What’s happening with Phase II-B / Chess Plaza & Southwestern End Construction? Will it Reach Completion This Year?

Checking in on Washington Square Park Redesign: Phase II

September is around the corner and while Phase II-A – the entire Eastern end – finally opened a few months ago in early June; the remainder, Phase II-B, the Southwestern Quadrant which includes the Chess Plaza, is still lagging far behind.

Lately, it looks like the work has stalled. Are the same issues that I first reported one year ago still occurring now? One thing is certain, the absence of oversight by any city governing agency continues.

While neglecting to provide a reason for the prolonged delay, Parks Department spokesperson Phil Abramson pointedly commented that the construction will be finished “by end of summer” which he clarified “is mid/late September.” The Parks Department web site says Fall 2011.

WSP’s Phase II construction: A story of moving parts and roving completion dates

Washington Square Park Redesign: Phase II originally included the entire Northeast and Southeast side as well as the Southwest Quadrant of the Park including the Chess Plaza, Mounds, Large Dog Run and Perimeter Sidewalks.

These last three areas have been removed from Phase II entirely (moved into Phase III) although, all of Phase II, with these sections included, was initially scheduled to be completed by Fall 2010. That date then moved to December (tho’ I doubted it); next came word of Spring 2011. After this, Phase II was split into two parts with the city’s Parks Department reporting that the Eastern end was scheduled to open “around Memorial Day.” That date was pretty close to being realized — Phase IIA opened June 2nd of this year.

Phase II B was supposed to follow a similar trajectory. In April, it was announced that its completion was scheduled “in June,” to follow close on the heels of the Eastern side. However, as the SW section dragged behind, the date changed to “August 8th,” and now, as you see, the official word is end of September.

As a relatively small section of the park, what could be the hold up? Some days there’s barely any work done and yet two Fridays ago, there was much action with numerous workers and multiple trucks (that was the day the trees were removed). At that time, it seemed like the work could be completed momentarily. Since then, not so much.

Will people be able to actively use Chess Plaza again this year? Will the London Plane tree in the Plaza survive?

As you see, questions remain with no concrete answers.

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Coverage Close to One Year Ago at WSP Blog:

Part I – Washington Square Park Phase II: An Eerie Silence – What’s Going On? September 1, 2010
Part II – Washington Square Park Phase II: Lack of Transparency & Oversight Continues September 7, 2010

Phase II Parks Department WSP construction signs — “Working to Improve Your Park” —

Completion Fall 2010

Completion Spring 2011

Summer 2011

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Saturday — Park Closed; Washington Square Prepares for Hurricane Irene


Updated 3 p.m. —

Saturday, August 27th. Hurricane Irene.

Today, Sunday, Park open back to normal.

Photos: Teri Tynes

Photo: Central Park is Closed


Daily News has some great photos and updates here related to Hurricane Irene and the city.

Also see New York Times Hurricane Tracking Map.

Stay safe!

Photo: Anjali Mullany

Chelsea Now Weekly Uncovers the Real Dirt on Artificial Turf; Turf Scheduled for the Mounds at WSP in Phase III

Chelsea Now has a great story about artificial turf in this week’s issue. Washington Square Park is scheduled to get artificial turf at the base of the Mounds (now scheduled for Phase III construction), despite the fact that pretty much everyone is against it.

Excerpts from Chelsea Now article: Hot Footing It: The heat is on artificial turf August 24, 2011

As reported in the March article, Geoffrey Croft (head of the watchdog group, NYC Park Advocates) took, before noon, temperature readings at a dozen New York City parks in July 2010. Artificial turf fields measured over 170 degrees — the highest temperature recorded in his three years of monitoring. By 9:15am, the temperature had already risen to over 140 degrees. “Young children are particularly susceptible, as it can take only two seconds to burn on solid surfaces greater than 140 degrees, according to doctors,” said Croft. …

… “for ten years, the city put down this surface without doing a single test,” said Croft. Patrick Arden, in his article on the dangers of artificial turf, wrote, “Several credible studies had found the crumb rubber contains known human carcinogens and neurotoxic chemicals, as well as lead, chromium and arsenic” (City Limits magazine, “Was New York City’s Shift to Artificial Grass a 300-Million-Dollar Mistake? A Risky Play,” September 2010).

Through the Freedom of Information Act, Arden ascertained that a group of doctors at Mt. Sinai Hospital identified several “proven and potential” hazards of synthetic turf made from recycled tires: “excessive heat,” with field temperatures reaching as high as 172 degrees; MRSA, the antibiotic-resistant staph infection that can be acquired through “turf burns;” and chemical exposures.

The Astroturf-style carpet at Chelsea Park and the crumb rubber infill turf at J.J. Walker were both cited for elevated lead levels.  …

According to the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene website’s “Fact Sheet on Synthetic Turf Used in Athletic Fields and Play Areas,” the city is now using “carpet-style or alternative infill materials on all new fields, and implementing protocols to inspect, test and replace any existing synthetic turf fields that may age or deteriorate.” They are “using strict purchasing protocols to select the best synthetic turf products and requiring suppliers to provide information on chemical content, heating absorbency properties, environmental factors and health and safety issues.”

“We forced the city to stop using recycled tires,” said Croft. “City Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, who is chair of the Parks and Recreation Committee, introduced a few bills that really helped. It was a first step. Up to then, Adrian Benepe [the Parks Commissioner] made fun of it.” …

I am sure part of the reason is maintenance related, but to me that is not a solution,” said Viverito, “and I don’t buy it half the time.” She pointed out that in the “vast parks system” less than .03 percent goes to parks. “If it is the intent to have a park where people can hang out, when the turf can reach past 130 degrees, this is not a good idea. It is counterproductive to what a passive space is. You want to encourage people to come into the park, not turn them away.” …

Viverito declared, “We will continue to put pressure on this administration to do the right thing. It has worked sometimes. Other times they have put their heels to the ground and are resistant.

There’s much more at the article including quotes from athletes using the fields that are quite interesting!

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Previous on WSP Blog: Heard at City Council Hearings on Artificial Turf: “But Where Will the Tires go?”; Mayor Bloomberg says this is “a made-up story” February 10, 2009

After Over 100 Years, Dueling Returns to the Park! — Sunday, August 28th (Update: CANCELLED)

En Garde!

Cancelled due to forthcoming storm; will be rescheduled

The Martinez Academy of Arms will present dueling in Washington Square Park on Sunday, August 28th from 5-7 p.m. at the Holley Plaza (west of the Fountain). The Broome Street-based school, which teaches the European tradition of fencing arts, will hold a “demonstration of the art and science of fencing as it was practiced in New York City during two of its most important historical eras, the 18th and 19th centuries.”

In It Happened on Washington Square, Emily Kies Folpe documents dueling in Washington Square at the time it was a potter’s field:

The open space of the potter’s field was often a stage where large themes of American history played out in small dramas. In 1803, William Coleman, editor of the New York Evening Post, and Captain Thompson, harbormaster of the port of New York, fought a duel there. Although the immediate provocation was a personal insult, the animosity arose from the political convictions of the two men involved, each of whom adhered to a fundamental but opposing philosophy of government.

Coleman was first challenged to a duel by the editor of the American Citizen who accused him of slander. (Aaron Burr ran American Citizen and he battled Alexander Hamilton the following year in their famous duel in Weehawken, New Jersey in which Hamilton was killed.) The duel between the two editors was called off but Mr. Thompson (likely Thompson Street is named after him?) jumped in and stated that Coleman wasn’t up to a duel and “would readily turn the other cheek if attacked.” It was a different time and this caused Coleman to then challenge Thompson himself to a duel. Thompson died, admitting before hand that he had provoked the duel to happen.

Kies Folpe writes that duels continued for another twenty years or so “even as the area became more populated”; however, in 1828, dueling was prohibited by state law. (The Academy says duels were fought in Central Park as late as the 1920′s!)

Come witness this lost art on Sunday at the Park.

Photo: gallica.bnf.fr / Bibliotheque nationale de France

How to Prevent Additional Trees at Washington Square Park from Dying? — Questions Abound

Updated 1:15 p.m.Why are so many trees at Washington Square Park dying? In addition to those perpetually dying around the Washington Square Fountain (8 thus far in 2 years), numerous trees are dying along the perimeter and inside the park. Since there are so many, I’ve documented them with a photo montage. Note: Many of these dead trees were cleared on Friday.

Questions abound — What is the problem here? Are the tree deaths occurring from the construction from Redesign Phase I and II (as many predicted; in fact people in the community went to court over this matter to attempt to stop this)? Were – and are – the trees not properly protected? Are the trees not properly maintained? (Is it Parks Department karma?) How can we save Washington Square Park’s trees?

wash sq north

wash sq south (by kimmel center)

Inside park - Northern end

"The Hills are Alive" trees Eastern end

wash square west

Inside park - SW construction area

SW dead trees inside park (construction area)

wash square south (tree behind this one died also)

Trees Removed Friday

Dead Tree Uprooted

South sidewalk now

Southwestern corner now

Behind SW Construction fence -- These two trees are left (one of them now is also clearly dying)

For some insight into the cause of the problems, see most illuminating comment left here.

Scene: Uncle Sam’s West Eighth Street


Street Scene Outside Uncle Sam’s Army-Navy Outfitters at 37 West Eighth Street (previous home of beloved PosterMat) Friday.

How Many Trees Around the Washington Square Fountain Must Die Before Suffocating Design is Corrected?

With all the talk about “MillionTreesNYC” in our city, as one blogger wrote, it’s really “OneMillionDeadTrees”. Another p.r. ruse put forth by our Mayor — the plan lacks any built-in initiative to maintain the “million” trees planted on neighborhood streets.

For the perpetually dying trees that line the Washington Square Park Fountain, it’s a bit more complex. It’s known that the design is killing these trees, and yet no one will speak up within the Parks Department as the designer of the park is greatly protected within the city agency. Community Board 2 will not address it (the Parks Committee of the Community Board is chaired by a former Parks Dept staffer whose job now is dependent on the Hudson River Trust, which is tied to the Parks Department) and local Council Member Margaret Chin is hands off.

How many more trees lining the famous Washington Square fountain have to die?

Source of the problem: the tree 'pit'

For a few months up until July, there were three dead trees lining the fountain (of eight total). Two of those locations had trees replanted and died three times in succession.

Now those locations are vacant, likely awaiting a fourth try by the Parks Department at getting these trees to miraculously live. There is no way they can live unless the design itself is changed. Experts in landscape and construction will support this.

Of course, it must again be noted that these young trees took the place of healthy, living, old trees that had been there over 40 years, chopped down as they were inconveniently in the way of the Bloomberg Administration’s plan to relocate the fountain 22 feet east to align with the Arch.

A professional pointed out to me yesterday that it is no coincidence that this tree south of the Arch died immediately after the heavy rain fall. There is no proper drainage for those trees within those tree pits (also connected to the use of the structural soil I was originally informed), based on George Vellonakis’s design, so that last tremendously heavy rainstorm, the water could not drain, sending the tree cascading to its death basically drowning.

When I mentioned the improper drainage to Mr. Vellonakis back in December 2009 at a Washington Square Park Task Force meeting (note: those Task Force meetings have since ceased), he looked at me incredulously and with a bit of disdain and said “there is no drainage problem.”

Well, there is and there always was.

Eighth Tree In Two Years Now Dying Around the Fountain

Taken Yesterday -- New Dead Tree by the Arch

I’ve previously reported on the young trees dying repeatedly around the Washington Square Fountain, this tree (pictured above) now makes tree #8. Over the last two years, trees have been replaced by the Parks Department and died 3x in two locations around the fountain; a new arborcidal incident occurred on the western side just recently. Now this — the fourth location lining the fountain to exhibit a dead tree.

These events were forecast by a landscape architect I encountered back in August of 2009 who predicted ALL the trees around the fountain would likely die and attributed this to the design.

These young (now dead) trees replaced perfectly healthy living trees which were 40+ years old, axed because they got in the way of the Bloomberg Administration’s plan to move the famous fountain 22 feet east to align with the Arch at Fifth Avenue.

The reality is that these aren’t the only dead trees dying at Washington Square Park. North, South, East, West, Perimeter, Within – trees are dying all over at the park. (Photos to come.)

What can be done to stop the New York City Parks Department from committing this arborcide?

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One place to contact: City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s office — Allie Nudelman; liaison to Community Board 2 District – direct phone # 212/564-7757

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Previously at WSP Blog:

July 11, 2011: Why do the Newly Planted Trees Around the Washington Square Fountain Keep Dying?

July 15, 2011: Arborcidal Design for Fountain Trees — Will City’s Parks Department Address This at Last?

December 10,2009: Two of Seven Newly Planted Trees that Line the Fountain have died — Is the cause the design?

Photo: Cathryn

Last Night at Washington Square

Red-tailed Hawk Bobby Perched Atop the Judson Church Cross While…


This is neighborhood Red-tailed hawk Bobby, I presume, atop the Judson Church cross. Previously noted as one of his favorite haunts around the park, he lingered there for a long time.

Baby Soda Band Played on the Garibaldi Stage


Baby Soda (above) last night at the Park. They were quite good!

From their web site:

Baby Soda is on the forefront of a new movement loosely known as street jazz; with an eclectic set of influences ranging from 30’s era swing, New Orleans jazz, and southern gospel. The ensemble doesn’t desire to recreate the past, rather they bring the concept and joy of the music to the present.

Baby Soda is an adaptable and ever changing group made up of New York’s finest musicians; featuring trumpet, trombone, clarinet, banjo and the unique one string box bass.