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.

Leave a comment

3 Comments

  1. Jonathan

     /  September 1, 2010

    Thanks for sticking with this, Catherine. It seems you have become the only check and balance for this executive branch power grab to transform the park. CB2, Task Force, even City Council Member’s office, not to mention Speaker Quinn, have all decided that they have no power to influence the Parks Commissioner, despite numerous protocols and procedures that they ostensibly have been elected to uphold.

    As you mention the re-aligning and leveling of the fountain, I would also include the shrinking of the fountain and gathering space by 23% as part of the controversy.

    I love the new lights and paving as well as anyone. But it was an is a disgrace that so many millions could be spent and the toilets of the park, which residents polled five years ago wanted fixed FIRST and INSTEAD of moving the fountain, are still open cesspools that few people want to use. This is part of the “public amenity” of the new Bloomberg City Order. Less comfortable seating, no restrooms, and, for the most part, water fountains that don’t work but vending machines selling sugared drinks that do.

  2. All great points, Jonathan. Thanks for writing and for your comments and raising additional important points. I’m continually amazed at how all the “official” bodies have relegated their oversight to non-existent.

    The fountain does seem smaller (tho’ I thought they said it would remain the same ?) and you are right about the reduction of public space being an important issue as well as the state of – and length of time getting to – the bathrooms being a disgrace. It almost seems like they would say ‘yes’, smile their tight smiles, and then ignore exactly what the community wanted.

    Always good to hear your thoughts!

    Cathryn.

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