WSP Phase II Construction Still At least 2 Weeks Away from Opening Yet Fences Come Down Along Washington Square North. More to this than meets the eye?

Then...

After more than 19 months guarding construction along the Eastern end of Washington Square Park, the fences are down along Washington Square North!

Don’t get too excited — it ends there for now. Phase II’s Eastern end construction is still at least two weeks away from its public unveiling. The decision to begin taking the fences down along Washington Square North was apparently a rush to judgment.

Or was it?

Now... No Fences along Wash Square North

View on Washington Square North

It’s evident that the re-designer of Washington Square has a strong desire to please those living and working along tony Washington Square North. This segment of the block has a heavy NYU presence (many of the university deans inhabit these buildings) and is also the location of the Washington Square Association, an organization which supported designer’s George Vellonakis’s plans for the park, while many did not.

So, it’s impossible not to link the fervor to please the inhabitants of this block and the fence being removed in that location, and only that location, first. Now, those folks have a picture perfect, unfettered view into the park  – after 19 months of construction – before everyone else, except where their view becomes a hilly tree-topped terrain at the far eastern end.

The Hills Are Alive...(fence since removed)

Have you noticed this yet? These newly placed hills and evergreen trees (photo at left — taken before fence was removed) are all new to the park. No one was aware that this re-visioning of the park’s landscape was in store.

(This might have something to do with the fact that efforts to learn exact details of Phase II’s plans were continually stymied by the Parks Department and Community Board 2.)

Previously, you could walk along the perimeter here and look into the park and see what was happening in that Northeast corner. Now, you can’t. A community activist told me that this is to allow the NYU Deans and so forth to “look out on the rolling hills in WSP” and think they are in “Princeton.” It also makes that area of the park dangerous as it creates a true blind spot when you are inside that corner.

It’s hard not to surmise – Is money involved here? Is this an expression of extreme gratitude for support of the controversial redesign plan (strings pulled perhaps?) that these people are being so looked out for and prioritized above all others?

Washington Square Park’s Phase II Construction began in the Fall of 2009. The scheduled completion date was Fall 2010. It is nice to be able to finally look in unimpeded (albeit one section) and know that the remainder of Phase II, after many delays, is at last almost complete (except, of course, for the pieces that were moved into Phase III) for everyone to utilize.

Note: Park’s Phase II Eastern end opened June 2nd and it remained this way for one month.

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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.

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.

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

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.

“Washington Sq Park: Designs Over Time” Wednesday, May 27th, 6 p.m. at Center for Architecture With Presentation by NYC Parks Department

This Wednesday night May 27th! “Washington Square Park: Designs Over Time” Presented by The American Institute of Architects(AIA) – NY with presentations by NYC Parks Department designer George Vellonakis and Washington Square Park Administrator Rebecca Ferguson.

From the announcement:

In recognition of the re-opening of Washington Square Park’s central plaza, the New York Chapter of the ALSA (American Society of Landscape Architects) and the AIA (American Institute of Architects) New York Chapter welcome designers, enthusiasts and community members to:

Washington Square Park: Designs over Time

Presentation and dialogue with:

* Adrian Smith, Landscape Architect, EDAW

* George Vellonakis, Landscape Designer, City of New York Department of Parks & Recreation

* Rebecca Ferguson, Administrator, Washington Square Park, City of New York Department of Parks & Recreation

* Nancy Owens, Landscape Architect, Nancy Owens Studio

Adrian Smith, ASLA (American Society of Landscape Architects), will present an historical overview of the park’s past iterations as a marshland, potters’ field and military parade ground, and review prior design proposals and implemented plans since Washington Square first became a recreational space. Park Designer George Vellonakis will discuss the freshly completed phase and the next steps of the current renovation. (more…)

Private Tour of Fenced-Off Washington Square Park Led by Re-Designer George Vellonakis

My Encounter With George Vellonakis

I encountered George Vellonakis, the architect (albeit unlicensed) behind the unnecessary and controversial, extensive redesign of Washington Square Park, a few Sundays ago at the Park. I first saw Mr. Vellonakis outside the fenced-off Arch talking to a group of about 8 people who I assumed were his friends. However, once I made my way to the southern side of the Park, there he was inside the currently-under-construction NorthWest Quadrant clearly giving a private tour. I could not hear every word but for a few comments … about the Minetta stream which runs under Washington Square Park (which I learned about in preparation for my own walking tours) and the trees that had lined the fountain (those 40 year old trees are no longer, chopped down under his plan) and so forth.

George Vellonakis: Tour Guide?

As he stood there with the newly aligned fountain behind him (under construction but moved 23 feet east to be in ‘line’ with the Arch at Fifth Avenue – allegedly his idea) and this group around him, he seemed quite pleased with himself. I thought… this would be a great picture. As I attempted to take that picture of him amidst his crew, he started hiding behind them. I didn’t realize this was on purpose at first – I thought he was just moving into different locations. Mr. Vellonakis and I have never met. Once I realized what was transpiring, I was bemused to say the least. I looked at him quizzically and he smiled, sweetly, and said “No Pictures Please.” I was a bit taken aback. (Huh?) I asked him, “Are you camera shy?” The people on the tour looked at me quizzically and could not figure out what was going on.

So… why do you think George Vellonakis did not want his picture taken ? Why is he giving private tours of the under-construction part of this public space which is off-limits to everyone else? And… Who do you think the people were he was giving a private tour to?