Street Artists Protest Gerson-sponsored Vending Bills Friday, November 14th at City Hall

The “Gerson-Quinn Agreement” that NY City Council Member Alan Gerson (Washington Square Park is in his district) and Speaker Christine Quinn (Quinn covers the neighboring Village district) brokered was weak and gained little for the community they both represent.

At City Hall, a few weeks ago during the term limits hearings, Alan Gerson would never state his position on the matter. Yet, it came as no surprise to anyone that the day of the crucial vote he fell in line with Mayor Bloomberg, Speaker Quinn, and voted for the legislation which would extend his own term.

So now Alan Gerson is on the attack of New York City’s street artists.

Info from Robert Lederman, President of A.R.T.I.S.T.:

400 Street Artists Will Protest at City Council Hearing on Vending

Press Conference and Protest: Friday, November 14, 9 AM City Hall (East Gate)

On Friday, November 14th, the NY City Council Committee on Consumer Affairs will hold a hearing on 8 of 21 pending laws concerning vending and street artists pushed for by City Council Member Alan Gerson.

If passed, these laws will make it virtually impossible for anyone to legally sell art on the street. More than 400 street artists will protest outside at 9 AM and then testify inside at the hearing at 10 AM.

Other City Council members to contact to register your opposition to these bills:

* Lacey Clarke, Legislative Counsel Committee on Consumer Affairs New York City Council Phone #: 212.788.7006

* Leroy Comrie, Consumer Affairs Committee Chairman
District Office Phone 718-776-3700
Legislative Office Phone 212-788-7084

Contact: Robert Lederman, President of A.R.T.I.S.T.: artistpres -at- gmail.com

You can get detailed info on all of the newly proposed vending laws at the ARTIST website.

Note: It was impossible to find a good photo of Alan Gerson on Flickr so I resorted to this one. No disrespect meant to Council Member Gerson.

What is the Gerson-Quinn Agreement?

*“The Gerson-Quinn Agreement” is a somewhat dubious document, drafted by Council Member Alan Gerson and Speaker Christine Quinn, dated October 6, 2005, and sent to Parks Commissioner Benepe.

In the document, the Council Members put forth a framework for “resolving the outstanding major issues pertaining to the renovation of Washington Square Park.”

The only problem is that the outstanding major issues were(are): the reconfiguration of the entire park, the reduction in public space, the aligning and moving of the fountain, the moving of the dog runs, the cutting down of the park’s trees, removing the “sunken plaza” around the fountain, the lack of input from community members, a 4 foot fence around the park, among others. These issues are not addressed in the Gerson-Quinn Agreement in any substantive fashion. Nonetheless, it contains guidelines within it that they ask the Parks Department to adhere to. (I’ll cover some of these in the coming days.)

Basically, the Gerson-Quinn Agreement followed the principle of ‘ask what you think you can get, vs. what you want.’ (Many would argue they just stayed cozily in line with what Mayor Bloomberg and Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe wanted.)

A Tale of Two Fences and No One Minding the Store at Washington Sq Park

What is wrong with this Picture? The fence on the bottom right is the 4 foot high fence that the New York City Parks Department has begun installing in the NorthWest Quadrant of Washington Square Park (currently being redesigned) with, I would say, decorative spears on top – in direct defiance of the “Gerson-Quinn Agreement.” And much too high overall.

Washington Sq Park Fence Now

Washington Sq Park Fence Now

Washington Sq Park Fence The City hopes to Install

Washington Sq Park Fence The City hopes to Install

This, as you see, changes the welcoming intimate nature of this Park as demonstrated in the photo on the left which depicts Washington Square Park‘s current 3 foot high fence which has worked beautifully for many years.

The existing height is one which everyone likes – except for designer George Vellonakis and Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe because it doesn’t work with their vision of pacifying this magnificent public space into a pass-through garden.

Unfortunately, thus far, I have found no one really minding the store (Community Board 2? Washington Square Park Task Force? NY City Council Member Alan Gerson? Community Groups? Is anyone out there?) to make sure the Parks Department is in compliance with the tepid “Gerson-Quinn Agreement” brokered by City Council Member Alan Gerson and Speaker Christine Quinn. (Yes, it’s tepid in what it ‘won’ on behalf of the Community for the Park’s redesign but at least it’s something. However, apparently the City can’t even adhere to that).

Have you seen the lamps they’ve begun installing? Tragic.

Photo at top: Louis Seigal

Photo bottom: Cathryn / WSP Blog

NY City Council Speaker Christine Quinn Falls in Line, Yet Again, with CEO Mayor Bloomberg

Christine Quinn Faces the Media

Christine Quinn Faces the Media

Christine Quinn, yet again, shows her true colors.

On Sunday, as anticipated, NY City Council Speaker Quinn announced her support for Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan to install himself – and by default, the rest of the two term City Council Members – in office for a third term overturning voted-in term limits.

Of course, anyone who’s followed Washington Square Park for the last four years was given a preview of how Council Member Quinn would do exactly Mayor Bloomberg’s bidding. Christine Quinn overrode the legitimate concerns of her constituents and New Yorkers who overwhelmingly contacted her office asking her to step in and help preserve the character and integrity of this beloved Park and public space — which Mayor Bloomberg was so set on bulldozing.  To no avail.

The New York Times often references that, under Christine Quinn’s leadership, this NY City Council rarely goes against the Mayor’s wishes.

And in the article “Speaker Pledges Support, but Mayor Needs More” in today’s Times:

The [Mayor’s overturning term limits] campaign, which has drawn sharp rebukes from a collection of grass-roots groups, has reinforced Mr. Bloomberg’s image as a sometimes imperious leader who may be in sync with a world of business executives but less attuned to the attitudes of ordinary New Yorkers.

Mr. Bloomberg, in organizing his campaign to extend his time in office, relied heavily on the counsel of wealthy business leaders and struck a deal with another billionaire, Ronald S. Lauder, whom he viewed as the major obstacle to his plan. And in a sign of just how confident he was, he flew to Europe last week, primarily for a series of events highlighting his international reputation as a titan of commerce.

But while he was away, an intensifying chorus of opponents began to mobilize at home, setting up Web sites, drafting opposing legislation and organizing protests against the plan as an end-run around the will of city voters by the city’s elite.

“People just don’t like the idea that one billionaire, or two billionaires, can treat democracy like a product that can be bought and sold,” said Dan Cantor, the president of the Working Families Party, which has started a campaign against rewriting the law.

Quinn’s actions are perhaps more troubling than Mayor Bloomberg’s. He is, after all, someone who came to his office by way of being a CEO of a corporation. A place in which his workers had to do as he said no matter what. He is a multi-billionaire who spent $160 million to get elected and stay elected in two campaigns. The way he relates to people and our city is remarkably different than the rest of New York. He is all too familiar with convincing publications like the New York Times and fellow billionaires like Ronald Lauder why it makes sense for them to fall in line. This is a great thing I suppose for a CEO … not so great for a Mayor in a democracy. However, in Christine Quinn’s situation, she rose up through the ranks and she knows how this all should work. She has become embedded in Mayor Bloomberg’s system to help her political career – at the expense of New York and New Yorkers.

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.

The Blanding of New York City: Why It’s Time for Mayor Mike to Go

Mayor Bloomberg "Dead End"

Mayor Bloomberg at a "Dead End"

As we watch Mayor Michael Bloomberg unfold his intricately orchestrated master plan to maintain his reign of power, there are more than a few reasons why New York will be quite finethank you very muchwithout our billionaire Mayor. You know, the one who seems to think we can’t manage without him, utilizing fear to push his agenda.

Our CEO Mayor has the media locked up and the existing City Council leadership (under Speaker Christine Quinn) willing to bow to his wish to overturn voted-in two term limits — with the, um, added benefit that they get to retain their positions also. (Who can take their actions seriously unless they take a principled stand?)

Mayor Mike got rid of the one guy who could match him in ad spending (see Ronald Lauder, former ambassador to Austria – who knew? – and Estee Lauder cosmetic empire heir) instructing him not to cause a fuss or he’d be ousted from their exclusive social and business circles — despite term limits being this billionaire’s issue for at least 15 years.

The City’s other billionaires, CEOs and corporate executives are advocating right and left for their friend Bloomie to linger at City Hall, no matter what it takes. Who cares if it’s a power grab, illegal and anti-democratic? Bloomberg figures he can listen to the people whine for a little while, ride that wave, and then buy them off with another $100 million worth of advertising.

Memo to Mayor Mike: I think you may at last have overreached.

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

Why I think our city will more than thrive without Mayor Bloomberg…

The International Herald Tribune reported in June that NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg “has rezoned vast swaths of the city to accommodate bigger, more densely populated buildings, encouraging the construction of millions of square feet of office space, hotel rooms and housing. Over all, the number of construction permits for new buildings or major renovations issued by the Department of Buildings has soared 23.3 percent over the past five years.”

The result of all this is a construction boom. The developers also get tax breaks making it oh so easy for them to put up large signs on virtually every block on their glossy glass buildings with the same two words: “luxury housing.” Existing tenants in smaller, quaint buildings get displaced, the buildings are torn down, diversity and any resemblance to the ‘past’ is bulldozed over. Neighborhood after neighborhood starts to look the same. (One other repercussion? Oh right. Monstrous cranes have toppled over. People die and are injured. With all this building, you want oversight?)

As these changes go on around them, long-time landlords with long-time small business tenants start to raise rents, doubling, tripling the figures and those tenants are soon gone and replaced.

As if they’re expendable. As if they never existed. The fabric of one too many neighborhoods is frayed, coming apart at the seams.

Yet, this is the climate Mayor Bloomberg’s New York promotes and encourages.

Juan Gonzalez wrote “Lower East Side rezone plan another Mike Bloomberg boondoggle” in the July 17th New York Daily News:

“Theirs [Chinatown/Lower East Side residents] is a story that has become all-too familiar during the Bloomberg era: another stable neighborhood turned upside down by a massive rezoning. The sheer number of these rezonings – from Columbia University to Hudson Yards to Greenpoint-Williamsburg (Brooklyn) to Willets Point – boggles the mind. City officials routinely claim it’s for the good of the neighborhoods, but in the end a handful of well-connected developers and Big Box stores end up the big winners.”

The fact is – it’s no coincidence that the city is vanishing at such a quick pace. While there’s no real funding for schools or libraries or park maintenance in our neighborhoods, there is always money for Wall Street and developers and corporate executives. Since the media rarely reports on this and, if they do, avoids linking this to Mayor Bloomberg and his policies, the public remains largely unaware.

The blanding of our city continues on, in neighborhood after neighborhood, public space after public space, to create the bland yet affluent City that Mayor Bloomberg, a billionaire, envisions. It’s a less interesting one but the billionaires and their friends are happy. That’s what matters, right?

No. It’s time for the city to catch its breath. To attempt to make up for this blatant, expanded, accelerated loss of its character over seven years.

As we’ve seen, what works for Wall Street and Corporate America doesn’t really work for the rest of us. They want to maintain a certain lifestyle and will do whatever it takes to do so. Michael Bloomberg’s decision to stay on as Mayor of New York City in defiance of democracy has nothing to do with New York City and everything to do with Michael Bloomberg and his ego.

It is time for Mayor Mike to go.

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Photo: RS Eanes

(Part of this post appeared on July 17th, 2008. This is a different and expanded version.)

Contact Your NY City Council Person and Speaker Christine Quinn

Two important routes to go – Contact Christine Quinn who is the Speaker (head) of the NY City Council and also your local City Council person who, presumably, will have to vote on this matter of extending term limits without voter ratification.

(1) Speaker Christine Quinn – The Mayor knows (beyond a doubt) that he can count on her support. However, she needs to hear from you to know that overturning voted-in term limits is not okay.

With Washington Square Park, Christine Quinn did not come through for the majority of her constituents who wanted the park renovated while retaining the Park’s character. Instead, once again, she caved in to Mayor Bloomberg’s wish to radically overhaul and pacify this renowned public space.

However, the term limits issue is a MAJOR issue that she can not take a major hit from, whether Mayor Bloomberg, her billionaire friend, wants it or not. She is putting herself on the line here for him by working to overturn the voter’s wishes. Christine Quinn must recognize that there ARE limits and it’s time for her to show some principle.

Contact Christine Quinn here.

(2) Contact Your Local City Council Person on the term limit issue here. There are 51 community districts in New York City and each has a City Council person who is elected. Your City Council person needs to hear from you.

If you are not up to speed on the issue, scroll down and read some of the posts below.

WSP Blog Presents apparent Conundrum to the NYC Parks Dept with the Question: What is Amount of Public Space around the Washington Square Park Fountain?


In attempting to clarify a simple point of information from the NYC Parks Department Press Office last month, I first received a gracious response — followed by a drop-off in communication.

Did I per chance hit upon something that the Parks Department does not want to admit or state publicly?

It’s basic information contained within Phase I of the redesign work. The same work they state will be completed in November.

My curiously difficult-to-answer question to the NYC Parks Department? … : What will the size of the Plaza area (the public space) surrounding the Washington Square Park Fountain be?

(As regular readers know, due to the Park’s redesign, the famous fountain is now moved 23 feet east of its original location in the center of the Park to “align” with the Washington Square Arch.)

Jane Jacobs and the Fountain’s Importance As a Public Space

Whether the fountain really needed to be moved, that’s a question most people answer NO to. However, perhaps a bigger point of concern is the amount of public space around the Fountain — the Plaza. As Jane Jacobs wrote about the Washington Square Park Fountain in 1971 in her renowned book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities: “In effect, this [fountain] is a circular arena, a theater in the round, and that is how it is used, with complete confusion as to who are spectators and who are the show.”

WSP Blog and Parks Department Press Office Communication

I wrote to Jama Adams, the head of the Parks Department press department at the suggestion of Amy Freitag, #2 to NYC Parks Commissioner Benepe, in early August. Adams assigned Press Officer Cristina DeLuca to assist me.

I wrote the following on August 5th:

Hi Cristina,

Thank you for getting in contact.

I want to know from the Parks Department what the square footage of – what is usually termed – the “interior plaza area” or “inner circle” around the Fountain at Washington Square Park will be with the renovation of the Park.

The figure that I have is that the new interior plaza (which goes from outermost edge of fountain wall to innermost edge of any seating) will be 20,662 square feet.

In addition, the Entire Plaza Area around Fountain (which includes and goes beyond this area) will be 39,419 square feet.

Can you verify this?

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Cathryn.

On August 7th, this interchange occurred:

Hi Cathryn,

Hope to have this confirmed for you soon. Waiting on borough staff to give me the info. Just resubmitted request as a reminder.
Best,
Cristina

Sent: Thursday, August 07, 2008 4:41 PM
To: DeLuca, Cristina
Subject: Re: Washington Square Park

Hi Cristina,

When do you think you might have the information I requested ? It should be within Parks Department documentation for Phase I work of Washington Square Park.

Thanks for your help.

Sincerely,
Cathryn.

Then … what happened?

Nothing. Since then, I’ve sent numerous emails, I’ve called and left messages. No response.

Is the New York City Parks Department is hiding something?

Could it be that this plaza area is going to be less than what was stated and stipulated ? *

Background on the Public Space issue around the Fountain

*The Gerson-Quinn Agreement (drafted October 2005), a mild (but weak) document, written to Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe by NY City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Council Member Alan Gerson, states its goal as: “a framework for resolving the outstanding major issues pertaining to the renovation of Washington Square Park.” The G-Q Agreement did not in fact even attempt to resolve the major outstanding issues (NOTE: This has made close followers of the redesign question Gerson and Quinn’s intention) but it did stipulate a few things that should nonetheless be adhered to.

One such stipulation: That the Fountain Plaza be no less than 90% of the current area.

In August 2007, The Washington Square Park Task Force issued a Report. It addressed the Plaza area and stated that: it “did not have enough information from the Parks Department to draw a clear conclusion on the size of the inner circle of the fountain plaza in the Plan. Rough calculations made by Task Force members of the total square footage of the inner circle ranged from 88% to 77% of the current area.”

When I questioned WSP Task Force co-chair Brad Hoylman last month if this question was ever answered, he directed me to lawsuit documents* from which I obtained the figures above that I queried the Parks Department about.

(*If you hadn’t heard, there were numerous lawsuits around Washington Square Park trying to stop the project from going forward and calling the Parks Department on its lack of transparency and accountability. They ultimately failed to stop the project from going forward.)

What is the Parks Department hiding?

It appears that the NYC Parks Department does not want to answer this basic – but important question – which impacts our public space. The Press Office is caught in the middle.

Perhaps the bigger question is…

Who is minding the store?



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Hint: Is it Community Board 2? The Washington Square Park Task Force? Community Groups? Alan Gerson? Christine Quinn? None of the above?

Part III: Update on NYC’s Redesign Of Washington Square Park – The Bathrooms

See Parts I and II if you’re catching up.

…Continued…

4. THE BATHROOMS

There are a few items identified as imperative to the community in relation to freshening up Washington Square Park‘s current state and fast-tracking its maintenance, mainly: (1) the bathrooms’ renovation and (2) repairing the walkways. (It’s been so long since any basic maintenance that the paths are cracked and uneven in many places.) I’ll come back to the walkways another entry.

At the presentation at the July 17th Washington Square Park Task Force meeting, WSP Park Administrator and Parks Department employee Rebecca Ferguson tried to put a positive spin on when the bathrooms (in Parks Department lingo : comfort stations) would be up to speed. That part of the project, she explained, is in “Phase 2b.” Which means Phase III. (The work is presently in Phase I.)

The reality is that it is the very last thing being done.

In the end, the new building will be “green” as in LEED-certified with possibly a “green roof.” There will be a men’s room, a women’s room, a family unisex bathroom, and a staff bathroom!

Causes for concern:

The current bathrooms are grungy and have been for years. They are in need of repair. They are not accessible to the disabled. The men’s room stalls have no doors. Instead of fixing these problems over the last four to five years while talking about and then implementing the redesign , the Parks Department places this issue at the very last spot on their redesign agenda.

The Washington Square Park Task Force in August ’07 came out and said that the Parks Department and City Council should pony up the funds NOW and not later.

Nothing changed.

What did district New York City Council Members Gerson and Quinn say?

In the Gerson-Quinn Agreement, the 2005 document with the stated mission of “resolving the outstanding major issues [between the community and the Parks Department] pertaining to the renovation of Washington Square Park,” Gerson-Quinn weighed in on the bathrooms, an item designated as important to the community. (It was already known at that point that the City intended to place the bathroom renovation at the end of their agenda – despite widespread disapproval.)

Gerson-Quinn write:

Public Restrooms: “The [Parks] Department shall make this a priority item to be undertaken as soon as finances permit.”

So. Apparently, there are finances to: dig up the fountain and shift it 23 feet east, transfer virtually every piece of the Park into new positions, move the two dog run locations, change the construction of the pathways, remove trees unnecessarily, and reduce and reconfigure the public spaces. And yet, the most City Council Members Gerson and Quinn could argue for, in support of their community’s needs from the New York City Parks Department on the subject of the public restrooms at Washington Square Park, is “as soon as finances permit.”

Okay.

Stay tuned… there’s more!

(Next installment: Wednesday, August 6th) Here’s Part IV.

Part II: Update on NYC Parks Department Redesign of Washington Sq Park – Performance Space

washington sq park under construction

washington sq park under construction

Following up on yesterday’s up-to-the-minute-facts on New York City redesign of Washington Square Park which included the Status of Phase I and work on the Fountain thus far.

Here is Part II:

The Washington Square Park Task Force Meeting also included discussion of work in the next two Phases of the redesign of this historic Park:

3. PERFORMANCE SPACE :

Taking the place of the “Teen Playground,” as well known for its teen activities as its stage platform — host to many historic performances and activities, including 50 years of the Washington Square Music Festival — will be a new “Elevated Concert Space” (minus the Teen Playground). This is in the southern area of the Park (to the east of the Fountain). The stage will be the same size of 600 square feet. It will be 21-22″ tall with stairs on one side; a ramp on the other leading to the landscaped grass.

Cause for concern:

HEIGHT OF STAGE REDUCED ALMOST IN HALF; NO RAILING

The current height of the stage is 36″ which is a standard for most classical music stages. This height works for the Washington Sq Music Festival and other performances. At 22″, the performers are barely separated from the audience.

When the Park was last redesigned in 1969-1970, 46 groups were consulted on the stage and asked about their needs for performances including NYU, church and political groups. Consensus was reached on the design.

Not so, this time. It’s George Vellonakis all the time.

What the Community wants, needs, or even what makes logical sense does not seem to factor much into the redesigner’s plan.

There is also no RAILING on the current design. The representative at the meeting from the Washington Sq Music Festival pointed out that a railing around the stage is “theatrically necessary,” and very important for safety so that the conductor “doesn’t fall off.”

Sounds fairly significant, eh?

… Stay tuned… there’s more!

Read Part I here.

Moving forward? Here’s Part III.