Villager on CB2’s “Washington Square Speak Out” Hearing On Performance Crackdown

I was going to write up my own impressions of the Community Board 2 Public hearing – “Washington Square Speak Out” – held on December 19th on the performance crackdown at WSP. However, Albert Amateau at The Villager did such a great job reporting on the meeting that I’ve excerpted his piece, A symphony of no’s on Parks’ musician rules at speak-out”, here:

There was only one speaker on Monday in favor of the Parks Department’s citing musicians and other performers in Washington Square Park for violating park rules. The lone supporter was Bill Castro, Manhattan borough Parks Department commissioner, who told a packed audience that the recently enforced rules still allow buskers plenty of room to perform in Washington Square — as long as they’re 50 feet from any monument and 5 feet from a bench.

“The rules are not intended to ban performers from this or any other park, regardless of whether they solicit or accept contributions,” Castro said.

“The department seeks to regulate and accommodate a variety of activities and uses,” Castro added, but he promised that the department would review and reconsider the enforcement policy that began in the park around May. The rules only apply to buskers, meaning performers who accept cash contributions.

Given that Washington Square, the spawning ground in decades past of music luminaries including Bob Dylan, Judy Collins and Joan Baez, has benches along its paths and large monuments, including the iconic arch, the central fountain, the Garibaldi statue and the monument to Alexander Lyman Holley, the claim of “plenty of room” rang hollow.

All others at the Dec. 19 speak-out, sponsored by Community Board 2 and its Parks Committee, called for an end to what they called an anti-life and hypocritical enforcement effort.

Indeed, one speaker, Mitchel Cohen, mocked the rules, saying he was in favor of barring musicians because they interrupted the sound of jackhammers and sirens and they prevented people from getting close to the monuments.

“Everybody knows that people come to Washington Square Park from all over the world to see the Holley Monument,” Cohen quipped.

Gregory Nissen, a theater composer and pianist, introduced himself as Robert Zimmerman who just blew in from Minneapolis with his banjo, but decided to leave because the cops wouldn’t let him play in Washington Square.

Katie Kat, a soprano and voice instructor at New York University who performs under the arch (“great acoustics”) with her partner, Roxanne Walitzki, sang part of an aria from Puccini’s “La Bohème” at the end of her remarks and won admiring applause.

C.B. 2 members Keen Berger and Doris Diether, both speaking as individuals, urged an end to the enforcement.

Berger, a resident near Washington Square for 47 years, said she has visited the park at least 2,000 times. She said she cherished the music and didn’t recall negative reactions against performers.

Diether reminded the forum that performance in Washington Square dates back more than 50 years.

“This is ridiculous,” Diether said about the enforcement, which she recalled started two or three months ago. “First, they said that musicians were blocking the pathways. Then, they said there was no solicitation in the park. The rules are idiotic and the Parks commissioner [Adrian Benepe] should be told they’re idiotic and they should be thrown out,” Diether said.

“The people who perform are the people who keep the park safe,” said Susan Goren, a regular parkgoer known as “The Squirrel Whisperer.” The rules, she said, are eliminating what people find joyful in the park.

A longtime jazz performer known as Black Bobby said, “First they came for the black folks. Now, from the look of the audience here tonight [largely white], it seems that there is equality.”

and…

Robert Lederman, president of A.R.T.I.S.T. (Artists’ Response To Illegal State Tactics), reminded the meeting that he has a pending federal lawsuit challenging the city’s rules limiting where artists can vend art and other expressive matter in Union Square, on the High Line and in Central Park and Battery Park. The rules were only imposed on musicians, according to Lederman, after he raised the issue to Parks that musicians were excluded from the Union Square limits, while vendors were forced to abide by them.

Lederman, who cited an editorial, “Don’t ban the buskers” in last week’s issue of The Villager, said the rules practically ban artists and musicians from any New York City park.

The activist said the hypocrisy of the rules is apparent from the city-sponsored holiday markets that pre-empt space in Union Square and other parks.

Lorie Moody, a resident of 2 Fifth Ave., agreed, citing the Greenmarket in Union Square and “the less-than-glorious, white-tented event in Washington Square,” referring to the annual Taste of The Village event under the Washington Square arch.

Colin Huggins, “The Crazy Piano Guy,” who wheels his piano to play in Washington Square and other parks, said he has received summonses that would cost more than $2,000 in fines if they are not eventually dismissed. He said his playing brings people together.

Joe Mangrum, who does sand painting in Union Sq. and Washington Square, has also received numerous summonses.

“New York City is unique because there is this creative freedom,” Mangrum said. The city, he said, appears to be “militarizing’” the park.

“Freedom is the most important thing we have. If you don’t have that you don’t have a country,” Mangrum said.

Ryo Sasaki, a jazz trumpeter, said he came to New York four years ago from Japan because of the music culture. He has been playing in Washington Square Park for three years, “and suddenly this season we cannot do it anymore,” he said. “I learned to play music in school but I never learned how to entertain and communicate with people. Those skills I learned in Washington Square Park,” Sasaki said.

“The city crated a problem that never existed,” said Natalie Albert, a neighborhood resident for 40 years.

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Community Board 2 to Hold “Washington Square Park Speak Out” on Performance Crackdown Monday, December 19th

Opera Under the Arch! (August 2011)

As I reported in yesterday’s post on the performance crackdown at Washington Square (and the media surrounding it), CB2 plans to come out of hiding on issues relating to WSP and hold a public forum.

Mark your calendar!
Community Board 2 Washington Square Park Speak Out — Monday, December 19th, 6:30 p.m. at the NYU Kimmel Center, 60 Washington Square South, 8th Floor.

A note: No women spoke at Sunday’s press conference on this issue. It’s true there are less female performers at the park. I wonder why that is? I encountered these two women in the summer singing opera under the Arch. The Arch is known for its acoustics; as Katie Kat, left, said, the Arch is “the spot to sing.”

Previously on WSP Blog: Opera Under the Arch! August 4, 2011

Part I: Community Board 2 and NY City Council Disavow Oversight of Washington Square Park Redesign Project As Phase II Construction Stalled for Five Weeks

Amended sign- Completion Date: "Or whenever... zzz"

On September 29th, I wrote about how construction on the SouthWest Quadrant/Chess Plaza at Washington Square Park had been stopped for about 3 weeks. 5 weeks passed with no movement or signs of life on this last piece of long overdue Redesign: Phase II work. At this point, delays in the project do not surprise me. Why this is happening is due to a dispute between the Parks Department and the contractor (more on that later).

What does surprise me is the lack of oversight by just about everyone you’d expect to be monitoring this project.

Let’s review the players —

Washington Square Park Task Force

There IS a Washington Square Park Task Force – although you’d never know it – this body seemed to dissolve once City Council Member Alan Gerson left office – replacement Margaret Chin has been totally MIA on the project. Community Board 2 has pretended that the Task Force doesn’t exist and Council Speaker Christine Quinn has not prompted it to keep going. The body was part of the “Gerson-Quinn Agreement,” created for the express purpose of giving the community an opportunity to provide oversight on the project and monitor work on the park’s redesign. In March of 2010, I wrote a piece about how the only way the Task Force would function properly is if it was separated from Community Board 2. Clearly, that remains accurate.

Community Board 2

Trees are dying, work is stopped, project is months behind schedule, budget continues ballooning, something is wrong with the Fountain … and yet Community Board 2 has only chimed in – with regards to WSP in the last year – when they sent out Bob Gormley to talk to the media about the bathroom hours being cut.

Brad Hoylman is back after a 2 year hiatus as Chair of the Board (CB2 chairs only serve 2 year terms). Some may have mixed feelings on his role in the negotiations for the park’s redesign years prior, and he does, after all, work for pro-Bloomberg entity, Partnership for New York City. My experience was that he was pretty decent at moving things along and bringing up and addressing issues during the period I first became involved (2008).

However, since Hoylman returned in June of this year, there’s been no progress or spotlight on the park by the board. He’s left Parks Committee chair Tobi Bergman in charge. As I’ve mentioned, Bergman is a former Parks Department employee who doesn’t take a very hard look at anything related to the Parks Department (in fact, his current job is somewhat dependent on the city agency).

NY City Council

No involvement at all. Council Member Margaret Chin’s office completely unresponsive. Council Speaker Christine Quinn – who was a huge part of the “Gerson-Quinn Agreement” – is hands off at this point but, then, she’s not being pushed to be involved by the bodies that ought to be doing so – the Community Board and Task Force.

We know that the Parks Department is a dysfunctional agency, and so, at this point, this is a project run amok.

************************************************
An Overview:

Phase II Original completion date: Fall 2010. Work was split into two parts earlier this year — Phase II-A (eastern end) opened June 2nd. Budget for all three phases of the park’s elaborate redesign was $16 Million – that figure has now doubled.

************************************************

Previously on WSP Blog: Has Phase II just stopped? September 29, 2011

Village Parks Updates – 1, 2, 3, … 4?

Update on My Update —  Part 4 Update from Community Board 2 Parks Meeting is Coming. Like Washington Square, the other neighborhood parks – Bleecker Playground & Sitting Area, Petrocino Square, Seravalli are behind schedule and problem-plagued. Yet, they aren’t getting attention from anyone, except a piece here or there in The Villager. I want my report back to be comprehensive and recount some of the history of these projects. That requires additional work, thought and energy. In the meantime, if you missed the first three updates from the meeting, here they are:

Part 1: Projected Opening for WSP Phase II; Washington Square Given Minimal Attention at CB2 Parks Meeting

Part 2: Update on Washington Square Phase II from CB 2 Meeting Last Week (Seating Alcoves and Initial Landmarks Preservation Commission Hearings)

Part 3: High Line Phase 2 to Open Late Spring; Restaurant in 2013; Privatized Park Keeps Getting Grander – And More Expensive to Maintain

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!

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.

Community Board 2 To Address Status of Neighborhood Parks Including Washington Square Wed. April 6th

Community Board 2 Parks Committee MEETING
Wednesday, April 6th, 6:45 PM

Community Board 2 announced some long delayed topics will appear on its April 6 agenda including “status of capital projects in CB2 parks”: Washington Square, Seravalli Playground, Petrocino Park, Minetta Playground, JJ Walker Field, Bleecker Playground Comfort Station, and Bleecker Sitting Area.

There are so many parks listed mainly because it’s been six months and longer since any substantive discussion has occurred of these projects.

Also on the packed agenda is an update on the 2nd phase of the High Line opening.

Notably absent? Whether there will be discussion of Washington Square 2nd phase opening date.

(If you’re thinking this seems highly unusual, that’s because it is. This is how Community Board 2 handles their – and one of New York City’s – most prominent park and public space.)

Meeting Location: NYU Silver Building, 32 Waverly Place, off Washington Square East, Room 714.

50th Anniversary of Washington Sq Folk Riot April 9th; Community Board 2 Meeting To Discuss Commemorative Event Wed. March 2nd

April 9, 2011 marks the 50th year anniversary of what is now called the Washington Square Folk Riot. Apparently, plans are in the works to mark this with an event of some kind and Community Board 2 Parks Committee will be meeting this Wednesday night, March 2nd to discuss a “celebration” of the anniversary.

On the Washington Square Folk Riot from The Indypendent:

Washington Square Park has been a place for musicians since at least the 1940s. By 1961, it was the center of the city’s folk-music scene, and Parks Commissioner Newbold Morris ordered the police to crack down on “the roving troubadours and their followers.” The musicians defied the ban, and on April 9, police invaded the park to clear them out. The result was what became known as the “Folk Song Riot.” One group sat down in the empty fountain and sang “We Shall Not Be Moved.” The cops attacked them with billy clubs. “5,000 BEATNIKS RIOT IN VILLAGE,” the tabloid Mirror headlined.

One of the demonstrators may have been 19-year-old Bob Dylan, who two days later opened for John Lee Hooker at Gerde’s Folk City, down the block on West Fourth Street. The city eventually relented after more musical protests, including a sing-in by 1,500 people in a nearby vacant lot.

Other items on the CB2 meeting agenda (both public hearings):

* Request for renovation of Father Fagan Square (Sixth Ave. betw. Prince and Spring)
* “Treeing-up Hudson Square”- A proposal for intensive tree planting.

Date: Wednesday, March 2nd, 6:30 p.m.

Location: Little Red School House, 272 Sixth Avenue at Bleecker Street, Auditorium

Trains: A, B, C, D, E, F to W. 4th-Wash Square or 1 train to Houston Street

Note: No mention of Washington Square Park Phase II update, cost overrun, delays or projected completion on the committee’s agenda.

P.S. — This anniversary event was canceled. See archives for why.

WSP Phase II Media Curiosity; Smaller Seating Alcoves?; 24 Hour Dog Run

Fall 2010? Well, that's not going to happen...

Updated 1/25 & 31*

Reporters are asking questions about Washington Square Park Redesign: Phase II, but has anything much changed since my update in September 2010? (Re-posted below.)

There’s been great progress in the park’s construction on the Eastern side but the project as a whole is still lagging behind and far from completion. Continued Parks Department miscommunication, mishaps and errors. And there’s still NO community or City Council oversight of the project.

*Cost of the project is at $35 $30 million + counting. The initial budget for the entire 3 Phases? $16 Million. (WSP Blog ed.: The $30 Million figure is an estimate for all three phases. I am fairly certain the cost will reach $35 million but it will definitely reach $30 million so I am revising my figure – for now.)

Community Board 2 held a meeting in October last year at which there was a request to the Parks Department to add reconfigured seating, an improvement on what was illustrated on the design for the new alcoves (which some community members finally got a hold of). The request was for seating which would be more conducive to interacting with your neighbors if you chose to do so and viewing what was going on in the rest of the park itself – part of the charm of these spots. (There will be four seating alcoves, previously six, in the eastern quadrants of the park.)

Sounds like a good idea. Small concession, right?

Word on the street is that this got vetoed, likely by designer George Vellonakis — the landscape designer who created the controversial redesign of this historic park — who has a tremendous pull within the city’s Parks Department.

The seating alcoves — which were eliminated in Vellonakis’s original design for the park — were only added back in after the community, former Council Member Alan Gerson and the Landmarks Preservation Commission all strongly protested their removal. (We might have had issues with Alan Gerson but he was involved, unlike current Council Member Margaret Chin.)

In addition, although it was promised that the seating alcoves would retain their original size, it is also believed that they are much smaller in the actual design and implementation. (*1/31 — WSP Blog note: This is unclear tho’ it would not surprise me. Will try to find out — )

The Villager is reporting this week that the large dog run will be 24 hours as if this is news. Way, way back at meetings that perhaps the Villager did not attend (no offense, Villager folks!) it was revealed that the entrance to the newly placed large dog run on the Park’s southern side would be accessible at all hours. (Not sure honestly how that will work but we’ll see!)

Phase II has been split into two pieces with a large portion – including the dog run – moved into Phase III.

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.

——————————————————-

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)