The Arch in the Rain


Photo: Scott Carlson

High Line Phase 2 to Open Late Spring; Restaurant in 2013; NYC Privatized Park Keeps Getting Grander – And More Expensive to Maintain

-Updated 4/20-

Map of the High Line Park

The High Line, a grand span which currently runs from Gansevoort Street to 20th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues, just keeps getting grander. Next up: after food carts and a beer and wine “porch” appear in soon-to-open Phase 2, a restaurant/cafe is scheduled for 2013. This, according to executive director Robert Hammond, who told Community Board 2 that Phase 2 Construction of the High Line — which extends the park from 20th Street to 30th Street — is scheduled to be completed “later this spring.”

The location for the restaurant will be under the High Line at 16th Street and Hammond told me via e-mail that it “is being designed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop in conjunction with the design process for the new downtown location of the Whitney Museum of American Art.” At the meeting earlier this month, Hammond stated that a Requests for Proposals(RFP) for possible operators of the restaurant will be offered at the end of this year. Hammond said they are aiming for food that is “healthy for you,” “local and affordable” and “a revenue source.”

Money and Maintaining the High Line ; Its Former “Life”

It takes a lot of money to maintain the High Line. Hammond wrote that “virtually every employee you see on the High Line is employed thanks to private donations. Without this support, we would not be able to maintain and operate the park at the high level of care we all have come to expect.”

Yes, what about that “high level of care we all have come to expect?” Could we have expected a little less? After reading for years about efforts to get the High Line preserved, it all came together in 2002 after Hammond and others formed Friends of the High Line in 1999. The High Line tracks sat virtually unattended for close to 20 years. But FOHL’s vision for it was to take it so far from what it had becomepictures of that vacant time period illustrate its almost wild glory with remarkable, beautiful wild life in the form of plants and flowers that had taken over the tracks and surrounding area.

Phase 2 construction of the High Line cost $66.8 Million; $38.4 Million came from the City of New York. Phase 1 – cost $86 million – opened in June 2009, shortly after Washington Square Park Phase I opened. The park’s total construction costs are paid by a combination of city, state, federal and private sources. As Hammond stated, most of the money to keep the new park going comes from private sources.

Considering the great efforts needed to “maintain” the High Line, I’ve wondered if there ever was a proposal to do something a little … well, less grand? Keeping the park a little more “savage” as one commenter in favor of such wrote at the New York Times site in relation to a December piece about Phase 2.

I didn’t ask Hammond this so I don’t know the answer. Perhaps the group recognized Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe‘s love of “public-private partnerships” figuring this was the best way to get the project done.

“Developers love the High Line”

At one point during the CB2 meeting, Hammond stated “developers love the High Line.” Parks Commissioner Benepe told the New York Times that the High Line has “been a huge magnet for development.” In fact, because it is so expensive to maintain, there has been an effort, relatively unsuccessful thus far, to get residents in nearby buildings to contribute to its maintenance as part of living fees. This effort is considered controversial and unwelcome among those who want more public and less private.

Where the Problem lies with “Public-Private Partnerships” and City Parks

A Walk in the Park Blog wrote of the privatizing effort:

The City’s increasing reliance on these funding schemes, including so called “public/private partnerships” has resulted in a vastly inequitable distribution of services. It has quickly become “a tale of two cities.” Some of these park funding schemes directly divert funds away from the city’s general fund. Experience with these deals over the last twenty years has proven that private subsidies to individual parks has created an enormous gap between the haves and the have-nots, while ignoring the real problem – that our parks are not funded as an essential city service.

From New York Times piece, When Parks Must Rely On Private Money (Feb 5, 2011):

Two of three sections of the High Line, an abandoned elevated rail bed that was transformed into a linear park, cost about $152 million to build. Now, the private conservancy that developed the park with the city is scrambling to devise an income stream to cover the expected $3.5 million to $4.5 million annual cost of maintaining its jewel-box appeal. A proposal to assess a fee on nearby property owners foundered after business owners and residents objected to paying for what they see as a tourist destination. Officials are now looking to increase concessions and to raise money for an endowment.

According to this New York Times piece, the High Line focus on concessionsfood carts, beer & wine porch, and now a restaurant – is in part because reliable private funding from nearby developments hasn’t worked out and the city budget doesn’t have much money to offer a park with such extensive maintenance needs.

This brings up the question: Is it possible that the initial vision for the park, grand as it is, could have been not quite so large in scope, cost and maintenance, and anticipated something that would work over the long haul, not aiming to be yet another luxury product to boost real estate values in Mayor Bloomberg’s NYC?

Additional background:

* New York-based architects Axis Mundi are designing the Downtown Whitney beginning of the High Line at intersection of Gansevoort and Washington Streets.

* Another Meat Packing Plant Pushed Out of The Meat Packing District To Make Way for the Downtown Whitney from Vanishing New York

* Paying Extra to Smell the Flowers, New York Times (4/8/11)

** this is part 3 of my report back from the community board 2 meeting. there’s still a part 4. **

The 50th Anniversary of the Washington Square Folk Riots; Commemorative Event Canceled; NPR Does Story

That Day near the Arch

Last month, I wrote of a scheduled event at Washington Square Park April 9th (last Saturday) to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the “Washington Square Folk Riots.” In the end, this event did not happen. Apparently, there was some disharmony between Izzy Young, a key figure of that day, and the organizer, Russell Hicks. Young canceled plans to come to NY from Sweden and Hicks then unfortunately canceled the event.

National Public Radio (NPR) did a piece that day on the 50th Anniversary —  “How the Beatnik Riot Helped Kick Off the ’60’s” :

Today, anybody can play music in Washington Square Park. But back then, city law required that you have a permit. That was really just a formality — until the spring of 1961 when the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation Commissioner Newbold Morris rejected the folkies’ application with no explanation.

But that didn’t stop [David Bennett] Cohen and a few hundred of his new friends from showing up to protest the denial.

“We came anyway,” Cohen says. “We never expected to get beat up, or arrested. I mean, how stupid can you be?”

Filmmaker Dan Drasin also came along, bringing some video equipment he’d borrowed from his bosses, cinema verite pioneers D.A. Pennebaker and Albert Maysles.

“I’d heard about this upcoming demonstration and thought, ‘Well, it would make a nice little subject for a documentary,'” Drasin says.

Fighting For The ‘Right To Sing’

In 1961, Izzy Young was running the Folklore Center on MacDougal Street, a few blocks away from the park. At the time, it was the heart of the Greenwich Village folk scene — a hangout for amateurs and professionals, including Bob Dylan and Dave Van Ronk.

Young was the one who applied for the Washington Square Park permit in the first place, and when it was rejected he helped organize the protest.

You can watch Dan Drasin’s 17 minute film, “Sunday” about events of that day. I had some trouble watching – the video kept stopping – but you’ll notice that, except for around the playground, there is a fence-less Washington Square Park.

* More history at WSP Blog Post: 50th Anniversary of Washington Square Folk Riot April 9th; Community Board 2 to Discuss Commemorative Event

Photo: Harvey Zucker

Part 2 – Update on Washington Square Park Phase II from Community Board 2 Meeting Last Week

– Updated –

* Washington Square Park Seating alcoves reduced in size contrary to agreement?

* A Look back at Landmarks Preservation 2 Hearings On WSP Phase II in 2009

* Has Community Board 2 Colluded with the Parks Department to Keep Phase II Under Wraps?

* & More!

As I reported in Part 1 of my report back from the April 6th Community Board 2 meeting, Phase II construction at Washington Square Park (parts, of course, that weren’t moved into Phase III) on the Eastern side will be finished and open sometime “around Memorial Day” with the Chess Plaza opening in June.

At the meeting, Community member Margie Rubin asked about the seating alcove in the Northeastern section of the park – across from the playground – which was promised to be the “exact same size.” She said that this alcove is now “1/2 the size. Why was it cut down?

The community fought to keep the seating alcoves in the park; the Parks Department wanted to remove most of them. At the Landmarks Preservation Commission two hearings addressing Phase II in 2009, the Parks Department agreed to increase the proposed number of seating alcoves from 1 1/2 to four. (Previously, there were six, or seven, depending who you ask.)

Brad Romaker from Capital Projects division — who was sent to the meeting by the Parks Department to give the status report on Phase II and was unfamiliar with the finer points of the park’s plan — said he did not know what happened but would find out. (A woman involved with another Parks project at the meeting told me that Romaker can be quite helpful and can get things done.)

This led to discussion in which Tobi Bergman (CB2 Parks Committee chair) said post-Landmarks Preservation Commission hearings that the seating alcoves were never supposed to be the same size.

My understanding was that three of the alcoves remained the same size except for one on the southeast side (which also endured a change of location to the southern side of the park at some point after the LPC meeting). I will revisit the alcoves; nonetheless, it was clearly stated that the alcove on the northeastern side would retain its size.

See highlights from previous blog posts below from the two Landmarks Preservation Commission meetings in 2009 addressing Phase II:

* Highlights from LPC Public Hearing March 17th on WSP (posted March 20,2009):

Currently there are six seating alcoves at Washington Square Park which exist on the north, northeast, and southeast sides of the Park. The Parks Department’s plan is to eliminate all except for one (which will remain in its entirety on the north side, across from the playground) and to retain a 1/4 or a 1/2 of another (on the eastern side).

* Landmarks Preservation Commission Approves Phase II of WSP Redesign; NYC Parks Department agrees to increase # of alcoves (posted April 15th, 2009):

The Parks Department, represented by Charles McKinney and designer George Vellonakis, started out stating that they were prepared to add one or two more alcoves to the originally proposed two. However, they preferred three. George Vellonakis said that ideally a fourth would be omitted because its location inside the Park lawn on the (south) east side “distracts the view and expansion of the lawn.” The other reasons given by Mr. Vellonakis for omitting that fourth alcove were possible damage to surrounding tree roots and that that area in the new design undergoes a “geometry change.”

The Parks Department stated that the fourth alcove would be very small and “intimate” but how small I’m not sure.

Mr. Bergman then said that this was due to “different memories” and stated that everyone had a chance to “look at the blueprints.” Actually, that is not true specifically because of his collusion with the city Parks Department. The CB2 Parks Committee chair has prevented any substantive look at or discussion of Phase II designs.

A Parks Department long-awaited presentation on Phase II that was supposed to happen in February 2010 (after the Department admitted being unprepared at a meeting in December 2009) never happened. The blueprints were dropped off at this February 2010 meeting (over one year ago) and left on a table with no opportunity for discussion or review – this was five months after the work had already started. Mr. Bergman does not have a lot of credibility when it comes to the issue of Washington Square Park, Phase II and blueprints.

When asked about the tiles which previously lay in Teen Plaza that children in the ’70’s had created; some of which were supposed to be moved into the newly designed Children’s Playground, Mr. Romaker did not know if this had happened but also that he would find out. I was also curious about the historical markers which are in Phase III — Mr. Romaker did not know about these and again said he would get the answer.

There’s more! Part 3 from the meeting coming on the other parks.

* In 2008, I wrote an 8 part report after a Washington Square Park Task Force meeting so I certainly can find things to write about after attending these meetings!

Sand Painting at the Park

the artist

Gorgeous sand painting being created at the park near the Arch this past Saturday by artist Joe Mangrum who told me he comes to Washington Square usually every Saturday if the weather’s nice starting around noon. As a crowd gathers around him, he works on his sand paintings for about 6-8 hours expanding or changing the arrangement as the day goes on. This was what he’d designed this past weekend mid-afternoon.

You can view more of these unique sand paintings at Mangrum’s web site here.

Photos: Susan Celia Swan

Hawks Set up Nest around the Park — “Violet & Bobby” VideoCam Watch

In late January, I wrote about the hawks looking to set up a nest near the Park. Well, they’ve found a location! Right outside NYU President John Sexton’s office. NYU has set up a videocam to watch the hawks and the hatching process.

The New York Times has the story, Watching Bobby and Violet:

Its stars are Violet (named for one of the university’s colors) and her mate, Bobby (named for Bobst Library, atop which Dr. Sexton’s office sits). And in a few weeks, if all goes well, their hatchlings.

You can see live Video Cam here. It’s awfully cute to watch even when nothing seemingly is happening.

* Previous WSP Blog Post: Washington Square Hawks Attempt New Nest in Nabe

Photo: Christopher James/NYU

Pt 2 – Update from CB2 Meeting on Washington Square, More Coming

Part 2 of Update (following Part I yesterday) on Washington Square Park and other area parks from Community Board 2 Meeting on Wed. night coming next week (April 11).

Projected Opening for WSP Phase II; Washington Square Again Given Short Shrift by Parks Department and CB2

"Spring 2011" completion now means around or after Memorial Day

We have a date. Or, at least, close to one. Projected opening for the entire Eastern side of Washington Square Park Phase II, currently under construction, is slated for “Around Memorial Day.” That’s the (latest) word from the NYC Parks Department stated last night at a meeting of Community Board 2’s Parks Committee. The agency is now saying “early June” for the Chess area and Southwestern Plaza (tho’ I doubt the Eastern and SW sections will open so close together in time). As I predicted, Phase II is opening in two parts.

Yet again, however, Community Board 2 and the Parks Department paid scant attention to one of the city’s most prominent parks. First, Washington Square Park was listed last on the published agenda of topics to be covered, almost as if an afterthought.

The focus on the meeting was updates on the status of seven Greenwich Village area parks, including Seravalli Playground, Petrocino Park, Minetta Playground, JJ Walker Field, Bleecker Playground & Comfort Station/Bleecker Sitting Area, and the High Line. One of these is only .03 of an acre.

Then, at the meeting, instead of an update presented by designer George Vellonakis or WSP Park Administrator Rebecca Ferguson (neither was present), it was given by Brad Romaker from the Capital Projects division of the Parks Department. Romaker has a disarming honesty that also makes him immensely likable. However, that can’t make up for the fact that he was sent in to the meeting with little knowledge of any of the projects he updated on, other than what was contained on a piece of paper from which he read updates.

As far as Washington Square Park Phase III — Restrooms and Parks’ Administrative Building, which now also includes the Mounds and Large Dog Run (previously in Phase II) — Romaker informed the community that this will go out for contractor bids in May. He said construction on Phase III will begin in “late summer” (I believe this is highly unlikely).

The Parks Department has not updated on Washington Square substantively in more than a year. I question their judgment in not sending someone familiar with the project to update the community and New Yorkers on this historic and landmark New York City park.

This is Part I update on the meeting. Part II to follow Monday, April 11th.

* The Skinny on Phase II Construction and Why it’s so behind schedule.

Birdman of Washington Square

This is a really sweet and interesting interview by Colin Jones with Paul, a fixture at the park you’ve likely encountered, who proclaims himself “The Birdman of Washington Square.” It’s true, as he says, that, for children raised in an urban environment, sometimes the only form of ‘nature’ and wildlife they’ll experience are pigeons, and that interaction actually becomes very important.

Pigeons are such interesting, smart birds who have developed a bad reputation. It wasn’t until I encountered an injured one on a wintry day about 12 years ago outside a meatpacking plant on Greenwich Street that I even took notice of them, for the most part. The workers there that morning noticed my concern – imagine, they handled raw carcasses all day and yet they cared enough to bring out a box and help move the bird into it. Ever since then, I’ve noticed the pigeons of New York City, amazed at how they survive, co-existing with humans and other birds. A really nice thing about Washington Square is that pretty much all the wildlife is appreciated by people who inhabit the park.

Video: Colin Jones

Lulietta From Downtown Manhattan Needs a Home Now – at NYC Animal Care & Control Shelter

Lulietta is a sweet grey and white female kitty who had been part of someone’s home in downtown Manhattan for seven years. Her guardians dropped her off at NYC’s Animal Care & Control apparently because someone in the home had developed allergies, perhaps not realizing that her chances would be slim there for survival.

13,000 animals were killed at the city shelter system, Animal Care & Control(ACC), in 2009. It is a high kill shelter, and, because of that, it’s close to the last option to bring an animal. Lulietta came from zip code 10003 which includes First to Fifth Avenues, 20th Street to Wash Square South (also includes a bit further south to the Bowery).

The Manhattan ACC shelter is at 110th Street and 1st Avenue. Try calling first, and visit this independent Facebook page and let them know you’d like to rescue her. Her time is running out! Lulietta is currently on the ACC “Death Row.” Her Animal ID # is A891546.

Manhattan ACC: 326 East 110th Street (between 1st & 2nd Avenues)
Shelter Hours: 8:00am to 8:00pm, 7 Days a Week; Adoption Hours: Noon to 7:00pm, 7 Days a Week; ‘6’ train to 110th Street; Walk 2½ blocks east (on the south side of the street between 1st and 2nd Avenues).

Phone #’s: ACC Manhattan: 212/722-4939 Press 0 and keep trying until you get a live person. Alternate #: #212/442-2076

Note: the Manhattan and Brooklyn (in East New York) shelters are both in areas that are not easily accessible for most. First thing to help animals, the shelters need to be relocated.

If Lulietta isn’t available, please consider rescuing another animal! This is something each of us needs to be a part of – helping New York City’s animals. The ACC’s budget should not be cut further as Mayor Bloomberg’s Administration is doing — hurting the marginal chance for a future good life for animals already having a hard time.

The ACC — a not independent “non-profit” with the majority of directors on its board also the heads of city agencies, including NYC Parks Dept. Commissioner Adrian Benepe — is in need of total reform and attention from our elected officials. Animals should not be discarded this way.

– Background information:

* Recent Letter from Shelter Reform Action Committee to NY City Council Speaker Christine Quinn here.

* Previous WSP Blog Post: How the New York City Shelter System – ACC – is Broken