Event: Stop Privatization of Public Space/Protect Our Trees – Arbor Day; Fri April 25 Union Sq Park

Street Artists, Activists, Community Members, Public Space and Free Speech Advocates (Everyone Invited) Gather to Protect Our Trees and Protest Privatization of Public Space

In Honor of Arbor (Tree) Day Friday April 25th

When: Friday, April 25th, 6-8 p.m.

Where: UNION SQUARE PARK, 14th Street betw. Union Sq East and Union Sq West by Gandhi Statue, Manhattan

Despite Mayor Bloomberg’s hyping of his “MillionTreesNYC” P.R. initiative, thousands of mature trees have been cut down in all five boroughs at our City’s Parks, mostly in the interest of privatization of public space, which has dramatically increased under Mayor Bloomberg.

Under the Bloomberg Administration and NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, the plans (stopped at the moment by a Temporary Restraining Order) move forward for Union Square Park to lose a large portion of its public space and 13 mature trees in order to accommodate a private restauranteur.

Since Friday, April 25th is Arbor Day, a day in which we celebrate, nurture, and plant trees (the first Arbor Day took place in 1872), we thought it a perfect day to look at Mayor Bloomberg’s true legacy on trees in our city, particularly in our Parks.

As Union Square Park is the latest Park being descended upon by the Bloomberg Administration, we plan to gather there.

BRING ART, CREATE ART, DRESS UP.

THE BACKGROUND:

Mayor Bloomberg and Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe’s intention is to privatize Union Square Park, thereby reducing the famous GreenMarket, as well as artist and free speech zones, cutting down 13 MATURE TREES, in order to create restaurant space in the historic Pavilion
on the north end for restauranteur Danny Meyer (co-chair of the local BID, business improvement district, Union Square Partnership). Street Artists and Free speech protesters are at risk as the space becomes further privatized and constricted during construction and afterwards.

THE DESTRUCTION OF TREES THAT HAS OCCURRED IN NEW YORK CITY UNDER THE BLOOMBERG ADMINISTRATION INCLUDES:

*Washington Square Park11 mature trees have been destroyed in order to “align” the famous fountain with the historic Arch (no matter that they’d been unaligned for over a century). Naming rights to the Fountain sold by the City to the TISCH Family. More are headed for the chopping block.

*Randall’s Island Thousands of trees have been slaughtered to privatize sports fields on Randall’s Island. Parks Commissioner Benepe and Mayor Bloomberg were hoping to privatize entirely this 273 acre park and give the majority of access to 20 private schools within New York City. (A lawsuit stopped this aspect of their privatization scheme.)

*Yankee Stadium400 trees were chopped down from TWO Parks in the Bronx (which desperately needs parks) which were destroyed to make way for the new Yankee Stadium.

*East River ParkOver 105 trees axed to “reconstruct” the East River Park.

*Highland Park/Ridgewood ReservoirThousands of trees are on the chopping block with Parks Commissioner Benepe’s plans to destroy the natural landscape and habitat here to install dangerous artificial turf in this spot on the Brooklyn/Queens border.

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Let’s stop the Bloomberg Administration’s continuous privatizing of our public space while destroying our City’s mature trees.

1 Year Ago: Community Board 2 Rescinds its Approval of Parks Department’s Washington Sq Park Plans

On April 19, 2007, Manhattan’s Community Board 2 rescinded its approval of Bloomberg’s plan to bulldoze and rebuild Washington Square Park. Happy Anniversary!

All, right, technically the Board gave the City until May 9, 2007, to adequately respond to questions that had been raised; otherwise, the approval would be rescinded. Which is what happened when the Parks Department ignored the Community Board’s directive.

While Community Board votes are largely considered “advisory,” officials like to cite Community Board decisions to validate their projects when those decisions go in their favor. In the case of Washington Square Park, Parks Commissioner Benepe falsely cites in his letters that he had the approval of the local Community Board, and ignores the inconvenient fact that the Board had rescinded their previous approval.

Here are the Minutes from the April 19th, 2007 Community Board meeting at which the Board took back its approval.

COMMUNITY BOARD 2 Manhattan MINUTES
DATE: April 19, 2007

13 3. Washington Square Park

WHEREAS, the Appellate Divisions opinion affirmed Community Board 2’s legal right to be fully informed and provided with accurate plans for review, irrespective of the Parks Department adherence to the Board’s recommendation

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that Community Board 2 will rescind its prior approval of the plans for renovation of Washington Square Park effective May 9, 2007 unless before such date the Parks Department presents for review and examination its current plans for renovation to the full Community Board 2, the Community Board 2 Park and Waterfront Committee or to the Washington Square Park Task Force; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that Community Board 2 calls on our elected officials, most especially City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Councilman Alan Gerson, State Senator Tom Duane, Assembly Member Deborah Glick and Borough President Scott Stringer, to use their respective offices to urge the Parks Department to appear before the Community Board and/or the Washington Square Park Task Force and present its detailed plans for Washington Square Park before any contracts are put out to bid and work of any nature is performed in connection with the renovation of Washington Square Park.

Vote: Passed, with 42 Board members in favor and 5 in opposition.

The Soul of Washington Square Park: What the NYC Parks Department Left Out of their Redesign Plans

While looking up articles on Washington Square Park earlier this year, I came across a research paper by a student at SUNY(State University of New York) Syracuse College of Environmental Science and Forestry entitled: “Searching for the Soul of Washington Square Park: Employing Narrative, Photo-Voice and Mapping to Discover and Combine Pragmatic Issues of Urban Park Design with a Community’s Emotional Needs” (May 2007). It was written by Yamila Fournier as a senior project.

Spending time at Washington Square Park working on her research, Ms. Fournier interviewed Park users as well as Parks Department “officials.” She investigated people’s routines at the Park and what they loved about it as a public space. She explored what the Parks Department procedures are for redesign of a park (the answer: there are no protocols in place).

As she delves into the history and process of the redesign of Washington Square Park and the interactions between government agencies and the community, she ties together themes in ways that have not been fully explored elsewhere. I have excerpted parts of it here.

Excerpts from “Searching for the Soul of Washington Square Park” (note: the formatting is all mine. It’s a 52 page+ paper so this is condensed.):

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When the idea to renovate Washington Square Park was first introduced, the general consensus was that the park is in need of much repair.

That is where all agreement ended. Since the plans for the redesign were unveiled in 2001, there has been no harmony.

The proposed redesign specifies:

*a closable 4′ fence around the perimeter;
*bringing the central fountain up to grade with the road;
*moving the central fountain 22′ to the east to create an axial relationship with the newly renovated arch;
*relocating dog runs;
*enlarging playgrounds;
*adding an adventure playground to replace the highly contentious mounds;
*creating a new building for Parks Department offices and equipment;
*relocating statuary;
*eliminating seating areas;
*adding light fixtures; and
*renovating bathrooms, among other changes.

Every portion of the design has its critics. One thing that almost all the critics can agree on is that the community felt left out of the design process. (more…)

Washington Square Park As It Looks Today: Gated Off

This Parks Department sign – “Working to Improve Your Park: Washington Square Park” – outlines some of New York City’s redesign plan and makes its appearance in numerous places throughout the Park.

People stop and avidly read it because they can’t quite figure out what in the world is going on at Washington Square Park when they see the North West quadrant and main plaza – the Arch, the Fountain (well, where it once was) – gated off.

Even after they digest its words, they ask, “Why?”

It’s an excellent question. One not easily answered.

Washington Square Park As It Looks Today: In Disarray

Behind the Gates of New York City’s Reconstruction of Washington Square Park, pictured here in the North West quadrant, these two Parks signs are falling over, presumably knocked down by machines bulldozing through.

The path has been widened to accommodate the machinery for this “renovation,” and, in doing so, it looks dug up awfully close to that tree.

Does this inspire confidence in how the redesign is proceeding?

What do you think?