Not Quite Finished… Lookin’ Like Tomorrow Tuesday May 19th for Fence to Come Down at Washington Square Park

Lots going on today at Washington Square Park. I gather there were some last minute details to finalize — watering the plaza down (to rid it of construction dust), mowing the lawn – by hand, testing the Fountain again … — before tearing down the fence that has long surrounded the Fountain Plaza and NorthWest Quadrant. Word is the date is now tomorrow, Tuesday, May 19th. Pictures of the scene today:

Watering the Plaza

Watering the Plaza

Watering Plaza -- Fountain ON

Watering Plaza -- Fountain ON

Part VI Update on NYC’s Redesign Of Washington Square Park — The Corner “plazas” and … Conservancy?

Danger Construction Area

Washington Sq Park: Danger Construction Area

This photo captures a portion of the redesign of the North West corner of Washington Square Park with its “historic plaza” in the background.

The problem with the Plazas (which will inhabit each corner of the Park) is that they are a decent size but not that large and then the re-designer places a huge flower bed in the middle. What happens then? It changes the whole flow and interactions of people within the park. Plus a considerable reduction in the public space.

This is an issue I raised at the Washington Square Park Task Force meeting of Community Board 2 and local elected officials such as Council Member Alan Gerson, Speaker Christine Quinn and Assembly Member Deborah Glick, among others, who sent “representatives.” The Task Force then submits meeting notes to the New York City Parks Department with their questions and concerns and awaits feedback.

My concern with the Task Force is they have not been strong or vocal enough with their questions and concerns and mandates. The WSPTF can weigh in on the size of the flower beds, the plantings, the size and location of the pathways, the design, the amount of public space – significant items.

Conservancy ?

A big question in relation to Washington Square Park is whether — in order to upkeep the extensive redesign work being done and pay for future Phases — New York City will install a Conservancy for the Park.

The Conservancy model is another one of the City’s (and Mayor Bloomberg‘s) favored public-private partnerships. In reality the Conservancy becomes the arbiter of the space. These are our public parks and they need to remain public. Especially Washington Square Park.

At the meeting, the question was asked: “Will there be a conservancy which will have NYU and other corporate interests on the board?” Rebecca Ferguson, Washington Square Park administrator and Parks Department spokesperson stated, “There are no plans for a Conservancy.”


Stay tuned… there’s more!

See Parts I-V if you are just catching up(go to Key Posts on right sidebar).

Click here for Part VII.

Part I: Update On NYC Parks Department Redesign Work on Washington Square Park — Status and the Fountain

"working to improve your park"

"working to improve your park"

The Washington Square Park Task Force, convened by Community Board 2 and local elected officials to give some community oversight over the Parks Department “renovation” (redesign) of Washington Square Park, gathered recently for a public meeting in the NYU Silver Building on Waverly Place. This was the first meeting of the Task Force after a long hiatus.

Rebecca Ferguson, Washington Square Park Administrator, gave a presentation about the status of Phase I work on the Park, some future details and took questions. The meeting was presided over by Community Board 2 Washington Sq Park Task Force(WSPTF) co-chairs Brad Hoylman (also CB2 chair) and Tobi Bergman. Also present were Steve Simon, Manhattan Borough Parks Department Chief of Staff, and representatives from the offices of local elected officials, including Council Members Alan Gerson, Christine Quinn, and Rosie Mendez as well as from Assembly Member Deborah Glick’s office.

Here is Part I of Up-to-the-minute Facts about NYC Parks Department’s Redesign Plans for/Work On Washington Square Park:

Part I : Status of Redesign and the Fountain

1. STATUS : Presently, the Parks Department is at work on “Phase I,” the North West Quadrant of the Park, which includes the “scrabble plaza,” the Alexander Holley Plaza, and the Fountain and its Plaza. According to Rebecca Ferguson, the project is “100% on time” and “60% complete.” The contract for the work is up in November and the Parks Department has every expectation that it will be done on time.

2. FOUNTAIN : Piping and drainage are 70% done. The stones from the original fountain are in Long Island City and being rehoned. They will be placed in the new fountain. The Diameter of the Fountain will be the same. There will be benches around the fountain which will be 16″ high with no backs. (For those who haven’t been by the Park recently, a large hole has been dug in the new location which aligns the fountain with the Arch – after 137 years unaligned – and the structure is being built.)

Causes for concern:

THE WATER PLUME/JETS OF THE FOUNTAIN: When on, when off, who decides?

Jane Jacobs said about the famous Washington Square Park fountain, “In effect, this 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.”

The jets on the new fountain will be adjustable but it is unclear just who will determine how they are regulated. (Mayor Bloomberg, perhaps?) It’ll be nice for those tourists coming down Fifth Avenue viewing the Fountain through the Arch (per the wishes of redesigner George Vellonakis) to see the large water plume from their taxis. However that was never really the point of this fountain, used for politics, music, art, juggling, shout outs, etc., as Jane Jacobs so admirably expressed.


“Inner Circle” Around Fountain

An issue that the WSPTF did not address at this meeting is the square footage of what is deemed “the inner circle” around the fountain — from the outermost edge of the fountain wall to the innermost edge of any seating. The WSP Task Force wishes expressed in an August ’07 document to the Parks Department allowed for it to be “no less than 90% of the current area,” allowing for a 10% reduction (why?… I could not tell you).

This report stated: “The fountain plaza appears to be smaller than 90% of the current area, and thus does not comply with the Gerson-Quinn Agreement*. The question is, however, by how much. The Task Force did not have enough information from the Parks Department to draw a clear conclusion on the size of the inner circle 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.”

There was no indication at the meeting that this question was ever answered. It was not addressed. (I did not have this August ’07 document: “Report of the Washington Square Park Task Force,” which CB2 chair Brad Hoylman provided to me at the meeting, so I did not ask.)

Entire Plaza

And what about the entire Plaza, extending outward from the “innermost circle?” This is certainly well utilized by the public and is part of the experience of being in Washington Square Park. Presently, there is a 23% reduction planned – a significant amount – something the WSPTF, to my knowledge, never addressed.

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: the reconfiguration of the entire park, the loss of public space, the aligning of the fountain, and the moving of the dog runs, 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 report back on that another day.)

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.)


I think the Community Board could get some traction on this issue of the public space around the Fountain.

… Stay tuned… there’s more!

*This WSPTF meeting took place July 17th, 2008.

**Go to Part II here.

Politics As Puppetry Provides a Report Back of Washington Sq Park Blog’s Walking Tour: A Guide to NYC’s Redesign of a Perfect Public Space

Politics as Puppetry Blog attended WSP Blog’s Walking Tour this past Sunday, July 27th. The tour, “Washington Square Park – Past, Present and Future: A Guide to NYC’s Redesign of a Perfect Public Space,” is an initiative of this blog and the Washington Square Community Improvement District(CID).

Politics as Puppetry gives a report back on the Walking Tour! There’s great photos and commentary which help put the pieces of the redesign together (while still leaving a lot of questions about the “why” factor).

You can read about it here.

Thoughts on Construction at Washington Square Park

new fountain hole at washington sq parkSomebody mentioned the other day that they walked by Washington Square Park and it looked like the whole place had been bulldozed. (Which … of course… a lot of it has.)

It’s true – when you walk by the Northwest Quadrant where the work is being done now – everything that was connected and seemed intimate and inviting about the space has been made to appear barren. There’s large concrete paths. There’s “plazas” but you won’t see or interact with the people sitting across from you because there will be ornamental flower beds between you and them. (Think suburban park.)

Flowers are beautiful, of course, but part of the charm of Washington Square Park is the ways in which you’d connect with others there. There will now be impediments to that. And it doesn’t feel like you would want to stroll through, it feels like a passageway. Of course, it’s not done yet.

Which brings me to the information I was told by City Council Member Alan Gerson at the City Council Parks Department Budget Hearing. He mentioned that Manhattan Community Board 2 has some say in some of the design (not the things most of us would like to see changed, but still) but they have not met to discuss it. He wasn’t sure why.

(Council Member Gerson – Washington Square Park falls in his district – acts as if there was just nothing he could do about the redesign of Washington Square Park – when clearly there was. He took the easy route and sold out his community.)

The work at Washington Square Park is proceeding and the Community Board hasn’t met to discuss it … do they think the Parks Department is waiting for their input?

J. Bary, who took this photo and has been photographing the work there, says there’s trees being dropped in around the new fountain location but – if so – I haven’t noticed them. It’s possible that they are mostly visible from high up – where he is taking his photos from. It’s also probable that I focus so intently on the hole in the ground where the “aligned” fountain is supposed to appear that I’ve missed them.

Film Premiere: “SQUARE: Straightening Out Washington Square Park” Sunday, June 1st in Manhattan

Deserted Washington Square Plaza - fountain & Arch“SQUARE: Straightening Out Washington Square Park” is a one hour documentary which focuses on the redesign of Washington Square Park and what’s taken place over the last four years: how the Bloomberg Administration pushed through its agenda to get this famous park in ‘line’ – literally.

The film gets its premiere screening on Sunday, June 1st at the Bowery Poetry Club. In the meantime, you can get a preview of director Matt Davis’s work by watching this 5 minute video clip with up & coming performer, Farbeon, which places the Washington Square Park issue in the midst of an engaging music video. (And there’s some extraordinary footage of NYC Parks Department designer George Vellonakis in action.)

“SQUARE: Straightening Out Washington Square Park” Screening / Film Premiere

It begins with the fountain, that famous theatre-in-the-round, home to political protest, art and musical freewheeling. The new design calls for this structure to “align” with the historic Arch (after over a century unaligned), more “picture perfect” for tourists traveling down Fifth Avenue, and reduction of the voluminous public space that surrounds it transformed into quaint areas with landscaped lawns.

The film shows the government’s bait-and-switch games with the outraged community, whose members watch the City attempt to transform the Washington Square Park that they know and love into one that is pretty and pacified and far from its artistic, bohemian roots.

If you’ve been wondering how it got to this – with much of Washington Square Park behind gates and bulldozed – “SQUARE: Straightening Out Washington Square Park” will bring into sharp focus what’s happened thus far and what’s in store.

This is the premiere screening of this documentary. Directed by Matt Davis.

With Musical Guests: The Fools, A Brief View of The Hudson, Jeff Dickinson

This SUNDAY, JUNE 1st, 7 p.m.


308 Bowery between Houston & Bleecker

F train to 2nd Avenue; 6 train to Bleecker

Four Dollars

Film site:

About those four “Historic Plazas” (circa 1871) in the redesign plan at Washington Square Park …

siteofplazabehindgates0508Pictured here is the North West quadrant of Washington Square Park. When you study the City’s redesign plan, you’ll see that the diagram calls for a “plaza” in this location and that is currently being constructed here. The word “plaza” conjures up 18th or 19th century ladies with umbrellas sipping tea. Except I realized maybe that image became imprinted in my mind because on the design plans it states that there will be a “central flower bed” within the “1874 1871 historic plaza.” (Because, of course, that’s what we all think of when we envision what Washington Square Park is about … )

There will be a “historic plaza” at all four corners of the redesigned Washington Square Park.

It leads me to believe that when designer George Vellonakis was sitting down with his guidelines from the NYC Parks Department about the “renovation” of this Park, that, instead of recognizing the strengths of the park, he approached it as if the Park needed a total overhaul in character and orientation. Except it doesn’t. (There are other theories on why this might be happening.)

I watched the workers working at the corner spot at Waverly and Washington Square West a couple of weeks ago and they were digging up dirt and pouring it on living plants. I found that a bit puzzling to say the least. Also, the care being given to the living trees with the construction swirling around them is of great concern.

NYU and Yankee Stadium: Perfect Together for all Future Graduation Ceremonies (Skip Washington Sq Park as Venue for Next 32 Years)

Washington Square Park Set up for NYU Graduation Venue in Previous YearsWednesday’s (5/14) NYU graduation ceremony attracted widespread media attention because of graduating student William Lopez’s attempt to run all the bases at the venue, Yankee Stadium.

The Daily News somewhat mildly cites “ongoing construction” as the reason NYU had to switch to Yankee Stadium after 32 years of graduation ceremonies at Washington Square Park.

The photo above shows Washington Square Park set up for NYU’s graduation ceremony in 2006 — before the trees were cut down, the fountain dismantled, the Arch was behind gates.

I have no attachment to NYU utilizing Washington Square Park for their graduation. The University uses the Arch, the Park, Washington Square when it suits them, as p.r. and in all their advertising, while they crush every other historic Village building in their path to erect more dorms and monstrous structures. There are many theories linking NYU and the “renovation” (read: redesign) of Washington Square Park. Some assert that the “ongoing construction” is very much about making the Park more “picture perfect” for … NYU’s graduation ceremony.

The University clearly has no sense of humor or spontaneity — they barred Lopez from attending a post-graduation event at Madison Square Garden.

I’d like to propose that NYU continues using Yankee Stadium as their graduation ceremony venue for the next 32 years. Since Yankee Stadium owners (also with the complicity of New York City government) crushed two parks in the Bronx for their own “reconstruction,” it would be much more fitting that these two corporate behemoths utilize one another.

NYC Parks Dept.-2/3 cuts in workers and endless privatization schemes

According to New York Jobs With Justice: “Years ago, NYC’s public parks were administered by over 7,500 municipal employees of the Department of Parks and Recreation. Today, it’s only 2,500 municipal employees taking care of NYC’s public parks. This number continues to shrink as the years go by. Much of the labor has been privatized through city partnerships with non-profit administrators resulting in a two-tier work force of public servants in the City’s public parks.”

That is a 66% reduction in Parks Department workers. Since so much has been willingly privatized (by the City), it’s hard to know what the actual number of workers is now.

Another result of the reduction in the Parks Department budget and the City government’s focus on privatization of our public spaces is that private entities manage the space and also deem how that space is used.

In addition, the City sells off naming rights to, for example, the fountain at Washington Square Park under the ruse that they can’t afford to repair it otherwise, and they agree to re-name it Tisch Fountain for $2.5 million (and it ends up being moved, unnecessarily “aligned,” along with the deal) …

The Parks Department accepts a $7 million “anonymous” donation with STIPULATIONS – strings attached – that this donation ensures that there is a private restaurant in the historic Pavilion at Union Square. Although it hasn’t been revealed who the donor is, somehow restauranteur Danny Meyer, who is also co-chair of the Union Square Partnership (the local BID-business improvement district), is the only name bandied about as the choice to helm the restaurant.

You can see how much of a slippery slope this whole privatization game is.

Spring in Washington Square Park – The Park is Bustling. What Happens Next?

There’s something about the spirit of Washington Square Park that even now, despite virtually HALF of the Park being closed for the City’s “renovation,” the open space is still filled to the brim with people commingling, creating music, art and conversation in new locations. (There’s no choice as the Fountain, its Plaza, and the Arch are behind gates and off-limits).

Interconnections happen at Washington Square Park in ways that just do not happen in other spaces. That is why it is such an internationally known, perfect public space.

The City’s redesign plans don’t take this into account. Their aspiration is to create a Park that is prettified and glossy and passive.

The areas at Washington Square Park where people are gathering now – the north east corner by the picnic tables, the Garibaldi statue, the teen playground – those areas will all be REMOVED with the completion of the City’s redesign plan. In the North East corner (well, in every ‘corner’ of the Park), there will be a “plaza.” What that means I am not quite certain but the significance of that is – without question – a diminishing of the public space. The Fountain and the surrounding Central Plaza – the premiere area where people gather at the park – are scheduled to be reduced 23 percent. How is this allowed to happen?

At Union Square Park right now, it’s a familiar drama that is being enacted. Some of the same actors, slightly different script, same basic plot, all being pushed through by Mayor Bloomberg and the City’s Parks Department — in the interest of privatizing and reducing the public space. If this is troubling to you, you have to something to say, join us Friday at Union Square Park from 6-8 p.m., pick a Park in the City to represent, create some art, make some music, dress up.