Washington Square Park Redesign — Phase II’s Final Piece, The Popular Chess Plaza & SouthWest Quadrant: Has Work Just … Stopped?

Updated 12:26 p.m. — What is going on with Phase II-B, the Chess Plaza and Southwestern section, at Washington Square Park? Work has been stopped for about 3 weeks now. The chess players long ago relocated to Phase I’s NorthWest Quadrant yet it remains a mind boggling state of affairs.

When will Washington Square Park Redesign: Phase II construction actually be completed?

Phase II is the middle phase of Washington Square Park’s controversial redesign, originally budgeted at $16 Million, now doubled at $32 Million and counting. Construction work on Phase II began in Fall 2009 — it was scheduled for completion initially in Fall of 2010. Earlier this year, parts of Phase II were moved into Phase III, including the Mounds, Large Dog Run, and Perimeter Sidewalks.

For Phase II-B, the landscaping hasn’t been done, no new trees or flowers have been planted, the trash cans and water fountains are still under wraps, the fence installation has stalled. It’s as if this Quadrant remains frozen in time — with no construction activity — for about 3 weeks now (after months of slow going).

Chess... Anyone?

East Side Fencing Begun... then Stopped

Fence Yet to Be Installed

Unfinished Chess Plaza

Where did everyone go??

Pathway heading South

Trash Cans Remain Under Wraps

Water fountain awaits unveiling

Long delayed Phase II-A (Eastern end of the Park) opened June 2nd.

The last completion date for Phase II-B from the city Parks Department’s press office was end of September (after a long list of roving dates) — which is, um, tomorrow (they also classified this time period as “end of summer”).

With one day left in September, can late September completion date possibly hold true? Of course, no. The dearth of work activity on this section of the park brings up many questions. Ideally, the Community Board and City Council would weigh in here — but since they have not at any point up to this, it is unlikely.

What is going on…? The Parks Department is having a difficult time getting things right lately.


Previously on WSP Blog:

What’s happening with Phase II-B / Chess Plaza & SW End? August 31, 2011

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 and Oversight Continue September 7, 2010

Downtown Public Park Acts as Home Base for Those Taking a Stand

"Liberty Plaza" aka Zuccotti Park downtown

So, on the same day that hundreds showed up at Washington Square Park to battle each other with Light Sabers, activists who have set up camp downtown to protest and highlight the inequalities in the U.S. today, particularly in relation to the financial “system,” battled in real life with the NYPD.

Mark Crispin Miller has a piece with video from Saturday (9/24) on his web site which captures the police rough handling mainly females and young kids at 12th Street and University (he wonders “Does Michael Bloomberg wants his cops to kill somebody?” based on the harsh and over-the-top treatment).

Zuccotti Park, a privately owned public park (figure that one out!), has been taken over as home base since September 17th.

See more —

Read Arun Gupta’s piece in The Indypendent: The Revolution Begins at Home: An Open Letter to Join the Wall Street Occupation

New York Times, Videos Show Police Using Pepper Spray at Protest on the Financial System

New York Times, Park Gives Wall St. Protesters Place to Call Home

Photo: PWeiskel08 via Flickr

New Posts Return Wed. September 28th

Check back!

The Arch in the Rain


Photo: Cathryn.

Jedi Light Saber Battle Scheduled for Washington Square Saturday, September 24th 9 p.m.

Washington Square Park's own Jedi on the Fountain Plaza

Updated — Just spoke to Kevin Bracken, one of the organizers, and so, as first reported in the Village Voice a few weeks ago and also in today’s New York Times, the “giant light saber battle” scheduled for the Park on Saturday 9/24 from 9-11 p.m. may move to a covered location due to pending rain will happen. (Update 3 p.m. Event will happen at the Park. Location is stated as “Teen Plaza” which I gather is Garibaldi Plaza. Hope that’s enough room…) Kevin and his partner, Lori, organize other events such as those giant pillow fights in Union Square. For this spectacle, light sabers are $5 and they recommend you bring your own goggles. (There’s a rumor there may even be Jedi robes!) I’m not sure what I think about this exactly but still it sounds like fun. (If it remains in the Park, I’m considering handing out light sabers – they are looking for volunteers! — update: Show up at 7:30 p.m. and look for a white van near former Teen Plaza – likely behind Garibaldi stage? – to volunteer. Light sabers are sold out.)

Bracken told the Village Voice: “The event was inspired … by Star Wars … and, actually, Burning Man: ‘There used to be a guy who gave out 10,000 sabers. If we were rich we’d arm all New Yorkers with blinky lights.'”

You can check out the newmindspace web site to get the latest news and I’ll update a location change here.

If you miss the event, it changes locations, and/or you want to view something on a smaller scale, check out Washington Square Park’s own Jedi. They meet at the park every Wednesday at 7 p.m. They have two web sites which both seem to be down but above is, I presume, a picture of one (or else a rogue force).

Photo: Ossip Kaehr

NBC News Reports on Trees Repeatedly Dying Around the Washington Square Fountain

Dead Tree #8 in Two Years Currently In View by the Arch

NBC’s Chris Glorioso covered the repeatedly dying trees around the Washington Square Fountain in a comprehensive and well done segment last night on the 11 p.m. news. It was based on my coverage here at the Washington Square Park Blog and I was interviewed. One additional point I would have included in the piece — the fact that these young trees that have died (8 total in 2 years) replaced healthy 40 year old trees that previously lined the Fountain before it was moved 22 feet east to align with the Arch at Fifth Avenue.

You can watch the NBC piece here: “Dead Trees at Washington Square Park Blamed on Parks Department”.

** For an overview of the situation from this blog, this is most recent piece on the topic — How many trees around the Washington Square Fountain Must Die before Suffocating Design is Corrected?”

In addition to the trees being planted too deep and therefore not receiving enough oxygen (as the arborist in NBC piece states), the entire design that is housing the trees is incorrect as far as allowing proper drainage and supporting the usage of structural soil. There are people within the Parks Department who certainly know what the issues are.

Here’s a print preview from the NBC site:

The sickly tree is one of eight that have died in just the last two years. All of the doomed arbors were planted as part of a $30 million park renovation championed by the Bloomberg administration.

The Parks Department is knowingly committing arborcide,” said Cathryn Swan, a neighbor who has been posting pictures of the dead trees on her website, the Washington Square Park Blog.

“There are two locations where the trees have been planted and replanted three times, and they’ve died all three times,” Swan said. “I’m worried they’re going to plant those trees a fourth time. I just feel like it ends up being sort of heartbreaking.”

The New York City Parks Department said in a prepared statement, “We have experienced a series of failed plantings for the Zelkova trees in the area around Washington Square Park’s plaza. We are investigating potential causes of why trees are not surviving here and will conduct soil tests, examine the drainage, and determine if there is a problem with this particular species.”

But professional arborist Ralph Padilla diagnosed the planting problem as relatively simple. “It was planted incorrectly,” he said after examining the dead tree near the arch. “It was planted too deep.”

“The giveaway is that all trees, before they enter the soil [should] flare out slightly at the base,” he said.

The dead tree near the arch does not flare out at all, Padilla said. He said it was possible that private contractors or parks personnel repeated the mistake by burying the root balls of eight trees too far beneath the soil, suppressing oxygen supply. When roots are submerged too deeply, recent transplants can die. …

Cathryn Swan blames poor oversight and bureaucracy for the bungled plantings. Each time a tree fails to take root, contractors must wait for the next seasonal window to re-plant. Already, the Washington Square Park renovation has lasted nearly four years. The phase of the project that includes the dead trees was supposed to be wrapped up by 2009.

“People talk about bureaucracy and city government. You want to believe there are people who will step in and stop the bureaucracy sometimes, but with something like this it is clear that is not happening,” Swan said.

NBC: “Dead Trees at Washington Square Park Blamed on Parks Department”.

Seen at the Park: Ladies (and Men) in Red (Dresses)

Well, no, you don’t see this every day. On Saturday, the NYC Hash House Harriers made their annual run in red dresses through the Park mid-afternoon as the Folk Festival was underway. It was quite the sight to see! They gathered in one of the east side alcoves and then made for a run to the Fountain where they posed for photos.
Their web site says:

We run around the streets, alleys and parks of the NYC metro area in our never-ending quest for beer, food, good times and beer.

Hashing . . . it’s a mixture of athleticism and sociability, hedonism and hard work; a refreshing break from the nine-to-five routine. Hashing is an exhilaratingly fun combination of r*nning, orienteering, and partying, where bands of Harriers and Harriettes chase Hares on eight-to-ten kilometer-long trails through town, country, jungle, and desert, all in search of exercise, camaraderie, and good times.

Alright, then.

p.s. They welcome you to join in!

Washington Square Park Folk Festival – Interview with Organizer Eli Smith + Photos from Day 1

Banner for the Festival

This weekend there’s a new music event at the park, the Washington Square Park Folk Festival. The two day event, which began yesterday, is being produced by Eli Smith, organizer of the Brooklyn Folk Festival in Red Hook for the last three years and host of the Down Home Radio Show. The festival was the idea of WSP administrator Rebecca Ferguson who learned of Smith upon asking Matt Umanov — of the eponymous famous guitar shop on Bleecker Street — for a recommendation of someone to produce the show.

In putting together the event, Smith, who grew up in the Village on Barrow Street, said he “tried to bring in musicians who had a history with Washington Square Park.” The festival features musicians such as John Colen and Peter Stampfel who “have been playing music in Washington Square Park since the 1950′s” as well as newer musicians who have busked in the park. The goal was for a “diversity of sounds and good stuff.”

This year is the 50th Anniversary of the Washington Square Folk Riots in which people were banned by city government from playing folk music in the park. This weekend’s event is being organized by the city’s Parks Department. Smith was considering showing Dan Drasin’s film “Sunday” which captured the events of that day 50 years ago at today’s performance. He remarked that many have been “profoundly shaped by their experiences with music in Washington Square Park and young people come from all over to find music there.”

The performances on Saturday had an emphasis on string, old-time, blues and bluegrass. There’s more today and it will go from 2 p.m. until 7 p.m. so swing on by!

Here are some pictures from Saturday —

East River String Band

East River String Band, Stage and Audience

Whiskey Spitters

Eli Smith, emcee and organizer of event

Note: Eden from the East River String Band writes the Slum Goddess Blog.

Banner, top: C. Cassano

All other photos: Cathryn

More on Folk Festival Coming…

I spoke with Eli Smith yesterday who was hired by the NYC Parks Department to organize the two day Washington Square Park Folk Festival (begins tomorrow, Saturday, September 17th). Look for an update on this first thing tomorrow morning. Delayed —

Oops! Some personal things prohibited posting this follow-up piece. Look for it tomorrow, Sunday, before Day 2 of the Washington Square Park Folk Festival

Washington Square Park Folk Festival This Weekend September 17th-18th

Eli Smith, host of the DownHome Radio Show, was hired by the city’s Parks Department to produce the first ever Washington Square Park Folk Festival this coming weekend Saturday, September 17th and Sunday, September 18th on the Garibaldi Stage (eastern end). Smith will be MC and also perform on Sunday with his band, the Dust Busters.

Here’s the schedule:

Saturday Sept 17th:

2pm The Calamity Janes – old time string band
3pm Feral Foster – original songs and blues
4pm East River String Band – country blues & old time
5pm Whiskey Spitters – country blues & old time

Sunday Sept 18th

2pm Bob Malenky – country blues
3pm Brotherhood of the Jug Band Blues – jug band music
4pm The Dust Busters with John Cohen – old time string band
5pm Willy Gantrim & the Phantoms – original songs, country & blues
6pm Peter Stampfel and the Ether Frolic Mob – make a wish for a potato

On his web site, Smith writes:

2011 also marks the 50th anniversary of the 1961 “Washington Square Folk Music Riot” when the City tried to revoke the permit for folk musicians to play and sing on Sundays in the park.  They needed to clear undesirable people out so that they could  satisfy local real estate interests and I heard possibly enact a crazy plan to extend 5th ave. through the park! Luckily folkies resisted the attempt by the police to kick them out of their public space, resulting in the “riot,” and the planned extension of 5th ave never materialized. Lately there’s been a film made about the “riot” and the film will be screened at the festival, check it out… coverage of the so called riot has been offered by The Indypendent and NPR.

Mario Batali‘s Foundation is involved somehow in sponsoring this event. I’m going to talk to Eli Smith and find out more about the festival but wanted to get the info up!