Spring 2012, WSP




Photos: Cathryn

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The City Council Member Vs. The Parks Commissioner

Last week, the New York City Council Parks Committee held a public hearing to discuss the Parks Department budget. The Parks Department is woefully underfunded and has been for at least twenty years, if not more. It has gotten worse under the Bloomberg Administration — the lack of funds is used as an incentive to encourage privatization of our public parks.

On Thursday, March 22nd, at the public hearing – note: the “public” hearings are always minimally publicized (which is basically, not at all) – NYC Council Member James Oddo had a heated exchange with Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe. This was covered over at A Walk in the Park Blog which reports that Council Member Oddo (whose district encompasses parts of Brooklyn and Staten Island) at one point called Commissioner Adrian Benepe “arrogant, cavalier and disgraceful.” Benepe told Oddo to “have a nice day.”

An excerpt from A Walk in the Park Blog:

Staten Island City Council member James Oddo and Parks Commissioner Adrain Benepe provided some fireworks during a Council Parks and Recreation budget hearing this afternoon.

Oddo said it was no ‘Act of God’ that lead to flooding dozens of people’s homes six months ago when Hurricane Irene hit – it was a lack of maintenance from the Parks Department.

The pond in Willowbrook Park overflowed, flooding nearby streets, cars and dozens of homes.

The cause, according to the angry council member, was a culvert that was blocked by plastic bottles and errand softballs from nearby fields that had not been properly maintained by the Parks Department.

Adrian Benepe did not agree. He repeatedly said the flooding was caused by Hurricane Irene, not an “Act of God” and refused to acknowledge or take any role or responsibility for the damage.

Many people in the Willow Brook/Bulls Head section of Staten Island suffered huge loses in property damage and personal belongings due to the damage. The four streets that were flooded are adjacent to Willowbrook Park.

Oddo said some residents had eight feet of water in their basements.

If Rudy Giuliani were mayor, Benepe “would have been canned a long time ago, ” the councilmember said.

Oddo said he couldn’t wait until the remaining days of this administration were over and Benepe was gone.

“I’ll tell ya, I can’t wait for the 650 days to be up,” he said. “I can’t wait till we get someone in there who treats all five boroughs equally.”

“I appreciate your passion,” Benepe said condescendingly to the visibly upset Oddo.

(I was wondering how many days were left in Mayor Bloomberg’s term. Really? That many?)

In August, Washington Square had its own flooding and Parks Department maintenance problem:

August 2011

Previously at WSP Blog:

Privatization, Concessions and New York City Parks October 8, 2010

NYC Parks Dept.-2/3 cuts in workers and endless privatization schemes April 25, 2008

Park’s Cherry Blossoms In Full Bloom

Cherry Blossom Tree Behind the Arch

Cherry Blossoms and Daffodils In Bloom

NY Observer: Washington Square Park Champion Deborah Glick Squares Off Against NYU’s Expansion Plans (Also A Look at the Lorax)

Today’s NY Observer covers NYU 2031 Expansion Plan and NYS Assembly Member Deborah Glick with this piece, Washington Square Park Champion Deborah Glick Squares Off Against NYU’s Expansion Plans:

NYU has a plan – a big plan to establish an even greater presence in and around Washington Square Park. And while there is no Lorax in Greenwich Village to protect the parks, gardens, and playgrounds from these expansive construction plans, or NYU 2031 as it has come to be known, there is a woman fighting to keep the towering buildings from casting their gloomy shadows over Washington Square Park. She is Deborah Glick. And while she may not speak for the trees, she is doing her darndest to speak for the community.

Deborah Glick‘s district includes the Village, and the NYS Assembly Member has a history of being a “champion” for WSP — she was the only government official to speak up in a substantive way against the dramatic redesign of the Park.

And, for those (like me) who knew the film “The Lorax” came out recently (you couldn’t really miss it; it was also accused of greenwashing), didn’t see it, and didn’t recall the premise of the original Dr. Seuss story; here’s the overview from Wikipedia:

The Lorax is a children’s book written by Dr. Seuss and first published in 1971. It chronicles the plight of the environment and the Lorax, who speaks for the trees against the greedy Once-ler. As in most Dr. Seuss works, most of the creatures mentioned are original to the book.

The book is commonly recognized as a fable concerning the danger corporate greed poses to nature, using the literary element of personification to give life to industry as the Once-ler (whose face is never shown in any of the story’s illustrations or in the television special) and the environment as The Lorax.

(The trees at WSP could certainly use a Lorax speaking up for them.)

Hey Blog Readers…

I slowed down posting a bit lately while working on a few projects with intense deadlines. So this week you will likely see a flurry of posts coming. Thanks for checking in and stopping by!

Cathryn.

Untapped New York Looks at WSP’s “Hidden History”


Untapped New York takes a look at The Hidden History of Washington Square Park:

The Washington Square Arch has been a staple of the park since 1889. Designed by Stanford White, the arch was first built out of wood to commemorate the 100th anniversary of George Washington’s inauguration. The prominent citizens loved it and paid for White to design it out of marble. Alexander Stirling Calder made the statue of Washington and Fredrick MacMonnies carved the relief work.

In 1916, painter John Sloan, dadaist Marcel Duchamp and three of their friends broke into the interior staircase of the arch. They climbed to the top, cooked food, lit Japanese lanterns, fired cap pistols, launched balloons and declared it the independent republic of New Bohemia. The citizens were outraged and the interior door of the arch was sealed. Some of the lucky have been able to tour the inside.

The fountain was built in 1960 and reminds us of the now-covered Minetta Brook that even today still flows under the southeast corner of the park.

I’ve noticed that it looks like the Arch door now in fact has an alarm on it or else a really secure new lock. Will post a photo.

Image: Downtown Doodler

Thanks to Local Ecologist for letting me know about this piece!

Greenwich Village Orchestra Concert Sunday, March 25th – Special Offer! Discount Admission for WSP Blog Readers

Greenwich Village Orchestra - Since 1986!

The Greenwich Village Orchestra was formed by local musicians in 1986 — it’s been going strong for over 25 years. Yet, it has remained a bit of a secret while those who’ve experienced it have given it rave reviews. The Orchestra’s goal:  “total commitment to performance, world class soloists, low ticket prices, and continued commitment to our local, downtown community.” Comprised of “accountants, actors, artists, attorneys, carpenters, editors, physicians, professors, programmers, retirees, riverboat gamblers, scientists, secretaries, students, and teachers,” the group is “committed to making music at the highest possible level.”

Here’s your chance to see them and with a discount if you mention this blog at the door!

The Greenwich Village Orchestra will be performing a concert this Sunday, March 25th at 3 p.m. When you mention Washington Square Park Blog, you’ll receive discounted admission — only $5! (Regularly $15 suggested donation.)

The concert will feature Brahms’ Symphony No. 3, Khatchaturian’s Sabre Dance & Violin Concerto in D Minor, and guest conductor Farkhad Khudyev.

Reception afterwards with free food and beverage and a chance to mingle with the musicians.

What you need to know:

When: Sunday, March 25th, 3 p.m.
Where: Washington Irving Auditorium, 40 Irving Place (at 17th Street), Manhattan
Who: Greenwich Village Orchestra & You!
Cost: Only $5 if you mention Washington Square Park Blog at the door.

For more information, check out the Greenwich Village Orchestra web site.

Photo: Adi Segal

Union Square Park Site of “New Occupation;” Bloomberg/NYPD Violence as Park Shut Down Last Night; Vandana Shiva to Appear There Thursday Noon

Union Square Park has become the site of the new Occupy Wall Street “occupation.” If you have not been following, here is the OWS primer on it.

After an NYPD crack down at Zuccotti Park this past weekend, Mayor Michael Bloomberg came out with some characteristically bullying, over the top statements – to show he’s in a charge – illustrating both his lack of understanding of what protest means, why people are protesting, and further confirming the fact that this is threatening to him and his corporate cronies if it is actually allowed to happen.

People began moving in to Union Square over the weekend. Last night, the NYPD became violent when more people attempted to sleep overnight. This timeline from OWS is an alarming recounting of the police disruption, violence and ultimate departure as the sun began rising over Union Square. The park was even shut down for a time by Mayor Bloomberg’s “army.”

Gothamist posted this tweet from Twitter:

“I have lived in for 15 years & I have never seen shut down, not even after 9/11. Who is the terrorist now ?

Bloomberg just shows his true colors more and more. Meanwhile, Forbes is salivating over the possibility that Mike might go on to take over Goldman Sachs post the end of his third term as NYC Mayor (will it ever end?) after showing up there recently to give the workers a pep talk.

Vandana Shiva

On to true heroesPeople LOVE Vandana Shiva and she will be speaking at Union Square this Thursday, March 22nd!  It is the OWS Sustainability and the Environmental Solidarity Working Group which is presenting this talk with the “Renowned Physicist and Environmental Activist” on the “Necessity of Taking Back our Food System and the Possibilities for Occupying Global Agriculture.” She will speak at 12 noon at Union Square’s Southern End (14th Street); it’s free.

You might recall there was an attempt to Occupy Washington Square which didn’t quite work out but really Union Square is much better suited.

Vandana Shiva web site

p.s. This video is quite moving and shows what happened on March 17th beginning with the sweet vibe going on at Zuccotti Park and the total contrast once the NYPD moved in:

Washington Square News, NYU’s Daily Newspaper, on Chess Plaza Opening

For readers of this blog who are looking for more “positivity” here, here you go.

Washington Square News, NYU’s daily newspaper, reports on the opening of the SouthWest Quadrant,”Fences Come Down at Washington Square Park,” online today. The writer, Emily Yang, interviewed me — she wrote a well done, comprehensive piece and my viewpoint sounds quite positive. (Tho’, I must admit, my more in-depth comments on the project taking so long or about reduction in size of chess plaza were pretty much left out — another park user fills some of that in.)

I’d never really thought about the difference in dynamic the SW entrance to the park offers until I sat down at a chess table the day the plaza opened at last. The writer asked me what I thought this section opening meant to people who visit the park. Here is an excerpt of the piece:

Our goal was to create a renewed sense of space, with a design that restored and upgraded the significant features that make Washington Square Park an iconic destination for New Yorkers and visitors alike,” [Parks Department spokesperson Phil] Abramson said.

Phase III was expected to be completed by winter 2011. But Abramson said the next phase will begin this spring and last for one year. When completed, it will include a large, renovated dog run and park house with a public restroom and space for the maintenance staff.

Cathryn Swan, creator of the Washington Square Park Blog, said the opening of the new area will bring positive results to the community. But she said this phase is long overdue.

Even though the central plaza where the chess tables are has been reduced a lot in size, this section is an important part of the park,” Swan said.

“The southern end has a different feeling, maybe because people are coming from Bleecker and MacDougal where there is a lot going on,” she added. “So it’ll be nice to have a flow again through the park from there.”

Long-time WSP visitor Vince Marchese, 70, said the fences took away from the beauty of the park for too long.

“I would say it looks like an improvement of about 50 percent,” Marchese said. “It’s a nice place to go to, where things happen all the time.”

He said other aspects of the park, including the cleanliness of the existing public restrooms and how often the fountain is turned on, have room for improvement.

Full story at Washington Square News: Fences Come Down at Washington Square Park

NY Daily News Publishes Op-Ed by Ed Koch in Favor of NYU “2031” Expansion As Former Mayor Admits He’s been Retained by the University to Get Plan Pushed Through — ?

Former NYC Mayor Ed Koch (and Village resident) writes an Op-Ed in today’s New York Daily News advocating for NYU’s mega-expansion plan “2031” in which he starts off by admitting to being a partner in the law firm retained to push the plan through.

What was the Daily News thinking? Perhaps they couldn’t find anyone else.

See here: NYU, Spread Your Wings

An excerpt:

Every time I do that and see NYU students of every imaginable racial and religious group walking and talking together, I say to whomever I’m with, “These students make the Village what it is. They keep us at the center of thought; they keep us young, and keep the Village an interesting place in which to live. They keep New York competitive with the rest of the U.S. — and, indeed, the world.”

Really? Students are fabulous but the sheer number of them, as it is, means they’ve overtaken large swaths of the Village – particularly around Washington Square (already the University’s “core”)- and contributed to a more transient quality by their very large numbers.

The Village was “interesting” – prior to NYU being such a behemoth.

Ed Koch continues:

First, you should know that I am a partner in Bryan Cave LLP. We are attorneys for NYU in its efforts to develop land in the Village owned by the university. That plan, called NYU 2031, calls for four buildings to be built just north of Houston St., amid existing residential high-rises. Those buildings, perhaps as high as 25 floors, would house the facilities of a university with global aspirations.

He also states: “I have lived here for decades.” (Two.) “I am very conscious of the need to retain the Village’s special identity, from its rowhouse blocks to the bustling coffee shops near Washington Square Park. I know NYU’s leadership has the same concern.”
All evidence to the contrary.
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More on NYU at this blog.