Washington Square Park Maintenance Issues Remain Unaddressed, City Opts To Place Ineffective and Hawk-Killing Rodenticide in Park (See Update: Rodenticide Removed!)

Updated!

Overflow trash in open top containers

8:24 p.m. — Good news! Roger Paw blogger wrote in to say that the bait boxes have been removed! See more info from that blog here. Now, if the park maintenance issues can be addressed…

Original post follows —

Washington Square Park has been rodenticide-free for awhile – but no longer. Rodenticide bait traps have been placed in locations in the park. (I had a feeling this was coming.)

Throughout New York City this year, Red-tailed hawks have been poisoned by “secondary poisoning” (eating a poisoned rat). Rodenticide is not the answer. Proper maintenance of trash is the only solution —  this has been proven again and again, and yet, at Washington Square, containment of the park’s trash is a serious problem. This is a Parks Department maintenance issue and also education issue of park users. However, if trash cans are full and not emptied, that compounds the problem.

The latest from Hawk cam chat member City Woman who writes:

Many devoted hawk watchers spent the last few weeks writing and calling various City officials concerning plans we learned of to put rat poison in Washington Square Park. Unfortunately, we learned yesterday that our pleas fell on deaf ears as evidence of the lack of commitment to a poison-free sanitation plan for the park was revealed by posts from photographer/blogger Roger_Paw.

The only real control of rodents comes from proper sanitation. What is so disappointing and frustrating about the Parks Department decision is that there is so much room for improvement in this park. To even think of risking the life of the hawks, who are seen in the park almost daily and get many of their meals there, through the secondary poisoning that can occur when a non-target animal eats a poisoned rat is disgraceful. Their decision shows no real commitment to getting to the root of the problem; they are only going for the quick temporary fix.

Bobby and Rosie, Washington Square’s Red-tailed Hawks

The pictures were taken in the park this past Saturday by a member of Stop the Poison (STP), a group formed to oppose the use of poisons in our parks.

Currently, almost all trash cans in Washington Square Park have open tops. If, the trash is not removed by evening or tops are not put on the cans, there is an open invitation to rats. In addition, a walk through the park, reveals almost no signage about proper disposal of food and the reasons why it is needed.

Washington Square Park could be a perfect location to show how proper sanitary methods can decrease the rodent population, if not completely, at least substantially, without the use of poison.

Suggestions made to NYC Parks Department officials by Stop The Poison:

Solar powered waste compactors (as used in Philadelphia and other locations)
Rat-proof garbage cans
Rodent-repellent trash bags
Summonses for littering
Carry in, Carry out waste policy (bring your lunch or snack with you; take your garbage out with you)
Revision of landscaping that is conducive to rat tunnels

Please ask your readers to insist that a commitment be demonstrated to make the park a model of excellence in bringing all possible resources and expertise to bear rather than resorting to toxic poisons that make each meal a lethal game of chance for our precious wildlife.

“Discarded trash everywhere! In flower beds, under benches, under trees … accumulated for days!”

In addition, a reader, Brant, sent in this comment earlier in the week:

In Washington Square Park this morning (October 6, 2012) and found it so disgusting ! Discarded trash everywhere ! In flower beds, under benches, under trees, everywhere!!!!
The people responsible for cleaning the park are incredibly inept!
We are not talking about trash that accumulated overnight but for many days!
Not only that for a few blocks on each side of University Place, not one garbage pail! Not one!
What will be done? I will contact immediately 311, and for what it’s worth, complain to them as well as the Sanitation Department!

Washington Square East

“Rats” author (and NY resident) Robert Sullivan very clear on how ineffective rodenticide is

I’ve written before on this blog about the problem of rodenticide in our city parks — seven or eight new york city hawks have died this year alone – and would like to reiterate the following (which the Parks Department should know):

Author Robert Sullivan, who studied rats in the city and wrote about his discoveries in his book, “Rats: Observations on the History & Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants,” states that removing garbage and the rats’ food source is the key, even tho’ no one considers that was the “sexier” solution – it IS the solution.

Sullivan consulted with David E. Davis, the “founding father of modern rat studies” who determined:

“when rats are killed off, the pregnancy rates of the surviving rats double and the survivors rapidly gain weight. The rats that survive become stronger. ‘Actually, the removal merely made room for more rats,’ Davis wrote.”

When I told reader Brant that the city’s Parks Department was putting poison out, he said:

Rat poison is the easy way out !
It’s again, putting a band-aid on the problem !  One must be pro-active and they, are reactive !

So true.

This would be an opportunity for new Parks Commissioner Veronica White to take a position her predecessor, Adrian Benepe, would not. Instead of focusing on privatizing public parks, how about creating better models of our existing ones?

 __________________________________________________________________________________

What you can DO; Suggestions from City Woman and Stop the Poison:

Following are some of the NYC Parks Department officials people can write or call:

Veronica M. White, NYC Parks Commissioner, Veronica.White@parks.nyc.gov
First Deputy Commissioner Liam Kavanagh, liam.kavanagh@parks.nyc.gov phone #212-360-1307
William T. Castro, NYC Dep’t of Parks, Manhattan Borough Commissioner: william.castro@parks.nyc.gov; #212-408-0201
Namshik Yoon, Chief of Operations, Namshik.Yoon@parks.nyc.gov; #212-408-0212
Ralph Musolino, Park Manager, Manhattan District 1 & 2; Ralph.Musolino@parks.nyc.gov; #212-797-3142

And here are some things individuals can do to help:
IF YOU WANT TO SAVE OUR HAWKS: Do Not Use Mouse and Rat Poisons, Pellets or Blocks on Your Property
1.) Tell your building management to use covered, latching trash containers and traps instead of poison.
2.) Educate your local institutions and merchants to do the same.
3.) Ask government officials to support a ban on the sale of anticoagulant rodenticides (five California cities have done so).
4.) CONTACT STOPTHEPOISON@AOL.COM to find out what else you can do.

Photos 1 & 3: Stop The Poison

Middle Photo: Bobby & Rosie in Washington Square Park, Saturday, Sept. 29, 2012. Credit: Roger_Paw Blog

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“Chunk” of the Washington Square Arch Falls To Ground Overnight Sunday


NY1 reports that a “chunk” of the Washington Square Arch fell off to the ground overnight between Sunday and Monday. It happened when the Park was closed and no one was injured. The piece of the monument which “crashed to the sidewalk” was 6 inches by 10 inches according to the Parks Department.

From NY1:

Crews are working to inspect and repair the arch in Washington Square Park after a piece of it broke off and fell to the ground. …

No one was hurt.

The area has been cordoned off until crews can make repairs.

The structure underwent a $3 million restoration in 2006.

I reached out to the Parks Department for further information such as — who will be hired to figure out if something is wrong structurally, what the repair process is, etc. I will update accordingly. It’s a bit scary to say the least since there could easily have been someone there – there would have been – if it had happened at any time the park was open.

A writer from Scotland asks: What’s up with the WSP “portaloos”?

“Portaloos” in front of closed off old restroom building

Received this letter in the InBox yesterday:

Hi!,

I’ m  just back to scotland from a week in new york spending most of my time in greenwich village and therefore a lot of time in washington square park.

I just wanted to comment on how disgusting the portaloos are that are there temporarily while a new comfort station is built.

While portaloos might be a good idea,they should surely be kept cleaner. I used one once but would not go near them again. At least being a guy i didn’t have to sit down while using it.

I am a regular visitor to the city. God knows what first time tourists make of them.

I just wondered what you thought.

John A Learmonth.

I told Mr. Learmonth that I hadn’t used the bathrooms pre-redesign at WSP* (they really were in horrendous condition) and I don’t quite see myself venturing into the “portaloos,” especially now reading this account of how “disgusting” they are and apparently in need of more maintenance (something I’m certain is not fun to do).

Oh, and how about “portaloos?” Is that the perfect word? Apparently what they call them in Scotland. Our U.S. version “Port-o-potties” so pales in comparison.

It was a fight to get the portaloos there; there were no plans for them initially and then the Parks Department agreed to it and three very functional looking units arrived (CallAhead, they beckon). Reading an article recently about the glamourous perhaps overdone new $2 million rest rooms at Elmhurst Park, it was stated that they had “portable toilets” while the “edgy design” was being constructed. It didn’t sound like it had been an issue.

Anyway, has anyone else used them? Comments?

If you’re wondering what the new bathrooms at WSP will look like when Phase III construction is completed, the architectural plans call for an ivy-covered, trellis-topped “pergola.”

*Oh, and a tip of my top choices of nearby restrooms: Think Coffee, Lifethyme Natural Market, and even sometimes Starbucks Sixth Avenue.

The Fountain, (Side) Plume-Less Again

Fountain, No Plumes

Side Jet Uncovered

For a brief period beginning in late August, the fountain regained its side plumes but, alas, as of sometime last week, the fountain is plume-less again. In case you’re wondering, it seems one source of the trouble is this ‘jet,’ above, on the Northern end of the fountain which is uncovered at the moment. All the other jets, which are the source of the fountain’s side plumes, have brass coverings.

A reminder of the fountain in its glory (for a brief period, late summer, after no plumes for more than a year) – from a week and a half ago:

What a Difference a Plume (Or Two) Makes!

Top Two Photos: Cathryn
Bottom Photo: Scott Steinbaugh

Seven or Eight New York City Red-Tailed Hawks Dead Thus Far in 2012 from Secondary Rodenticide Poisoning; Is Rodenticide Returning to Washington Square Park?

Detex Block Monitors Rodent Activity

In late July, the number of New York City Red-Tailed Hawks dead of secondary rodenticide poisoning numbered six or seven and was receiving red flags of alarm in some quarters. Then, two of Pale Male’s latest children both got sick, were subsequently rescued, and are believed to be on the road to recovery.* In late August, Zena, Pale Male’s most recent mate, disappeared and is believed to be dead. Ginger Lima, his previous mate, died early this year of secondary rodenticide poisoning. A new female hawk has moved in according to the Pale Male Blog (they will not move into the territory unless the other mate is gone).

It’s getting hard to keep track but I think we are at seven or eight (maybe more) deaths – as of early September this year – of Red-tailed Hawks dead due to secondary rodenticide poisoning (eating a mouse or rat poisoned by a rodenticide).

SE corner of WSP

In May of 2011, the Parks Department agreed to remove the rodenticide at Washington Square and NYU made a big thing about how they were advocating for that (and how “sustainable” they are) although nearby University buildings were still displaying rodenticide bait stations. The hawk watchers believe that the rodenticide is coming back to Washington Square and I’d say the monitoring of the “rodents” with Detex (sign above near construction) indicates that is possible.  The hawk advocates are genuinely concerned and with good reason. They seem to want to push for a different, “kinder” (my word, not theirs) rodenticide but is that even the answer?

I will reiterate that I think it’s time to rethink poisons in our city. Author Robert Sullivan, who studied rats in the city and wrote about his discoveries in his book, “Rats: Observations on the History & Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants,” states that removing garbage and the rats’ food source is the key,  even tho’ no one considers that was the “sexier” solution – it IS the solution. He consulted with David E. Davis, the “founding father of modern rat studies” who determined that “when rats are killed off, the pregnancy rates of the surviving rats double and the survivors rapidly gain weight. The rats that survive become stronger. ‘Actually, the removal merely made room for more rats,’ Davis wrote.”

The sign at top is for Detex and is located on the southern end of the park near the Phase III construction. It is allegedly “non toxic” and tracks the “rodent activity.” This bait station (above) is currently in the southeastern section of Washington Square and I don’t know if it’s newly placed or old. An email query to the Parks Department as to its position currently on rodenticides and specifically to Washington Square Park did not receive a response.

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

* In a sad turn of events, Jeff Johnson, the person who killed a former co-worker outside the near the Empire State Building a couple of weeks ago, had provided that latest update on Pale Male’s children; he was an avid hawk watcher. The Pale Male Blog has an interesting take on the last time hawk watchers saw him at Central Park in “The Man We Called ‘SUIT.” The New York Times interviewed his mother who spoke of his love of his cat in addition to the hawks. Comments at many of the city’s papers mentioned how hard it is for people right now and how certain things push some people over the edge. The Bloomberg Administration’s coddling of developers and uber-gentrifying of neighborhoods makes it harder for people outside of the Mayor’s billionaire friends to make a living and doesn’t help. Obviously this was a complex situation and sad for everyone involved.

NYC Parks Department Not Complying with 2008 Law to Monitor Disparities and Track Private Money Amidst City’s Public Parks

The New York Times reports today that the city’s Parks Department has not been complying with a 2008 law passed by the New York City Council to  “shed light on how much money was flowing into different parks across the city.” Disparities between parks across the five boroughs have been a concern, with private money allocated to specific parks, primarily located in Manhattan, not revealed and properly documented.

The legislation “required the Department of Parks and Recreation of New York City to prepare an annual report that would detail, park by park, the contributions of nonprofits and other private donors.”

At the time the law was passed, the Parks Department went on record as agreeing that it was a good idea and even suggested that it played into the Bloomberg Administration push for “transparency” (the pretense of which many of us would question).

However, surprise! The documentation from 2010 was never listed on the city’s web site and, even if it had been, it is sorely lacking in its compliance, missing data that would properly shed light on the true state of affairs in our city’s parks, the intent of the legislation. In addition, the 2011 report is seven months overdue.

From the Times:

It [the 2010 report] fails to list the city’s largest parks nonprofit, the Central Park Conservancy, which spent $28 million during that period. Other major parks groups, including the Union Square Partnership, the Madison Square Park Conservancy and the Friends of Washington Square Park, are also missing.

Stopping there for a moment. These other “major parks groups” — Union Square Partnership, Madison Square Park Conservancy, one is a BID (Business Improvement District), the other is obviously a Conservancy –are really well known. Friends of Washington Square Park? I’m not even familiar with that. (I’ll come back to that later.)

Nonetheless, Alan Gerson reappears. The former City Council Member, who previously represented the district which encompasses Washington Square and is now under Margaret Chin’s purview, so to speak, was a member of the Parks Committee, and is quoted in the story. (I wonder if Gerson will run again against Margaret Chin – who has been so disappointing – next election; that would be interesting.)

“It doesn’t reflect a real effort to comply with the law,” Alan J. Gerson, a former councilman who sat on the parks committee in 2008, said.

“Whether it’s for schools, or parks or any public place, the public should know where the private money is coming from and what it’s buying. It’s basic good government,” Mr. Gerson, a Manhattan Democrat, said.

“That’s what we wanted to establish,” he said.

The city’s Independent Budget Office concurs with the problems. Doug Turetsky, its chief of staff, states, “It’s clearly not the most illuminating. You’d want to see more detail in terms of specific amounts.”

Some things are peculiar in the article — the current Parks Committee Chair, Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, who has been somewhat of a champion of changes in the Parks Department’s structure, declined to comment. A spokesperson for Council Member Helen Foster who represents the Bronx and was the previous Parks Committee Chair said  that Ms. Foster “did not feel she remembered the legislation.”

The Parks Department declined a request by the Times for an interview with a Parks Department “official” and offered no rationale for the incomplete data. My guess is that this data would not reflect favorably and that’s exactly what the City Council was pushing for – to see what – and how – resources are allocated to, say, Central Park vs. Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx.

As for the “major parks group,” Friends of Washington Square Park (an organization, as I mentioned, with which I’m not even familiar), via a Google search, I see that it is now listed on the Washington Square Association’s web site (and given pretty much equal ‘billing,’ so to speak, listed on a line with the organization’s name). That seems a bit, uh, dubious. However, such is the world of the city’s parks under the Bloomberg Administration.

*  *  *

Previously at WSP Blog:

Privatization, Concessions and New York City Parks October 8, 2010

Washington Square Park Administrator Departs; Search on for New WSP and Union Square Park Administrator

Updated — Scoopy’s Notebook in The Villager first reported on Thursday that Rebecca Ferguson, park administrator for Washington Square Park, has left the building, so to speak. Ms. Ferguson arrived about the time this blog began, sometime in early 2008 as Phase I of the park’s redesign first got underway. I’m sure it was not always an easy job maneuvering between the city’s Parks Department’s ‘wishes’ and the community’s. As time went on, she seemed a little less congenial but mostly cordial and efficient. It was clear she had a mixed response to this blog. The Villager says she’s gone off to a “plum job with the National Parks Service” (I have to wonder who the source was – “plum job?”). Ms. Ferguson began with just Washington Square under her purview. At some point in the last few years, she was also given oversight as administrator over Union Square Park.

The Village Voice is wondering who will replace Ms. Ferguson and therefore oversee Union Square and Washington Square. However, I’d say the Voice is stretching a bit in saying that Ferguson was somehow behind or at all instrumental in the “crackdowns” at Union Square (for artists) and Washington Square (for musicians). That was clearly coming from up ‘above’ in the ranks at the Parks Department. I do agree that it’s worth paying ‘attention’ to who is chosen as her replacement.

Victoria Bekiempis at The Voice writes:

However, there’s good reason to pay attention to this kind of development (as boringly administrative and bureaucratic as might seem) , even though it’s still unconfirmed.

As we have been reporting, Parks and Rec recently has seen its fair share of scandal and shakeups.

Aside from three lawsuits on the issue of artist vendors, longtime Commish Adrian Benepe quit in June, and will be replaced by Veronica M. White.

Because she has no related experience whatsoever, White has been billed as the “Cathie Black” of parks.

In addition to heat faced by these top honchos, it’s important to point out that Ferguson has also gotten flak.

Not only are Washington and Union Square Parks largely the epicenter of the artist-vendor controversy — some have criticized Ferguson’s management for failing to protect parkgoers’ safety.

This last bit was in relation to Union Square and some problems the park was experiencing although I’d never seen her name linked to that. With the presence of the Union Square Partnership, the BID “overseeing” the park, I’m not sure how the responsibilities were shared, what was brought to the attention of her bosses at the Parks Department, how they responded, etc., so I would be hesitant to criticize for that.

At the end of the day, it will be interesting to see how long it takes to find a replacement, will that person handle both parks at the onset, and who will it be. It is an important job and helps Washington Square Park run smoothly — that person oversees pretty much everything that goes on (whether on site or not), schedules events, handles maintenance and care of the park, etc. — and it’s often, it seems, done on close to a shoe string budget. (Note: I don’t really know this for sure but issues of maintenance have been mentioned before.)

The Parks Department’s budget has been cut by the Mayor(s) and the City Council by about 2/3rds over the last 20 years and needs to be increased so they are not endlessly privatizing our parks. If money was spent on maintenance and upkeep the way it has been, during Mayor Bloomberg’s tenure, on splashy redesigns and other schemes, our parks would be in much better shape overall.

That being said, I wish Rebecca Ferguson well and we’ll see what happens next!

(Links to be added.)

Washington Square, Sunday: Mystery Atop the Arch, Phase III Construction Continues, Obscured from View, More

As I wrote earlier, I’d been in San Francisco. Here are some ‘snapshots’ from yesterday. Most perplexing: what is protruding from the top of the Arch?

A first look

the thing atop the Arch… another view

Wider view…

another view… (there’s a small bird there checking it out)

fenced off construction area

Interesting. The fence cordoning off Phase III construction has been draped with green plastic sheeting to obscure public view. Was this a decision of the contractor? the Parks Department? This was not the case during Phase II or Phase I. It’s not a terrible idea but it makes me wonder. Also there are no official signs indicating what is being done (as is traditionally the case).

southern end encased fencing

inside the construction zone

A last look at park buildings before demolition

A pigeon tried to land on this light and diverted his course and that’s when I noticed..

this…

shattered light, fountain plaza

Rain, the Fountain Plaza


(This post was amended from an earlier version.)

The End of the Parks Commissioner’s Reign

updated 2:35 p.m.

Adrian Benepe at WSP Phase I Opening Ceremony 2009

In the news… big news, in the parks and public space domain: NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe has resigned and will be leaving his position around Labor Day. Commissioner Benepe oversaw the controversial redesign of Washington Square Park and was caught in a web of … shall we call them… untruths at times. Rather than focus on items that might not be quite so media-worthy, such as proper maintenance of our existing parks, his calling, for the last ten years under Mayor Mike Bloomberg, leaned towards splashy redesigns and planting a million trees. These undertakings left out serious forethought as to how to maintain either aspect. The result? Continued and overwhelming dependence was shifted to private dollars with large disparities in the amount of money, love and attention given to ‘other’ parks across the five boroughs. (Oh, and a number of dead trees.)

From Mayor Bloomberg’s quotes yesterday (below), he is quite happy to continue that model with Adrian Benepe’s replacement, Veronica White, someone with no background in parks or public spaces — like many of Mike Bloomberg’s recent choices who are positioned at the helm of city agencies without related experience. (Ms. White gets some points for citing the position as her “dream job.”) Commissioner Benepe was appointed at the beginning of Bloomberg’s (seemingly never-ending) tenure and had already risen through the ranks of the Parks Department. Benepe will be going on to further the private-public model across the country, according to The New York Times, despite the problems found with the model.

From the NY Daily News, NYC Parks Commissioner Benepe to leave post he’s held for 10 years alongside Mayor Bloomberg

Adrian Benepe, one of the few top officials who has been with the administration since Bloomberg took office in 2002, is set to take a job at the nonprofit Trust for Public Land.

He will be replaced by Veronica White, executive director of the city’s Center for Economic Opportunity.

“I’ve been joined at the hip with the Parks Department,” said Benepe, who got his first parks job as a teenager in the summer of 1973 cleaning bathrooms and picking up trash. “You never want to leave. But you can’t be emperor forever. Sometimes there’s the risk of overstaying your welcome. And there would have been no guarantees after next year [when Bloomberg’s term ends].”

The city has added 730 acres of parks under Benepe, including glitzy new spots like Brooklyn Bridge Park and the High Line.

White is set to take over around Labor Day. “It’s been my dream job forever,” she said.

New York Times, His Domain Transformed, Parks Chief Is Leaving:

At the Trust for Public Land, Mr. Benepe will promote the public-private partnership model, an environmentally minded infrastructure and wider access to parks to cities across the country.

Ms. White’s work at the economic opportunity center has followed the same mold. Mr. Bloomberg praised her record of “exploring innovative partnerships and attracting private funds,” skills that should serve her well as parks commissioner. …

Yet Mr. Benepe was not without critics. Some people objected to his turning to private sources for the money to pay for park maintenance, like the plan for upscale housing to underwrite Brooklyn Bridge Park and the twice-yearly fashion shows that take over Damrosch Park next to Lincoln Center.

Mr. Benepe also clashed with vendors and artists over the city’s efforts to rein in commerce in parks. And there have been complaints that the upkeep of the city’s many existing parks has been sacrificed for lavish expenditures on a few new gems.

“We’re classic victims of our own success,” said Holly M. Leicht, executive director of New Yorkers for Parks, an advocacy group. “All the attention paid to the beautiful new parks has created a certain complacency about the state of the existing parks. There’s a disconnect between the capital investments and the depletion of the maintenance budgets.”

Village Voice, Adrian Benepe’s Resignation: Will Changes in Parks and Recreation Affect Artists?

DNAinfo: Adrian Benepe Resigns as Parks Commissioner & Meet the New Parks Commissioner, Veronica White

Wall Street Journal, Parks Chief Steps Down after 10 Years

Previous posts here at WSP Blog:

* A Quiz on NYC’s Parks Commissioner

* NYC’s Parks Department: 2/3 cuts in workers and endless privatization schemes

* Part I of II: NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe Responds to WSP Blog Concerns February 2, 2009

* Part II: My Response to the Parks Commissioner Regarding Washington Square Park Redesign February 13, 2009

* Privatizations, Concessions and New York City Parks

* Ribbon Cutting Ceremony at Washington Sq Park May 28, 2009

Other interesting background reading:

WNYC, Shake Shack $$$: Bad for City Parks? September 14, 2010

Next American City, The High Cost of Free Parks, award-winning piece by Patrick Arden

Park Slope Patch, Which Park is it, Anyway? by Johanna Clearfield on Commissioner Benepe talk at Museum of the City of New York

Photos: Cathryn

Park’s Lawns North, South, East & West Open (for the most part)!

This happened late last week but I didn’t have a chance to post it until now. After wondering when the majority of the park’s lawn would open after 2 months closed for “restoration” (projected time initially: one month), most of the park lawn is now open for use !

eastern end

west of the Arch…