensive play area, including “Cable-Net Play” structures that the Mounds appear to take a backseat to. It’s rumored that the “cable-net play” structures (you know those steel structures we all grew up playing on that you climb across a bar up top) will be set up so children can fall into a 6 foot deep ‘hole’ underneath — which will be covered in artificial turf.
  • CONTROVERSIAL ARTIFICIAL TURF ABOUNDS – Tho’ this was greatly opposed by the community, the entire area around the Mounds is swarming with dangerous artificial turf.
  • WILL THE DOG RUNS REMAIN IN PHASE II? – It’s proving difficult for the dog runs (large dog run and small dog run) to be completed without interfering with the Parks’ administrative offices which border the area. Will the completion of the dog runs remain in Phase II? Everyone pretty much thought the dog runs were fine where they are now – but the Parks Department insisted on moving them onto the southern edge of the park.
  • Chess, Anyone?
    • CHESS AREA – TREE IN THE WAY? NUMBER OF CHESS TABLES IN JEOPARDY? – The famed Chess area at the Southwestern quadrant is being made somewhat smaller. The plaza here, like every quadrant entrance, is circular. However, it was discovered recently, that, what worked on paper in George Vellonakis’ design, doesn’t in reality: the chess area diameter runs straight into an old tree. (Surprising they don’t just chop it down, eh?) The number of chess tables was supposed to remain at 19 but, with this new glitch, the chess tables may be reduced in number. Previously, the circle of this Quadrant included a ‘cut out’ for the tree, thereby making the “circle” not entirely symmetrical (can a circle be symmetrical? I’m not sure but you know what I mean… Apparently, yes.). This designer loves symmetry so it’s doubtful that’s going to happen here — throwing the number of chess tables into jeopardy.
    • PATHWAY OBSTRUCTIONS – The pathway that enters at LaGuardia Place — that many use to walk past Garibaldi Plaza (previously included “Teen Plaza”/performance area) and head over to the NE side of the park — will only lead into the Fountain Plaza, blocked by the lawn and Performance Area. In addition, the pathway leading from the Fountain to the Eastern Side of the park, previously connected to this route, will no longer have a big, open feeling to it – impeded by a narrow path and a large planter.
    • OTHER AREAS THAT ARE IN DESPERATE NEED OF REVIEW: GARIBALDI PLAZA/PERFORMANCE AREA, GARIBALDI STATUE, and CHILDREN’S PLAYGROUND (NorthEast) – also – SEATING ALCOVES, ALL THE PATHWAYS.

Many of these items are over budget, behind schedule and needing oversight primarily due to Parks Department changes to the plans, sometimes error and often mismanagement.

However, more alarming is the stunning lack of transparency by the New York City Parks Department coupled with the lack of supervision by anyone else. Most of this information has been kept as quiet as possible with the complicity of the very bodies, namely NY City Council, Community Board 2 and Washington Square Park Task Force, that are charged with the Park’s oversight.

The larger question — will any of this get a public airing? — remains to be answered.

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Part 1: Washington Square Park Redesign Phase II: An Eerie Silence – What’s Going On?

Part 2 — Washington Square Park Redesign: Phase II What’s Going On? — Coming Tuesday, September 7th

Part 2 – the follow-up to yesterday’s post – will be delayed and run Tuesday, September 7th.

Stay tuned and check back!

Washington Square Park Redesign Phase II: An Eerie Silence – What’s Going On? – Part 1

Well, that's not going to happen...

Lack of Parks Department Transparency; No Governmental or Community Oversight Lead to Eerie Silence on WSP: Phase II

What’s happening with Phase II? It’s been a bit quiet on the Washington Square Park Redesign news front. Hard to believe but there have been no official updates on the current work on the $30 million + project for 9 months now since a brief overview was given in December 2009 shortly after the work got going.

It’s somewhat understandable why Phase I — which included the controversial, and, most would say, unnecessary aligning and leveling of the Fountain Plaza — got all the attention.

Yet Phase II’s tinkering, with no spotlight on it at all, includes some of the most loved aspects of the park, including: the Chess Tables, Mounds and Play Area, Dog Runs, Garibaldi Statue and Performance Site, Seating Alcoves, Children’s Playground, as well as the lawn, pathways and gardens throughout the SW, E and NE sides of the historic park.

So, why the silence? If you read Washington Square Park Blog regularly, you know that I’ve advocated for more governmental and community oversight on the project.

Who, you ask, should be doing that oversight?

  • Body #1: The New York City Council.The two public faces at the onset of Phase I were Council Member Alan Gerson and Speaker Christine Quinn who engineered the famous Gerson-Quinn Agreement. Gerson lost his bid for a third term when he was voted out of office by disgruntled constituents. His replacement, Margaret Chin, has distanced herself from the project. At the rare meetings that have occurred in relation to WSP since she assumed the position early this year, no representatives from her office have attended.
  • Body #2: The Washington Square Park Task Force. Lacking Phase I’s high profile and without Community Board 2 and Task Force Chair Brad Hoylman there, the WSP Task Force has gone silent on Phase II. I’ve emailed Hoylman’s replacement, Jo Hamilton, multiple times reminding her of the Task Force’s purview but she has been resistant, likely believing former Parks’ employee (and chair of the CB2 Parks Committee) Tobi Bergman’s insistence that oversight is not part of their role. (Here, he perhaps intentionally mixes things up between the CB2 Parks Committee and the Washington Square Park Task Force. The latter is charged, in fact, with the role of oversight of the finer details of the redesign.)

For a quick refresher, here are the first three points of the WSP Task Force “goals”:

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.

Meanwhile, Phase III, yet to come, which reconstructs the rest rooms and Park administrative offices into one elaborate structure, has been the subject of three separate meetings. Numerous questions have been allowed by the community members – and they have been answered. The reason? This leg is being overseen by an outside architecture firm.

Oh, Garibaldi...

Phase II is overseen by Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe‘s favorite, landscape designer George Vellonakis. Vellonakis, as it is widely known, dislikes community input; therefore, only cursory details have been presented — these more than a year ago. There have been no substantive updates – or opportunities for review – since.

In fact, the only time anyone saw the blueprints up close, they were dropped off on a table at a February meeting of the CB2 Parks Committee with no discussion allowed. Tobi Bergman brushed this off; although even he seemed a bit disgruntled that the blueprints were handed over FIVE MONTHS after the project had begun.

Do you sense a lack of respect – and even disdain – by the Parks Department for the community and everyone involved?

It’s no surprise that Phase II is mired in problems that no one knows about, and the Parks Department – with Community Board 2’s and the NY City Council’s complicity – wants to keep it that way.

Wondering what the problems are?

Read Part II here.