Memorial Day Weekend 2012, Washington Square (Hangmen’s Elm Area, Vast Swaths of Lawn Cordoned Off …)

A bit delayed …

NW Entrance closed (due to Hangmen’s Elm – at right – concern)

Area around tree cordoned off

Regulars Tic and Tac perform (with live drums!)

Open lawn, southern end

Fenced off lawn remains throughout eastern end

I noticed the park’s NorthWest entrance cordoned off over the weekend for “inspection and maintenance.” But it wasn’t until commenter Seth noted it in relation to yesterday’s post about concerns over the condition of the famous 330 year old Hangmen’s Elm which resides right there that I realized the two were related. There must really be serious concern. Community Board 2 met last night to discuss (more on that to come). As for the large swaths of park lawn which have been fenced off for close to two months, a small portion was opened up for use south of the main plaza. It’s close to a month overdue for the fences coming down on the NorthWest and Eastern sides. One regular mentioned that people are either avoiding the park entirely or bringing their own lawn chairs to sit. As for good news, (tho’ still not fully operational), the fountain is on!

The City Council Member Vs. The Parks Commissioner

Last week, the New York City Council Parks Committee held a public hearing to discuss the Parks Department budget. The Parks Department is woefully underfunded and has been for at least twenty years, if not more. It has gotten worse under the Bloomberg Administration — the lack of funds is used as an incentive to encourage privatization of our public parks.

On Thursday, March 22nd, at the public hearing – note: the “public” hearings are always minimally publicized (which is basically, not at all) – NYC Council Member James Oddo had a heated exchange with Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe. This was covered over at A Walk in the Park Blog which reports that Council Member Oddo (whose district encompasses parts of Brooklyn and Staten Island) at one point called Commissioner Adrian Benepe “arrogant, cavalier and disgraceful.” Benepe told Oddo to “have a nice day.”

An excerpt from A Walk in the Park Blog:

Staten Island City Council member James Oddo and Parks Commissioner Adrain Benepe provided some fireworks during a Council Parks and Recreation budget hearing this afternoon.

Oddo said it was no ‘Act of God’ that lead to flooding dozens of people’s homes six months ago when Hurricane Irene hit – it was a lack of maintenance from the Parks Department.

The pond in Willowbrook Park overflowed, flooding nearby streets, cars and dozens of homes.

The cause, according to the angry council member, was a culvert that was blocked by plastic bottles and errand softballs from nearby fields that had not been properly maintained by the Parks Department.

Adrian Benepe did not agree. He repeatedly said the flooding was caused by Hurricane Irene, not an “Act of God” and refused to acknowledge or take any role or responsibility for the damage.

Many people in the Willow Brook/Bulls Head section of Staten Island suffered huge loses in property damage and personal belongings due to the damage. The four streets that were flooded are adjacent to Willowbrook Park.

Oddo said some residents had eight feet of water in their basements.

If Rudy Giuliani were mayor, Benepe “would have been canned a long time ago, ” the councilmember said.

Oddo said he couldn’t wait until the remaining days of this administration were over and Benepe was gone.

“I’ll tell ya, I can’t wait for the 650 days to be up,” he said. “I can’t wait till we get someone in there who treats all five boroughs equally.”

“I appreciate your passion,” Benepe said condescendingly to the visibly upset Oddo.

(I was wondering how many days were left in Mayor Bloomberg’s term. Really? That many?)

In August, Washington Square had its own flooding and Parks Department maintenance problem:

August 2011

Previously at WSP Blog:

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

NYC Parks Dept.-2/3 cuts in workers and endless privatization schemes April 25, 2008

New York Daily News: Musicians performing again at Washington Square

Philippe Petit Washington Square

New York Daily News, January 1st: Street artists say they’re performing again without fear of big fines in Washington Square Park

Artists who had been slapped with huge fines for performing in Washington Square Park say the rule is no longer being enforced — and many of their outstanding tickets were suddenly dismissed.

Maybe they are re-thinking their approach,” said Colin Huggins, who said he’s been hit with nine summonses totaling $6,000 for playing his baby grand piano between the park’s famed arch and its empty fountain.

A spokeswoman for the Parks Department insisted “the rules remain in effect.”

Still, performers say they haven’t been hassled in the three weeks since civil rights heavyhitters Ronald Kuby and Norman Siegel took the case on behalf of the ticketed buskers.

They are due back in court Jan. 31.

The rule, which applies to parks citywide, went into effect about a year ago and prohibits artists who collect tips from performing within 50 feet of a monument or landmark. It wasn’t until October that performers reported being hit with the steep fines.

At a recent community board meeting, Manhattan Borough Parks Commissioner Williams Castro hinted the city may be re-considering the rules.

We are mindful of the concerns raised by some park patrons and we are further reviewing the impact of these rules in Washington Square Park,” Castro said.

Note photo above of Philippe Petit at WSPthe two trees that he used to perform between at Washington Square were torn down last year; despite assurances from the Parks Department that they would remain.

Previously on WSP Blog: Performance Crackdown at the Park — Parks Commissioner says Bob Dylan Could Still Play at WSP; With New Rules, Is That even True? December 6, 2011

Photo via New York Daily News: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe on Performance Crackdown At WSP — What he said… What he meant…

In last week’s Clyde Haberman column in the New York Times “A Word to the ‘Wise and Honest’ on Washington Square Park” which addressed the performance crackdown, Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe was quoted as follows and we’ve interpreted his comment for you here at WSP Blog

What he said:

The commissioner of parks and recreation, Adrian Benepe, in a ’60s music moment of his own, said the balance was between the performers and those who go to the park to “enjoy the sounds of silence or the trees blowing in the wind.”

What he meant:

Adrian Benepe, in a 60s music moment of his own, said the balance was between the performers and those who go to the park to “enjoy the sounds of silence” (except for police vehicles driving through and the crash of construction machinery) “or the (dead and dying) trees blowing in the wind.”

Performance Crackdown at the Park — Parks Commissioner says Bob Dylan Could Still Play at WSP; With New Rules, Is That even True?

Updated — Over the last three days, the matter of artists and performers being issued tickets at Washington Square Park has been covered by Associated Press, New York Times, New York Daily News, NY1, Fox5 News, Epoch Times, A Walk in the Park Blog, and more.

The Associated Press credits the New York Times with revealing the “crackdown.” Really the Villager broke the story in their October 27th issue. This blog covered it here on October 28th. Nonetheless, I’m glad this is getting so much attention.

In the New York Times article yesterday, NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe stated: “If Bob Dylan wanted to come play there tomorrow, he could … although he might have to move away from the fountain.”

As bizarre as that even sounds, actually that’s not true. Although the article omitted this fact, the rules also require performers and artists to be 5 feet away from a park bench. 50 feet from a monument or fountain and 5 feet from a park bench pretty much rules out the entire park.

Ron Kuby, Tic and Tac, Norman Siegel at press conference Sunday

At a press conference held Sunday at Washington Square, artists and musicians gathered (pianist Colin Huggins, sand artist Joe Mangrum, performers Tic and Tac) along with attorneys Ron Kuby and Norman Siegel to speak out against the recently enacted regulations which first began being implemented in October of this year at the park.

The Parks Department is applying “expressive matter” rules — which were created to limit artist vendors in parks in 2010 — to musicians and artists who take donations.  

Attorney Ron Kuby said: “Mayor Bloomberg wants to be the neutron bomb of fun. Parks are not museums for Michael Bloomberg and his rich friends to look at the statuary. They have their own museums.” (Comments about Mayor Bloomberg – made by at least three of the speakers – were, interestingly enough, omitted in all the coverage.)

Geoffrey Croft from NYC Park Advocates who organized the press conference stated: “[Parks] employees are forced to issue these summons. It’s all of us who lose. They [Parks Department] make these things up. It’s completely arbitrary. … Unless paying for a license by the city, they don’t want performers.”

Joe Mangrum interviewed by Fox News

Columnist Clyde Haberman today via the New York Times City Room blog :

A certain wacky flavor — including the guy who rolls out his baby grand piano on weekends or the performers known as Tic and Tac — has been part of Washington Square for as long as anyone can remember. On weekends, the park is our equivalent of Victor Hugo’s “cour des miracles,” the courtyard of miracles in front of Notre Dame where everyone gathered: musicians and beggars, holy men and hucksters.

The city says it is simply trying to harmonize an assortment of interests. The commissioner of parks and recreation, Adrian Benepe, in a ’60s music moment of his own, said the balance was between the performers and those who go to the park to “enjoy the sounds of silence or the trees blowing in the wind.”

An aide to the commissioner noted that fewer than two dozen summonses had been issued, hardly the hallmark of a brutal crackdown. “We really love musicians,” said Vickie Karp, a parks department spokeswoman. “This is not about the musicians. It’s about sharing the park.”

But if you truly craved the sounds of silence, you would head to the likes of Central Park or Prospect Park. Since when is Washington Square Park anyone’s idea of a bucolic retreat?

“We’re talking weekends, we’re talking tourists who love this stuff,” Mr. Kuby said. “Nobody ever comes back from their visit to New York and complains, ‘You know, Washington Square Park was so beautiful, but the fountain was all filled with people. I couldn’t see the architecture.’ It’s one of the few authentic pieces of New York left for people to experience.”

It’s important to also recognize what Robert Lederman, President of ARTIST (Artists’ Response To Illegal State Tactics), articulates in a recent Letter to the Editor submitted to the Times:

The public should understand that the choice is not between quiet parks with no vending or parks filled with artists and performers. The choice is between public parks where free speech is the rule, or privatized parks where only those with the most money are allowed to express themselves.

The AP article notes: “The Parks Department website calls the famous Greenwich Village park a ‘gathering spot for avant-garde artists.'”

Perhaps the Parks Department should reference its own materials.

Note: I’ve received word Community Board 2 may come out of hiding on issues relating to WSP and hold a public forum in mid-December. Update! Information confirmed: CB2 Washington Square Park Speak Out — Monday, December 19, 6:30 p.m. at the NYU Kimmel Center, 60 Washington Square South, 8th Floor.


New York Times: City Cracks Down on Washington Square Park Performers December 5, 2011

WNYC-FM: City cracks down on performers in parks December 5, 2011

New York Daily News: A ‘fine’ time for city park performers December 3, 2011

NY1: Street Performers Speak Out Against Summonses Issued at Washington Square December 5, 2011

Epoch Times: Washington Square Park Musicians Protest Summonses December 5, 2011

Fox 5 New York: Park Performance Ban in NYC December 5, 2011

The Villager: Musicians are told to keep their distance from fountain, seats! October 27, 2011

WSP Blog: City Parks Department’s “Regulations” Take Away From the Very Spirit of What People Come to Washington Square Park For – No Performances Allowed Near Fountain, Benches October 28, 2011

What Will Happen Next for Washington Square Park Trees? Four New Arrivals Replace Perpetually Dying Trees Around Fountain

If you were wondering what the Parks Department’s next move would be after all the attention given to the perpetually dying trees that line the Washington Square fountain, it appeared when four new trees were planted mid-last week…

Village Green Zelkova

One of the New Tree Arrivals (West)

New tree

Roots? Drainage?

One in a Million

One of four new trees

When NBC New York featured a segment on this story in late September, the New York City Parks Department told reporter Chris Glorioso:

“We have experienced a series of failed plantings for the Zelkova trees in the area around Washington Square Park’s plaza. We are investigating potential causes of why trees are not surviving here and will conduct soil tests, examine the drainage, and determine if there is a problem with this particular species.”

At the time, Glorioso spoke to an arborist, Ralph Padilla, who stated:

“It was planted incorrectly,” he said after examining the dead tree near the arch. “It was planted too deep.”

“The giveaway is that all trees, before they enter the soil [should] flare out slightly at the base,” he said.

The dead tree near the arch does not flare out at all, Padilla said. He said it was possible that private contractors or parks personnel repeated the mistake by burying the root balls of eight trees too far beneath the soil, suppressing oxygen supply. When roots are submerged too deeply, recent transplants can die. …

My initial reporting on this in 2009 including speaking to a landscape architect at the Park who revealed that the design was inappropriate for the trees’ survival. He stated that the Parks Department would likely not address the issue sufficiently — due to internal politics and not wanting to ruffle the park’s redesigner – and accurately predicted that this pattern of dying trees would happen repeatedly. Eight young trees have died over four years; in two locations, trees have been planted and died three times in a row. These trees all replaced healthy 40 year old trees axed due to the Bloomberg Administration’s symmetrical “vision” of moving the fountain from its historical location 22 feet east to “align” with the Arch.

The way these four new trees are planted looks exactly the same – in fact, the roots look even more submerged. What do you think? Will the arborcide continue?

Inquiries this blog has made to the city Parks Department as to what their assessment revealed have not been responded to.

Don’t forget this is WSP Blog fundraising week. Help out by responding to my appeal if you like the coverage here. Thank you!

Why Was Washington Square Park Rejected as Site for Veteran’s Day Rally Concert with Joan Baez?

Updated — Joan Baez has a history at Washington Square Park and it would be fantastic for her to return to perform at the park. Yet when that was attempted for today’s Veteran’s Day Rally, now being held further downtown at Foley Square, the city refused to allow – “balked” at – WSP as the location.

From the New York Daily News:

Legendary 1960s protest singer Joan Baez will headline an Occupy Wall Street rally Friday.

“It’s official. Joan Baez will be here tomorrow,” said organizer Aaron Black. “She’s an icon. We are unbelievably excited. In the ‘60s, protests and music went hand and hand.”

The “11/11/11” Veterans Day Rally will be held at at Foley Square from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

The slogan for the day: “Honor the Dead, Fight Like Hell For the Living.”

Ignoring the weekday timeslot and the short notice, Black said he expects big crowds – possibly tens of thousands of people. …

Baez, born a New Yorker, is an icon of the 1960s who marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Cesar Chavez, dated Bob Dylan and Steve Jobs, and sang about civil rights, human rights and the Vietnam War. …

The concert/rally was originally planned for Washington Square Park but city officials balked. They allowed Foley as a compromise.

I reached out to city’s Parks Department to inquire as to why Washington Square Park was not allowed as a location for the concert. The response I received back was “Check with NYPD.” The Parks Department issues permits for use of the parks. In addition, an earlier Daily News piece stated this:

It was originally supposed to be at Washington Square Park but park officials had concerns about the guest lineup. They allowed protesters to use Foley as a compromise.

Could this have something to do with the park’s redesign – this change of usage of the park? Is the historic nature of the park as a place of music and activism further in danger, even when permitted? Is the 25% reduction of public space around the Fountain Plaza figuring into this? Is Washington Square now considered off-limits for big events?

What exactly was the problem?

Previously at WSP Blog:

* City “Regulations” Cause Musicians and Artists To Be Ticketed for Performances Near Fountain, Arch, Benches at WSP – October 28, 2011

* “Honey, I Shrunk The Park” March 17, 2008

Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

City Parks Department’s “Regulations” Take Away From the Very Spirit of What People Come to Washington Square Park For – No Performances Allowed Near Fountain, Benches

At the Occupy Washington Square Park meeting last week, I caught the end of a comment from a woman stating that performers were getting ticketed more frequently at the park. I did not know the so-called “reason” behind this but it appears in this week’s Villager“Musicians are told to keep their distance – from fountain, seats!” :

[Doris] Diether, a member of Community Board 2 and a contributor to this newspaper, said that three guitar players who perform in Washington Square told her that PEP officers told them that performers could not play while sitting on a park bench. The rule is that musicians must stand 5 feet from a bench and 50 feet from a monument or fountain.

Diether said she was hand-feeding a squirrel in the south side of the park on Wed., Oct. 26. when a man told her, “Watch out, I got a $50 fine for feeding squirrels here.”

Despite the common conviction that the enforcement policy in Washington Square is stricter than ever, a Department of Parks and Recreation spokesperson said on Wednesday that nothing is special about the current enforcement.

At Washington Square Park the existing regulations are intended to keep paths clear and allow all park users to move about freely and see monuments and views,” said Philip Abramson. He confirmed that performers must stand 5 feet away from benches and cannot perform within 50 feet of a monument or fountain.

This “regulation” requiring performers to stand “5 feet away from benches” and not perform “within 50 feet of a monument or fountain” seems to be a rule to have a rule, to put forth arbitrary order. This is allegedly so people can “move about freely” and “see monuments and views” (that last bit sounds like George Vellonakis-speak) – this takes away from the very spirit that people have historically come to Washington Square Park for; away from what the park’s reputation and very essence is all about.

Washington Square Park Folk Festival This Weekend September 17th-18th

Eli Smith, host of the DownHome Radio Show, was hired by the city’s Parks Department to produce the first ever Washington Square Park Folk Festival this coming weekend Saturday, September 17th and Sunday, September 18th on the Garibaldi Stage (eastern end). Smith will be MC and also perform on Sunday with his band, the Dust Busters.

Here’s the schedule:

Saturday Sept 17th:

2pm The Calamity Janes – old time string band
3pm Feral Foster – original songs and blues
4pm East River String Band – country blues & old time
5pm Whiskey Spitters – country blues & old time

Sunday Sept 18th

2pm Bob Malenky – country blues
3pm Brotherhood of the Jug Band Blues – jug band music
4pm The Dust Busters with John Cohen – old time string band
5pm Willy Gantrim & the Phantoms – original songs, country & blues
6pm Peter Stampfel and the Ether Frolic Mob – make a wish for a potato

On his web site, Smith writes:

2011 also marks the 50th anniversary of the 1961 “Washington Square Folk Music Riot” when the City tried to revoke the permit for folk musicians to play and sing on Sundays in the park.  They needed to clear undesirable people out so that they could  satisfy local real estate interests and I heard possibly enact a crazy plan to extend 5th ave. through the park! Luckily folkies resisted the attempt by the police to kick them out of their public space, resulting in the “riot,” and the planned extension of 5th ave never materialized. Lately there’s been a film made about the “riot” and the film will be screened at the festival, check it out… coverage of the so called riot has been offered by The Indypendent and NPR.

Mario Batali‘s Foundation is involved somehow in sponsoring this event. I’m going to talk to Eli Smith and find out more about the festival but wanted to get the info up!

Chelsea Now Weekly Uncovers the Real Dirt on Artificial Turf; Turf Scheduled for the Mounds at WSP in Phase III

Chelsea Now has a great story about artificial turf in this week’s issue. Washington Square Park is scheduled to get artificial turf at the base of the Mounds (now scheduled for Phase III construction), despite the fact that pretty much everyone is against it.

Excerpts from Chelsea Now article: Hot Footing It: The heat is on artificial turf August 24, 2011

As reported in the March article, Geoffrey Croft (head of the watchdog group, NYC Park Advocates) took, before noon, temperature readings at a dozen New York City parks in July 2010. Artificial turf fields measured over 170 degrees — the highest temperature recorded in his three years of monitoring. By 9:15am, the temperature had already risen to over 140 degrees. “Young children are particularly susceptible, as it can take only two seconds to burn on solid surfaces greater than 140 degrees, according to doctors,” said Croft. …

… “for ten years, the city put down this surface without doing a single test,” said Croft. Patrick Arden, in his article on the dangers of artificial turf, wrote, “Several credible studies had found the crumb rubber contains known human carcinogens and neurotoxic chemicals, as well as lead, chromium and arsenic” (City Limits magazine, “Was New York City’s Shift to Artificial Grass a 300-Million-Dollar Mistake? A Risky Play,” September 2010).

Through the Freedom of Information Act, Arden ascertained that a group of doctors at Mt. Sinai Hospital identified several “proven and potential” hazards of synthetic turf made from recycled tires: “excessive heat,” with field temperatures reaching as high as 172 degrees; MRSA, the antibiotic-resistant staph infection that can be acquired through “turf burns;” and chemical exposures.

The Astroturf-style carpet at Chelsea Park and the crumb rubber infill turf at J.J. Walker were both cited for elevated lead levels.  …

According to the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene website’s “Fact Sheet on Synthetic Turf Used in Athletic Fields and Play Areas,” the city is now using “carpet-style or alternative infill materials on all new fields, and implementing protocols to inspect, test and replace any existing synthetic turf fields that may age or deteriorate.” They are “using strict purchasing protocols to select the best synthetic turf products and requiring suppliers to provide information on chemical content, heating absorbency properties, environmental factors and health and safety issues.”

“We forced the city to stop using recycled tires,” said Croft. “City Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, who is chair of the Parks and Recreation Committee, introduced a few bills that really helped. It was a first step. Up to then, Adrian Benepe [the Parks Commissioner] made fun of it.” …

I am sure part of the reason is maintenance related, but to me that is not a solution,” said Viverito, “and I don’t buy it half the time.” She pointed out that in the “vast parks system” less than .03 percent goes to parks. “If it is the intent to have a park where people can hang out, when the turf can reach past 130 degrees, this is not a good idea. It is counterproductive to what a passive space is. You want to encourage people to come into the park, not turn them away.” …

Viverito declared, “We will continue to put pressure on this administration to do the right thing. It has worked sometimes. Other times they have put their heels to the ground and are resistant.

There’s much more at the article including quotes from athletes using the fields that are quite interesting!


Previous on WSP Blog: Heard at City Council Hearings on Artificial Turf: “But Where Will the Tires go?”; Mayor Bloomberg says this is “a made-up story” February 10, 2009