The Washington Square Park Task Force – What is it and what are its stated “goals?” (Part I)

Part 1 of 2; 3/10/10There have been issues with the lack of follow-through of the Washington Square Park Task Force, the body designated to oversee the park’s redesign, since its inception. Since I touched on this body and issues with it back in November ’08, I thought I’d run an edited version of this post again. If you think about it, if the Task Force had been paying attention to details, as
mandated, they would have been aware that the new benches the Parks Department were installing at the park were rainforest woodmuch called into question now – and could have stopped it. Just one example!

Original post (slightly edited):

The Washington Square Park Task Force was put into play by (former) NY City Council Member Alan Gerson and (present) NY City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (both of whom voted to extend their own terms in the whole term limits fiasco).

The WSP Task Force is supposed to be the body that follows up on the Gerson-Quinn Agreement and the “stipulations” put forth in that letter (of October 6, 2005 from Gerson-Quinn to NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe).

The WSPTF is run presently under the aegis of Community Board 2 but it is also comprised of members of the public, the Community Board, and representatives of elected officials*.

Co-chaired by Community Board 2 Chair Brad Hoylman — now, Jo Hamilton — and CB2 Parks Committee Chair Tobi Bergman, the Washington Square Park Task Force meets infrequently and it is unclear how and when certain decisions are made. Yet it is the only body that has been given some jurisdiction over the Parks Department and the outcome of the redesigned Washington Square Park.

Therefore, the hope would be that it would have some teeth and it would be in there fighting for this dynamic and historic public space. But is it?

Goals of the Washington Square Park Task Force:

I have an undated document which stipulates the goals as such:

1. Make sure all points of Quinn-Gerson agreement are adhered to.

2. All bid documents, all changes of plans, and all design details should be run by task force.

3. Enable the community to have input on design details.

4. Maintain the sense of informality of the park which is so central to its charm and character.

5. Maintain Washington Square Park as a well maintained, diverse, plural park where all sorts of people feel welcome.

6. Maintain as much green space as open to the public as possible while keeping it alive.

7. Maintain as many of the trees as possible.

8. Create conditions which allow funding of bathroom renovation.

9. Step up maintenance pending the resolution of the legal issues.

10. Oppose the establish of a conservancy without a good deal of public vetting.

So how has the WSP Task Force done thus far on these stated “goals” and what are the inherent problems with it?

Part II, which follows, will explore this next.

* The elected officials represented on the Task Force are: Congressman Jerold Nadler, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Council Member Rosie Mendez, Council Member Alan Gerson(now Margaret Chin), State Senator Tom Duane, and Assembly Member Deborah Glick.

Edited from original post published November 7th, 2008.

NYC Parks Department Drops off Washington Square Park Phase II Blueprints at Community Board 2 Meeting; More Arborcide at Washington Square Park and by NYU

Well, yes, Community Board 2’s Parks Committee met Wednesday night, February 3rd, in the Village with a list of topics to discuss. On the agenda: Design of the Washington Square Park “comfort stations,” part of Washington Square Park Redesign: Phase III which will begin later this year or early next. There was, at last, a look at the plans for WSP Phase II construction, currently underway.

The Parks Department unveiled full Washington Square Park Phase II redesign plan blueprints, the first time anyone from the community had seen these despite the fact that the work began in the Fall of 2009. Clearly, these Phase II blueprints have existed for awhile — the fact that the Parks Department just now got around to bringing them before the Community Board is particularly vexing.

At the previous December meeting (a joint meeting of CB2 Parks Committee with the Washington Square Park Task Force), the Parks Department was unprepared and attendees were told that representatives would return at February’s meeting to give the Community Board full and final details on ongoing Phase II construction and design plans for Phase III.

Instead, the Parks Department dropped off some blueprints (which were nice to finally see, of course), placed them on a table and focused on presentations related to other parks.

No information was presented about the design of the Washington Square Park comfort stations/restrooms. (You might recall that the Greenwich Village community repeatedly insisted over the last five or so years that WSP’s failing rest rooms be addressed first in their redesign plans to which the New York City Parks Department smiled and nodded their heads while ignoring this request all along the way.)

At the meeting, other village neighborhood parks got the spotlight, including Bleecker Street Playground, Petrosino Park, and Minetta Playground. I miss the presence of Community Board 2 Chair Brad Hoylman (who left his position at the beginning of this year after a 2 year term).

With Hoylman there, the spotlight shone a bit brighter on WSP – and park – issues. CB2 Parks Committee Chair Tobi Bergman, previously a Parks Department employee, is more likely to dismiss items when they might get a bit thorny, not holding the Parks Department accountable. I can’t say for certain that Hoylman, who works for Partnership for New York City (a pro-Bloomberg, pro-development entity), increased the Parks Department’s responsiveness but the process felt more open.

Arborcide by NYU and at WSP

For example: NYU devastatingly chopped down 6 trees along Thompson Street between Washington Square South and West 3rd Street recently during construction of their new Interfaith center at 58 Washington Square South. Their reason: to install an intricate heating system. Clearly, the design could have been configured otherwise.

In December, Bergman took a strong stand, with the rest of the board’s committee, when NYU officials came before them with these plans. The Parks Committee disapproved of this arborcidal concept and instructed NYU to find a new way to proceed. Yet, it was revealed on Wednesday that the Parks Department went ahead and gave the University the jurisdiction to send the trees to the chopping block.

Trees now gone. To those who objected when this news was brought to light, Bergman told them, quickly shutting down any discussion: it was done, yes, we objected, move on.

When Mayor Michael Bloomberg says he is in favor of a MillionTrees, there may be some planting going on, but it seems for every one tree planted, another is axed. (See Union Square and Yankee Stadium Parkland, as well as Washington Square Park14 trees axed in Phase I, unclear # in Phase II to be destroyed.)

Another example: the two magnificent, non-uniform, non-aligned trees that graced the path from Garibaldi Statue alongside Teen Plaza to LaGuardia Place at WSP. I’m not certain the type tree they were but they had character, were clearly very old, and their branches drooped at bizarre angles, infusing immediate charm and an eclectic feeling.

When landscape designer George Vellonakis walked me through a tour of his plans for Phase II in May 2009, I asked specifically about those trees. As he had stated previously in public, he confirmed to me that those trees would remain. But, like most everything that shows a bit of non-conformity at the Park, as I walked through Wednesday night, I noted those trees are gone.

Parks Department Given Way Too Much Latitude

In the end, there was no presentation from the Parks Department on WSP. Bergman was vague about when they would return (March was fleetingly mentioned) and didn’t seem to recall the stated agenda items from December slated to be readdressed at this meeting.

It wouldn’t be hard for the city agency to detect that Bergman is quick to forgive – or more pointedly ignore –  failings on their part. He’s very adept at pointing out that CB2 role is advisory, instead of forging a more activist and assertive front. I’m not certain why, when the CB2 Chair was rotated at the beginning of this year, new committee chairpersons were not put into play.

Blueprints Dropped Off: Washington Square Park Phase II

The Parks Department dropped off diagrams displaying Washington Square Park Phase II which were placed on a table for viewing.

Evident from the plans:

*There will be 19 chess tables. I can’t recall the previous number (does anyone offhand?) but it looked like an increase although the Parks Department had initially said the number would remain the same. That SW corner becomes reduced in size – becoming another conformed, aligned “Plaza,” like the other three that grace the corners of the Park’s quadrants.

*Nine NYPD security cameras and devices, four within the Park, installed on poles. “2 cameras will be installed on new poles that currently do not have security devices installed.” I gather the other five will be along the perimeter of the Park.

*As we knew, four of the six seating alcoves will be preserved. Three are supposed to remain as they were, one reduced in size.

*As previously outlined, the two dog runs will be relocated along Washington Square South. (Designer Vellonakis previously has stated that no trees would be disturbed there. We’ll see…)

*Garibaldi is being moved from his position facing West to a position a bit further North, facing South.

As for Phase III design plans, it seems that they will be unveiled by the Parks Department at the Parks Committee meeting in March – at least that’s what was implied. Whether the Parks Department will keep to their word, we shall see. We’ll also see whether Community Board 2’s Parks Committee holds them to it.

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For a look at the Phase II diagrams and a report about the meeting from Curbed, go here.

My previous WSP Blog post on Phase II plans.

Community Board 2 Parks Committee to Meet Wed. Feb. 3rd – Will discuss WSP

Updated 2/3
* Wednesday, February 3rd, 6:30 p.m., Community Board 2 Parks Committee Meeting – on agenda: status report by NYC Parks Dept on Phase III design of Washington Sq Pk comfort stations/bathrooms. As far as Phase II updates…

At the last WSP Task Force/CB2 Parks Committee meeting in December, the Parks Department was admittedly unprepared and said they’d return in February 2010 with details on current status of Phase II construction including presentation of various final details of the plan plus current status of plans for Phase III, the Washington Square Park maintenance building and rest rooms. Will that be part of this meeting or will that happen at another time?

Update: According to CB2 Parks Committee Chair Tobi Bergman, the Parks Department was asked to bring information and diagrams relating to Phase II to this meeting.

Location: St. Anthony’s Of Padua, 154 Sullivan (between Houston & Prince), Lower Hall

Two of Seven Newly Planted Trees Surrounding the Washington Square Park Fountain Have Died — Is the Cause the Design? + WSP Task Force Meeting Update

Dying Tree Lining Fountain, Since Removed

Last week’s meeting of Washington Square Park Task Force/Community Board 2 Parks Committee on December 2nd provided minimal new information about Phase II (currently in progress) and Phase III of the Park’s redesign.

Another meeting of the WSP Task Force is scheduled for February 2010 at which the NYC Parks Department will be prepared to present information on Phases II and III since they admitted they were not equipped to do so at the December 2nd meeting.

[Update: This meeting did not happen; it was the infamous meeting where the blueprints for Phase II were dropped off on a table with no discussion. It was a CB2 Parks Committee meeting; the Task force did not meet.]

There was one item of note: A brief discussion on why two of the new trees planted around the Washington Square Park Fountain died earlier this year. Landscape designer George Vellonakis insisted that there is “no drainage problem” and that it was just a result of the construction (which is troubling, if so, also).

I encountered a landscape architect at the park one day in August when the two trees were being dug up and removed who informed me that the (new) design is not appropriate for proper water drainage with structural soil and that this diminishes (perhaps eliminates) the tree’s ability to survive.

Seven of the trees that lined the Fountain (close to forty years old) were axed because of the Bloomberg Administration’s desire to relocate the Washington Square Park Fountain 22 feet east so that it would align with the Arch at Fifth Avenue. The Fountain had been in its previous location since 1871.

The true test will be if the new trees planted survive. If they don’t, let’s hope that the Parks Department will take some corrective action.  It seems wrong to sacrifice living trees for a potentially flawed design.

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Washington Square Park Task Force to Meet Wednesday, December 2nd to Address Final Phases of WSP Redesign Plan

On Wednesday, December 2nd, the Washington Square Park Task Force and Community Board 2’s Parks, Recreation and Open Space Committee will meet to address the following in relation to the final phases of Washington Square Park’s redesign:

* Review of the current status of Phase II construction including presentation of various final details of the park plan.

* Review of current status of plans for (Phase III) the Washington Square Park maintenance building and rest rooms.

The meeting will begin at 7:15 p.m. Various NYC Parks Department representatives will be present.

Earlier that evening, at 6:30 p.m., CB2’s Parks Committee will be addressing a proposal by NYU to remove 6 trees on Thompson Street in connection with construction of the Interfaith Center (58 Washington Square South) and installation of heating pipes under the sidewalk.

Location: NYU Silver Building, 32 Waverly Place, Room 714

Two Events: One about the Park, One at the Park Wed. July 8th – (1) Community Board 2 Meets to Discuss Washington Sq Park Redesign: Phase III; (2) “Park-Lit” Readings: “LOST AND FOUND: Stories from New York”

Wednesday, July 8th:

* Community Bd 2 Parks Committee on WSP Phase III, 6:30 p.m. @ NYU Silver Building, 32 Waverly Pl. Room 206 (I.D Required) Meeting includes:  Presentation and discussion of plans for NYU Mercer St. Open Space – and Presentation and discussion of proposed plan for Washington Square Comfort Station & Maintenance Building (Note: Phase III of Redesign).

* Park-Lit 2009, 6:30 p.m. AT Washington Sq Park. Readings from the new Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood anthology, “LOST AND FOUND: Stories from New York” with Jonathan Ames, Thomas Beller, Rachel Cline, Thomas R. Ziegler. Macdougal Street and Washington Square West, near the Alexander Holley statue.

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.

Part II: What Needs to be Done to Have a Functioning Washington Sq Park Task Force? #1: Separate from Community Bd 2

Washington Sq Park Fence Being Installed

Washington Sq Park Fence Being Installed

I’ve been grappling with how to tackle addressing the Washington Square Park Task Force following Part I last week in which I listed its purported “goals” and the NY elected officials who have actual representatives on it. I listened to audio tape of a meeting from July 2007. I attended the July 2008 meeting. I’ve spoken to members of the Task Force. The Task Force has a lot of good people on it who from the beginning wanted to have an impact but as Fusun Ateser, a member of the Task Force, told me recently, “we were not allowed to do anything.”‘

Task Force Linkage to Community Board 2

Part of the problem I believe is the close linkage of the WSP Task Force to Community Board 2. Presently, Brad Hoylman, Community Board 2 Chair is the co-chair of the Task Force with CB2 Parks Committee Chair Tobi Bergman. There are many capable people on the WSP Task Force – it does not need to be led by the Community Board.

Community Board 2 has already made its own share of mistakes around Washington Square Park — notably, approving the Parks Department’s redesign plan twice with insufficient data and despite widespread community disapproval. They ultimately rescinded their approvalalbeit on the third try.

There needs to be an independent body monitoring what’s happening at this Park and – barring some other organization appearing – that ought to be the Washington Square Park Task Force but not in its present incarnation.

At meetings, Mr. Hoylman and Mr. Bergman are adamant that the Task Force was only created to uphold the Gerson-Quinn “letter.” While others on the Task Force seem ready to go further, they are continually reined in by (Community Board 2 co-chairs) Hoylman and Bergman. In July ’07, when people tried to make resolutions, Mr. Hoylman stated that he “wanted to be sure it doesn’t resemble a Community Board resolution.” Therefore, resolutions were not allowed.

What would a Functioning Body look like?

I’ve seen how groups can function well – and also not function well. I believe the Task Force needs to be taken out of the hands of Community Board 2. We need people to continue fighting for this park. The people who comprise the WSP Task Force feel they have no power. This is a historic park. It is a landmark in New York City. It is a dynamic public space. It deserves to have people fighting for it – who will fight for it.

Problems with Washington Square Park Re-Design not caught by WSP Task Force

Example: The lamps in the park. I asked Ms. Atessur if the Task Force was ever shown two different lamps (which was supposed to be done – the Task Force has oversight on design “details”) and asked for their approval on them. She replied no. When I asked Brad Hoylman if they approved the choice of the lamps, he told me he thought so but never got back to me with a confirmation. The lamps being installed presently do not fit the character of the park. If they were not approved by the Washington Square Park Task Force, then what is the Task Force doing? This is part of their charge. Clearly, either the two co-chairs have too much on their plate or cannot give this proper attention. Control of the WSP Task Force needs to be removed from their hands.

Example: The fence. The fence (coming in is 4 feet high, as opposed to the more welcoming 3 feet that exists currently) is not supposed to have decorative spears or points on top (this is actually stated in the Gerson-Quinn Agreement). And yet – it does. (See photo above.) Is anyone looking after this? Isn’t this important?

There needs to be a point person from the Washington Square Park Task Force walking through that park regularly and monitoring each aspect. There needs to be a point person talking to the Parks Department. Now, unfortunately, if Council Member Alan Gerson is the designated elected official you go to if you are not getting answers from the Parks Department, then you may be in trouble because he will not rock the boat. But at least get the boat in the water!

Note: I am going to send this information to every elected official listed as involved with the Washington Square Park Task Force.

Washington Sq Park Fence Now

Washington Sq Park Fence Now

Top photo (fence being installed): Cathryn/WSP Blog
Bottom photo (girl with guitar sitting on fence): Louis Seigal

Part I on The Washington Square Park Task Force – What is it and what are its stated “goals?”

The Washington Square Park Task Force was put into play by NY City Council Member Alan Gerson and NY City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (both of whom, if you weren’t aware, voted to extend their own terms in the whole term limits fiasco).

The WSP Task Force is supposed to be the body that follows up on the tepid Gerson-Quinn Agreement and the “stipulations” put forth in that letter dated October 6, 2005 from Gerson-Quinn to NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe.

The WSPTF is run presently under the aegis of Community Board 2 but it is also comprised of members of the public, the Community Board, and representatives of elected officials.

The elected officials represented on the Task Force are: Congressman Jerold Nadler, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Council Member Rosie Mendez, Council Member Alan Gerson, State Senator Tom Duane, and Assembly Member Deborah Glick.

Co-chaired by Community Board 2 Chair Brad Hoylman and CB2 Parks Committee Chair Tobi Bergman, the Washington Square Park Task Force meets infrequently and it is unclear how and when certain decisions are made. Yet it is the only body that has been given some jurisdiction (in theory) over the Parks Department and the outcome of the redesigned Washington Square Park.

Therefore, the hope would be that it would have some teeth and it would be in there fighting for this dynamic and historic public space. But is it?

Goals of the Washington Square Park Task Force:

I have an undated document which stipulates the goals as such:

1. Make sure all points of Quinn-Gerson agreement are adhered to.

2. All bid documents, all changes of plans, and all design details should be run by task force.

3. Enable the community to have input on design details.

4. Maintain the sense of informality of the park which is so central to its charm and character.

5. Maintain Washington Square Park as a well maintained, diverse, plural park where all sorts of people feel welcome.

6. Maintain as much green space as open to the public as possible while keeping it alive.

7. Maintain as many of the trees as possible.

8. Create conditions which allow funding of bathroom renovation.

9. Step up maintenance pending the resolution of the legal issues.

10. Oppose the establish of a conservancy without a good deal of public vetting.

So how has the WSP Task Force done thus far on these stated “goals” and what are the inherent problems with it?

Part II will explore this next.