A Reader of WSP Blog writes: “Let’s catch the persons responsible for the horrid destruction of the Park and misappropriation of funds”

On November 30th, a reader “pattycake” responded to the blog piece, “The Squirrels of Washington Square Park have many fans but Now also a Killer in Their Midst,” with the following comment:

so stupid.. im sure the girl isnt intentionally letting the dog kill them. Forget “catching” the squirrel killer..lets catch the person or persons responsible for the horrid destruction of the park and misappropriation of funds…where is the money? why isnt the park done? where is the new dog run? why are the trees cut down? WHAT ABOUT THAT?

I responded, on December 1st, as follows (this version is slightly expanded from the original response):

Hi Pattycake, I’ve heard enough to believe that some malicious intent may be going on in relation to the woman and the squirrels. She knows her dog(s) is(are) aggressive – I don’t blame them, they’ve been encouraged by her – and I’ve heard other dogs have been attacked, to the point where she’s been banned from the LeRoy Park Dog Run.

Re: the park itself, I agree with you!

I’ve tried to get questions answered and more scrutiny on the process of the redesign of Washington Square Park at Community Board 2 meetings.

The chair of the Parks Committee, Tobi Bergman, is very evasive and states there’s nothing more they can do. (He is a former NYC Parks Department employee, it should also be noted.) The chair of Community Board 2, Jo Hamilton, hasn’t given it her attention, leaving it in Parks Committee’s hands, but I don’t think people are pressuring her about it either.

I’ve written to City Council Member Margaret Chin – who took Alan Gerson’s place – with finally a response from her sister who works in her office. I sent a bunch of follow-up documents and then received no further communication.

Without a loud yet effective group asking questions, I don’t know how anything can be achieved. People who were involved for years need to become visible and outspoken again; too many have become silent. And new voices are needed as well. I am happy to have others speak out !

PLEASE CONTACT City Council Member Margaret Chin at chin@council.nyc.gov. It’s her district. She took Alan Gerson’s place but has not been involved at all. She needs to hear from people that they want her involved.

You ask good questions but asking them of (CB2 Parks Chair) Tobi Bergman and (CB2 Board Chair and WSP Task Force Chair) Jo Hamilton and Margaret Chin would be a great follow-up.

Thanks for writing.

Cathryn
WSP Blog

p.s. Which trees are you referring to?

** ACTION YOU CAN TAKE **

Write to New York City Council Member Margaret Chin. Some of the unanswered areas and concerns around Washington Square Park are:

1) the delay (Phase II – currently under construction and encompassing the Eastern and Southwestern sections of the park – was supposed to be completed Fall 2010; it is now projected for Spring 2011 with some of the work moved into Phase III)
2) the budget having more than doubled (budgeted at $16 million; now $32 million + counting)
3) the destruction of trees
4) lack of Community Board 2/Washington Square Park Task Force oversight
(basically : zero oversight)
5) no attention being paid to the details of the redesign, etc.
(see point #4)

Write to her at: chin@council.nyc.gov

Did you notice with NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg that libraries, senior centers, animal protection, firehouses, police department and more are cut from the City Budget but never elaborate and unnecessary redesigns of parks?

Oh, and I never wrote a report back on the last Community Board 2 Parks Committee meeting held October 6th addressing Washington Square — after 10 long months of silence — because it was mostly an exercise in frustration. (Although any doubts about Tobi Bergman’s role in stopping closer scrutiny of the redesign of the park were put to rest.) The Parks Committee has not met for the past two months following the meeting.

** To get up to speed on some of the issues, see previous WSP Blog Post: Washington Square Park Phase II: Lack of Transparency & Oversight Continues

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Two Letters on Washington Sq Park’s New Design

Sharon Woolums’ Letter to the Editor in weekly the Villager (June 3rd, 2009):

To The Editor:

After the initial euphoria of just having the park opened and reveling in the perfect spring day, I reflected on where the $13 million went, and now realize what disturbs me. I miss the sunken fountain, so beautifully set apart from the street. Now the fountain is an extension of the street, instead of the beginning of something completely different. You felt drawn down — invited into the fountain. Now it’s more like the fountain is an object you are supposed to look at instead of being drawn into, to experience.

The redesigned park looks like something imposed on the Village, boring and uneventful: flattened out. The fountain area, bland and generic, instead of exciting and unique, looks more like a corporate plaza than a park. The huge walkway with the gigantic planters in the middle looks like an outdoor mall in Wisconsin. And that poor tree around the fountain, died of a heartache.

Now linear — before idiosyncratic; there was an off-centeredness that was deliberate. It represented people who live in the Village who march to a different drummer. Our park embodied democracy, now transformed undemocratically.

The landscaping is prissy, organized patches of vegetation not unlike that found in the gardening section of any Home Depot. But it all goes so well with N.Y.U.’s Kimmel Center. The park now looks like another N.Y.U. project, with the two telltale plaques on either side of the “Tisch! Fountain.” I can’t bring myself to say that. Too bad the fountain hadn’t been auctioned off to the highest bidder. It seems a $2.5 million advertisement for perpetuity is just dirt cheap.

The walls that surrounded the theater in the round created an acoustical field for the music; sound bounced back out, radiating from behind. Now there is nothing to deflect the music, it all gets meshed together with the competing sound of gushing water.

With the stroke of an architect’s pen, the park was forever stripped of its bohemian character, wiping away decades of history. We hope this sacrifice of comfort and possible clamoring for a conservancy (the privatization of our public park) will not kill the spontaneous creativity that happened naturally here, once upon a time. We hope that glorious time will not die like the tree in the circle.

Sharon Woolums

(WSP Blog note- the letter is slightly shortened for space reasons.)

Photographer Stacy Walsh Rosenstock wrote in to WSP Blog recently about the new design in response to an older post, “Wouldn’t it be ironic if – after everything – the Washington Square Park Fountain was off-center to the Arch?“:

As someone whose dog insists we Washington Square on a daily basis now that the weather’s good, I find that nothing seems to look “right” when we enter from the South.

In the older design, with the fountain to the west and more open space coming up from Thompson Street, there was a more gradual lead-in to the circle. Now the path certainly looks skewed and, in photos, it’s nearly impossible to form a visual grid of major planes.

Sometimes designs that appear so perfect on paper don’t necessarily work out in three dimensional visual space. Or maybe Stanford White and others involved in the park’s major features knew a thing or two about dealing with asymetrical space.

Photo: Cat

On “New” Version of Washington Square … Reader Comment that Sums it Up…

All in

All in alignment

With a little more time to reflect on the Park changes, I’ll write with some further observations but I wanted to share a comment that was posted last night by a reader here that sums up some of the sentiment.

There was also an interesting observation from a reader who commented over at the New York Times site last week in response to their fluffy, feel good piece about the opening which obscured any real detail about the arguments, cost, changes, or problems that have gone on in relation to the Park to date (and usually I like writer Jennifer 8. Lee’s pieces). He asked… why couldn’t the park have been renovated in stages? Why did a whole half of the Park have to be shut down all at once? Good question. The writer thought it was basically ridiculous in light of the work that was being done. So… stay with me a minute… if that had happened…if the Park had been done in stages, where the NW Quadrant was done first and then opened, and then the Fountain Plaza area worked on and completed, (a) it would not have taken nearly as long to have access to each section and (b) Park users would have had a chance to experience the changes in stages.

Instead, since the Park was closed off for 16 1/2 months, the first reaction anyone has had has been… it’s clean, it’s pretty… it’s OPEN! But once you get past that layer of emotions – and, yes, there are some elements of the design that are lovely and functional (I will go into them at a later date) – there ARE problems.

I know some of the blog readers don’t want to hear that. Some people would like anyone who was opposed to the dramatic changes and the Parks Department’s obfuscations to move on. But that is not appropriate in this situation because that diminishes and obscures real issues. Maybe there’s some way to ‘fix’ what they took away. Although many believe these changes were made purposefully to homogenize this vital public space.

Here is a comment from Mark Milano:

Cathryn,

I agree with your frustration about the awful lack of community input into the renovation.

And while the new Park may look “better than nice,” it is not Washington Square.

The unique sunken performance space invited people to come down and join the fun – you had to make a conscious decision to enter, and once you did you were a part of the action. Now it’s just a wide open space that people walk through on the way to someplace else. The loss of the old trees is particularly tough.

Also, there were places in the original sunken area where you could step back from the activity and just observe – places where you had a sense of privacy in the midst of all the chaos. Those are all gone.

The new space isn’t terrible, it’s not the wonderful, unique space it was. Actually, it feels like a Disneyland recreation of Washington Square, not the real thing.

And the new fence sucks.