Occupy Wall Street at Washington Square Yesterday and Later Today

A contingent of the Occupy Wall Street March which marched to Times Square for a big gathering yesterday met first at Washington Square Park for a “student assembly” in the afternoon; headed to midtown and then a large group returned to the Park in the evening (perhaps barricades of the Fountain and Arch had been removed by then? Seems like yes since people were *in* the Fountain past midnight – the park’s official “curfew”).

News articles:

New York Observer Live Blogging the Times Square March

The Local East Village 10 Arrests reported in Washington Square Park Demonstration

Fox News: 92 Occupy Wall Street Protesters Arrested in New York City

NY1: Occupy Wall Street to Return to Washington Square Park Today — Sunday

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Video from Friday’s Earth Day Action at the Park

Superb video of Friday’s Earth Day Action — nicely edited, concise, fun to watch – and all set to music!
http://vimeo.com/22769441

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The previous WSP Blog post on this action, “For Earth Day, Banner Launched Via Balloons At Washington Square Arch to Protest Use of Rainforest Wood In New Park Benches” was linked to by Forbes (under “billionaires” and tagged “Michael Bloomberg”), Tree Hugger and USA Today!

For Earth Day, Banner Launched Via Balloons At Washington Square Arch to Protest Use of Rainforest Wood In New Park Benches


Environmental activists took to Washington Square Park on Friday, Earth Day, with a flamboyant action in which large, colorful, helium-filled balloons ascended to the top of the Arch with a banner proclaiming, “Mayor Bloomberg: Why was the Amazon logged for Wash. Square Park Benches?” The new benches at Washington Square, installed as part of the Park’s “multi-million renovation,” are harvested from Ipe wood, a tropical hardwood logged from the Amazon rainforest. This usage goes against pledges made, according to organizer of the event, Rainforest Relief, over 3 years ago by the NYC Parks Department and Mayor Michael Bloomberg to stop its use in city construction.

From Rainforest Relief and NY Climate Action Group:

This ongoing use of ipê contradicts the pledge that Mayor Bloomberg made to United Nations General Assembly on February 11, 2008: “Our City’s agencies will immediately reduce their use of tropical hardwoods by 20%. They will do that by specifying domestic wood, recycled plastic lumber, and other materials in the design of park benches and other construction projects.” He was following the lead of the Parks Department, which had declared an end to the use of tropical hardwoods for bench construction in late 2007.

The ipê wood can be found in new construction at the High Line Park, Union Square, Hudson River Park, & Brooklyn Bridge Park.

The organizations made a statement about the impacts of privatization of our public space:

[These parks] are also part of a larger trend occurring throughout the city: duties and responsibilities concerning public space are largely being transferred from public agencies to private entities such as business improvement districts and public benefit corporations. These entities are assemblages of private investors and stakeholders who operate without public oversight.

The Village Alliance, a business improvement district, had substantial sway concerning both the redesign of Washington Square Park as well as its maintenance.

“The privatization of NYC’s public space is allowing the city’s destruction of the Amazon to continue unchallenged,” stated Tim Doody, the New York City campaign coordinator for Rainforest Relief.

Photo of old Washington Square benches here.

Stacy Walsh Rosenstock commented at the time of that post: Isn’t the 1934 World’s Fair Bench, designed by Robert Moses and Kenneth Lynch, a New York City classic? Why would we ever choose to use some earth-hostile imitation?

As for the new benches, I hear repeatedly from people that the new benches are uncomfortable and they liked the old ones just fine. Perhaps promises could have been kept and that rainforest could have been left alone after all?

** More on the action which took place yesterday (Friday, April 22nd) around noon here. **

Photos: http://rfny.net

Community Board 2 Will At last Address Longstanding Questions around Washington Sq Park Redesign Phase II – Ten Months Late

Update 11/6: Well, I was perhaps overly hopeful. Community Board addressed WSP but only in relation to the benches in the seating alcoves. Attempts to get them to draw a bit more scrutiny onto Phase II’s progress were met with apathy and stutters of “there’s nothing we can do… that’s not our role” from CB2 Parks Committee chair Tobi Bergman.

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Ten months after the topic was scheduled to be discussed, Community Board 2‘s Parks Committee will at last address long-standing questions around Washington Square Park Redesign: Phase II this coming Wednesday, October 6th.

Many questions have been asked and concerns have been raised in the last month about the status of Phase II, currently ongoing. We would surmise that CB2 Parks Committee Chair Tobi Bergman and Community Board 2 Chair Jo Hamilton will be responsive and prepared to discuss at length the issues and that some of our elected officials will have representation at the meeting.

This really should be a meeting of the Washington Square Park Task Force and not the Community Board but at least it’s something! Discussion on design for benches in the four seating alcoves; update and further information on project construction to date and changes to the design.

Many other area parks to be discussed at this one meeting: Christopher Park, Bleecker Playground/Sitting Area, Minetta, Seravalli, and Bleecker Street Comfort Station.

Time & Location: Wednesday, October 6th, 6:30 p.m. – Little Red School House, 196 Bleecker St. (enter on Sixth Avenue)

NY City Council Committee to hold Parks Department Preliminary Budget 2011 Hearing Wednesday, March 24th — Agency Oversees 14% of City Land; Needs Larger Budget, Not Less

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Preliminary Budget for New York City Fiscal Year 2011 proposes decreasing the already way-too-low Parks Department Budget by $25 million — from $264 Million to $239 Million. This represents .37% of the City’s annual budget allocated to operate and maintain our city Parks, Recreation and open spaces. .37% of the budget dedicated to the City agency which oversees 14% of New York City land throughout the five boroughs is neglectful to our city open spaces and not forward thinking.

According to A Walk In the Park Blog, Mayor Bloomberg’s preliminary budget overall for 2011 is increased $560 Million from this year, yet he still insists on cutting the already decimated Parks Department budget. Our parks and open spaces cannot be properly and equitably maintained if the budget is so disproportionate to what is needed.

Since this is a preliminary budget, there is still time to weigh in at Wednesday’s 3/24 Parks Committee meeting at City Hall. There is a new chair of the Parks Committee in the NY City Council, Melissa Mark-Viverito, and there is hope that some change will be seen.

In a previous post on WSP Blog, NYC Parks Dept.: 2/3 cuts in workers and endless privatization schemes,” I referenced statistics from New York Jobs With Justice which informed us that as of 2008, the Parks Department budget had been cut by 66% over (I believe) the last twenty years:

“Years ago, NYC’s public parks were administered by over 7,500 municipal employees of the Department of Parks and Recreation. Today, it’s only 2,500 municipal employees taking care of NYC’s public parks. [Note: the number may have fluctuated upward a small amount since 2008 but is now going back to around this # of workers.] This number continues to shrink as the years go by. Much of the labor has been privatized through city partnerships with non-profit administrators resulting in a two-tier work force of public servants in the City’s public parks.”

A large number of jobs are being cut and positions eliminated. This is one additional reason, as NY Jobs for Justice outlined above, why our parks and public spaces are being increasingly privatized.

Show your support for our Parks by speaking before the City Council Parks Committee this Wednesday, March 24th, 2 p.m., at City Hall Council Chambers on the 2nd floor.

Learn more at A Walk In the Park Blog.

** More details on the meeting from The New York City Council web site.

Washington Sq Park “Official” Opening Ceremony Thursday, May 28th 1:30 p.m. At the Fountain

Oh my… The moment we’ve all been waiting for… (Well, maybe just me…? but still…) Do you think Mayor Bloomberg will show up?

From NY City Council Member Alan Gerson:

DEAR NEIGHBOR:

Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, Council Speaker Christine Quinn and I cordially invite you to join us and other folks in the area to celebrate the opening of Washington Square Park and the completion of Phase I of the renovation. We look forward to seeing you on Thursday, May 28th at 1:30 pm at the fountain.

Very truly yours,
Alan J. Gerson
Council Member, District 1

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Additional thoughts on “New” Washington Square follow in post below …

Washington Sq Park Task Force to Meet about Design of WSP Buildings – Administration and “Comfort Stations” – Wednesday, May 6th

Some News: There will be a meeting of the Washington Square Park Task Force and Community Board 2 Parks Committee on Wednesday, May 6th focusing on the design of Washington Square Park‘s comfort stations (i.e., bathrooms) and administration buildings, all located on the South side of the Park.

Community Board 2 Chairperson Brad Hoylman sent out a special notice yesterday about this meeting. From the notice: “In previous public hearings about reconstruction of the park, many community residents focused on the condition of the rest rooms as the single worst condition in the park and CB 2 has prioritized the construction of the new facility. At this meeting, the Washington Square Task Force and the CB 2 Parks Committee will meet with the Parks Department to discuss the scope for this project. This meeting represents the most important opportunity for the community to advise the Parks Department of our needs and preferences regarding this important project. All are welcome to attend.”

I respect Brad Hoylman a lot. He has been extremely helpful and welcoming to me. Community Board 2 is addressing many critical issues in the neighborhoods it represents (overcrowding in local schools and open space issues among them — also included in the special notice). But I question whether this is the “most important opportunity for the community to advise the Parks Department of our needs and preferences regarding this important project.”

There have been four Washington Square Park Task Force meetings since July of last year addressing crucial phases and issues related to Washington Square Park and none of them – to my knowledge – had special notices sent out informing people about them. (The other meetings were well attended and they were listed on the CB2 regular e-mailed Monthly Calendar. Yet, a “special notice” gets people’s attention.)

It’s true that a large percentage of park users and neighborhood residents wanted the bathrooms given priority (they’ve fallen into serious disrepair). However, that sentiment applied to moving the implementation of their reconstruction up in the Parks Department’s plan to Phase I (or even Phase II) of the project, not to leave this for last – which is what is happening.

To learn more about the plans and/or give input, here are the details:

Washington Sq Park Task Force/CB2 Parks Committee Meeting
Wednesday, May 6th, 5:45 p.m., Meet at WSP Maintenance Office (south side of Park); Continues afterwards (approximately 6:30 p.m.) at Judson Memorial Church, Assembly Hall, 239 Thompson Street (off Washington Square South).

Check out Community Board 2‘s new web site.

It’s not just a Task Force Meeting, it’s a Parks Department “Presentation” on Next Phase of its WSP Redesign – Tonite, December 3rd

I reported last week that the Washington Square Park Task Force and Community Board 2 Parks Committee were meeting Wednesday, December 3rd. What I didn’t realize at the time was that this meeting would also include an NYC Parks Department “presentation” on Phase II of the Washington Square Park redesign. This should be rich. I mean, of course, worth seeing.

According to the Community Board 2 web site, the meeting will include: “Public comment on a presentation by the Parks Dept. of design elements for Washington Square Park Reconstruction Phase II, including paths and seating and the ‘mounds’.”

Details:

Wednesday, December 3rd @ 6:30 PM (Tonite!)

Church of Our Lady of Pompeii (Father Demo Hall), 25 Carmine Street, between Bedford and Bleecker, Manhattan.

Trains: A,B,C,D,E,F to West 4th Street/Washington Square (exit at West 3rd)

** Note: Here is what I think can still be done (changed) in the next phase; here are the main points:

1. No Conservancy

2. Preserve the Seating Alcoves Along the Northern, Eastern and Southeastern Edges of the Park.

3. Increase back the Public Space around the Fountain coming in from the East Side.

4. Save the Park’s Trees – Work them into the design.

5. Get rid of the “decorative speared” fencing and (while at it) bring back the lower height.

6. Save the “Teen Plaza” and maintain (don’t reduce – the reduction makes no sense for performers) the height of the performance stage.

It’s time for the Parks Department to be fiscally responsible and, as a City agency, accountable to New Yorkers.

Oh, and I’d love to see the Washington Square Park Task Force meet just to meet on its own and not based on the New York City Parks Department’s call to order.

Rally. City Hall Steps. This Sunday 10/5. Noon. And… 2 p.m.

This just in… NY City Council Member David Weprin is holding a Rally to Protest overturning of Term Limits (you know that bill that Mayor Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn are about to put into play) this Sunday, October 5th at 12 noon. City Hall Steps.

Update October 4: Lawyer Norman Siegel (who ran for Public Advocate) and “The People Have Spoken” Coalition are also holding a rally/protest at 2 p.m. about this issue with a slightly different theme. Sunday, October 5th. Same location: City Hall Steps. 2 p.m.

Attend one or both.

Union Square Partnership’s Harvest Gala v. Citizen Chefs – Union Square Park 9/18

The people come marchin' to defend their Park

The people come marchin'

Thursday night. Union Square. The setting of Union Square Partnership’s Harvest in the Square, an annual gala held by the ubiquitous BID (Business Improvement District). Although their promotional materials stated the gala would inhabit the “west plaza” of Union Square Park, in reality, they took over half of the south plaza as well, including the area surrounding the George Washington Statue. Billed as the “premiere food and wine tasting event,” tickets ranged from $125 to $400 for VIP early bird event.

The BID — the ones who want to put a private exclusive restaurant in the historic Union Square Pavilion, thereby shutting off more public space — is led by Jennifer Falk. Falk previously worked for Mayor Bloomberg. (Funny how it’s just a game of musical chairs at times.) Co-chair of the BID is restauranteur Danny Meyer.

I don’t think they were prepared for the festive arrival of Reverend Billy and assorted citizen chef/passionate public space advocates who came out to chant their message and bang some pots and pans saying ‘no giveaway of our public space’ – as we watched our public space taken over by the BID for their harvest gala.

Police And Onlookers

Police And Onlookers

Reverend Billy was arrested as was another activist – I believe both charges were “disorderly conduct.” Reverend Billy was addressing the attendees of the gala through a megaphone about the takeover of our public space when he was escorted away. The other activist had the audacity? to crumple up a flyer and throw it over the fence. A random act of (at the most) littering somehow becomes “disorderly conduct.”

People sitting around Union Square all curiously watched and eagerly took flyers which stated “Parks for People – Not for Profit.” We’ve all gotten so buttoned-down in New York. How often do you see such a creative action? All too infrequently.

Oh, and yes, our NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, was there and addressed the crowd at the gala event. I think his speech may have been, um, overshadowed by the sound of the citizen chefs (and their pots, pans, and chants) however. All too fitting.

The BIDs in more recent years have gotten more sophisticated and yet wish to appear ‘just like us.’ A part of the community. The Union Square BID is a 501(c)3 non-profit — something we link with advocacy groups, not organizations trying to promote more shopping. Around Washington Square Park, the BID – previously known as The 8th Street BID – changed its name to the Village Alliance. Doesn’t that sound neighborly?

Rev Billy addresses Gala

Rev Billy addresses Gala

Photos: #1 and 2: Quilty; #3 and 4: Cathryn