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.)

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May Day 2012 – A Brief Glimpse in Photos: Union Square; Washington Square

View from Whole Foods looking onto Union Sq

Joe Mangrum’s sand painting at Union Square

The Right To

Rev. Billy and Church of Stop Shopping on the North End

NYU ever present

End Student Debt (and all Debt)

George Washington & Crowd

Washington Statue Was Cordoned Off

Gandhi Statue: Lavender, Balloons and No War In Iran

Occupy The Heart

Then at Washington Square…

Garibaldi Sitting Area

The Arch… Barricades Ready

Just a snapshot of what went on May Day 2012 New York City.

(There was a lot more going on at WSP earlier in the day but I missed that. NYU OWS. Police friction. People arrested.)

All photos: Cathryn except…

3rd from bottom, Occupy The Heart: Susan Celia Swan

Union Square Park Site of “New Occupation;” Bloomberg/NYPD Violence as Park Shut Down Last Night; Vandana Shiva to Appear There Thursday Noon

Union Square Park has become the site of the new Occupy Wall Street “occupation.” If you have not been following, here is the OWS primer on it.

After an NYPD crack down at Zuccotti Park this past weekend, Mayor Michael Bloomberg came out with some characteristically bullying, over the top statements – to show he’s in a charge – illustrating both his lack of understanding of what protest means, why people are protesting, and further confirming the fact that this is threatening to him and his corporate cronies if it is actually allowed to happen.

People began moving in to Union Square over the weekend. Last night, the NYPD became violent when more people attempted to sleep overnight. This timeline from OWS is an alarming recounting of the police disruption, violence and ultimate departure as the sun began rising over Union Square. The park was even shut down for a time by Mayor Bloomberg’s “army.”

Gothamist posted this tweet from Twitter:

“I have lived in for 15 years & I have never seen shut down, not even after 9/11. Who is the terrorist now ?

Bloomberg just shows his true colors more and more. Meanwhile, Forbes is salivating over the possibility that Mike might go on to take over Goldman Sachs post the end of his third term as NYC Mayor (will it ever end?) after showing up there recently to give the workers a pep talk.

Vandana Shiva

On to true heroesPeople LOVE Vandana Shiva and she will be speaking at Union Square this Thursday, March 22nd!  It is the OWS Sustainability and the Environmental Solidarity Working Group which is presenting this talk with the “Renowned Physicist and Environmental Activist” on the “Necessity of Taking Back our Food System and the Possibilities for Occupying Global Agriculture.” She will speak at 12 noon at Union Square’s Southern End (14th Street); it’s free.

You might recall there was an attempt to Occupy Washington Square which didn’t quite work out but really Union Square is much better suited.

Vandana Shiva web site

p.s. This video is quite moving and shows what happened on March 17th beginning with the sweet vibe going on at Zuccotti Park and the total contrast once the NYPD moved in:

On Public Space: The Privatized Union Square Holiday Market and the Performance Crackdown at Washington Square

Union Square Holiday Market

As word of the performance crackdown at Washington Square Park spread in October, Parks Department spokesperson Phil Abramson told the Villager:

“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.

To be clear, these “existing regulations” had never existed before. They were written for artist vendors selling their wares (it was controversial with that application) in the city’s public parks. 

The crackdown and ticketing of performers at Washington Square Park has nothing to do with blocking views, paths or monuments. Likewise, the restriction of artists at Union Square Park is not about that.

The Parks Department has no problem with the Holiday Market (pictured above) now in place at Union Square Park – from which it makes over $1 Million. The Holiday Market clearly blocks paths, the 14th Street Plaza and views of the George Washington statue.

This is about controlling public space, money, and a loss of character and charm (the “blanding of New York City”) at our city’s public parks.

Last year, DNAinfo looked into the matter at Union Square:

The sprawling bazaar that takes over Union Square for the park’s annual holiday market has become a hub for gift-shopping New Yorkers.

But one local artist fighting with the Parks Department over its rules to limit street artists in the park the rest of the year sees the city’s preferential treatment of the market as a double standard he thinks could help his case.

Robert Lederman, the outspoken leader of the artists who filed a lawsuit to block the vendor restrictions, claims that money — not public safety or aesthetics, as the city purported — motivated the revised park rules.

Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe admitted to a Daily News columnist that money was a big factor in welcoming the market, which pays the city $1 million to takeover the southern end of the park where street artists usually decamp.

The Parks Department said the artists created hazardous conditions for pedestrians.

Lederman, who invoked the artists’ First Amendment right to sell there without having to pay the city, is hoping the Parks Commissioner may end up eating his words.

“That the city put a 200-vendor holiday market in the exact south plaza area where the new rules completely ban all artists shows the utterly false nature of the pretext,” Lederman told DNAinfo. “That Benepe publicly claims it’s okay because they paid him $1 million, is the icing on the cake.”

Lederman called the holiday market a “huge public safety threat,” claiming it blocks one of the city’s busiest subway entrances and obstructs monuments — which the artists must be 50-feet away from.

But the city’s law department argued that during the weeks the market operates, the park isn’t used as much anyway.

“…The Holiday Market is allowed during the time of the year when it does not significantly interfere with the use of the Park because weather conditions reduce the number of people who come to enjoy its facilities,” Gabriel Taussig, a chief in the Administrative Law Division of the NYC Law Department, said in an e-mailed statement.

That’s an interesting argument – the weather argument. People still come out of the subway in that location and walk through the park there, no matter what time of year it is. On milder days, people would be sitting or performing on the Plaza at Union Square. None of that can be done while the Holiday Market is there.

Since these articles appeared last year, the artist vendor – referred to by the city as “expressive matter” vending – restrictions were put into place at the city’s parks (Robert Lederman’s lawsuit against this is ongoing – a decision should be reached early next year).

The Parks Department’s interpretation of these rules, applying them to artists and musicians performing for donations, is new. It is being purposefully applied at Washington Square – and is yet another example of the city’s attempt to revise the image and historic usage of the park.

These rules, with their expanding applications, are about the Bloomberg Administration controlling and further privatizing our public spaces, not about protecting the public from “wayward” artists and musicians appearing on pathways and in our midst.

September 2001 * September 11, 2011 * Union Square Park

Union Sq Park, Sept. 2001

Union Sq Park, Sept. 2001

Remember Peace: Bring flowers & candles to Union Square on Sunday, 9/11 at 2:00PM
Meet at Union Square George Washington Statue, South side of the park

Message from Reverend Billy Talen:

The lively culture in Union Square after 9/11 – passing the talking  stick as we discuss Peace and breakdancers dance and artists at their easels painted fireman as angels… and the copyshopped faces of the missing watched us from every surface. That strange and wonderful time in Union Square after 9/11 is worth remembering now…

Security by way of NYPD’s vigilance has killed the 1st Amendment freedoms, driving much of NY expressive culture onto the Internet. Culture, from the sidewalks to Broadway, is utterly de-politicized. There is little recognition in NYC of the great fact of our time, that we fundamentally impacted our climate.

Let’s meet on Sunday at 2 PM at the George Washington statue on the south side of Union Square. Let’s pause to remember when there was still hope for Peace in the time after the towers crashed down.

Top Photo: Flatbush Gardener

Scene at Union Square Park

Near George Washington Statue

South of the Plaza

Eastern Perimeter -- NYPD "Command Post"

Last week — Union Square Park.

Photos: Cathryn

City Announces Plans for Restaurant At Union Square Park; Further Privatization of Public Space?

now

2009

Updated 1:04 p.m. – Gothamist reports that Union Square North Restaurant Finally Gets a Restauranteur. The restaurant, if all goes according to the city’s plans, jumps on the trend of “local,” “seasonal,” “sustainable,” so currently in favor. (I’m not opposed to any of that, except when they seem to be used as marketing buzz words.)

Commenters at the Gothamist site were overall not in favor. Laura Newman wrote, “In a neighborhood filled to the max with restaurants, this is a such a terrible use of the park.  It’s a park!!  Plus, the pavilion is a monument to free speech and should be respected as suchEmma Goldman is going to weep.”

Activism efforts put forth in 2009 by groups such as Union Square Not For Sale drew attention to the city’s attempt to take over the historic pavilion for a restaurant space. Luna Park, the restaurant previously in Union Square, utilized the space adjacent to the Pavilion, not within.

From Gothamist:

The new restaurant will be open from May through October offering “casual and affordable food service in the newly restored historic Pavilion in Union Square Park.” In the off season the space will be used for educational and recreational activities open to the public: childrens’ programs, fitness programs, and films from the Parks Department, and public education programs to encourage healthy eating habits from the Greenmarket.

The latter sounds like a great year-round purpose for the space, no?

A Walk in the Park Blog reports that the legal case will again move forward with this announcement based on the premise that this usage requires state legislative approval and is an “alienation of parkland.”

Although part of the New York City public park system, Union Square Park is run by a private entity, the Union Square Partnership, a local Business Improvement District (BID).

________________________________________________________________

** Previous WSP Blog Post with history from 2009: Union Square For Sale?

** Also, this post on Union Square Tree Destruction – See Before & After!

In the News: NYC’s Plans for Private Restaurant in Union Square and Public-Private Partnership Conflict Continues at Prospect Park

* From Washington Square News: City looks to build restaurant in Union Square

— Previously on WSP Blog: The Union Square Pavilion & Privatization of Public Space

* Should someone be a City Parks Dept official and head of a private conservancy?

That’s how it goes at Prospect Park (via The Brooklyn Paper).

— Previously on WSP Blog: Prospect Park and the “sad legacy” of public-private partnerships

NY Post reports City soliciting of bids for “seasonal restaurant” in Union Square Park to Begin Shortly

All throughout the court case that Union Square community activists brought against the New York City Parks Department and Union Square Partnership, the local BID (Business Improvement District), in 2008 over plans to place a restaurant in Union Square Park’s historic Pavilion — claiming loss of a public space — the City and USP claimed that there were no such plans (despite it being in the official documents and on all the Parks Department’s signs surrounding Union Square North’s construction).  Because of this, the judge ruled the case was “unripe.”

Well, today’s New York Post reports that in the next two months the City will begin taking bids for just such a restaurant.  From the article:

The city plans to issue a request for proposals to operate a seasonal café in the [Union Square] park’s refurbished pavilion — despite objections that the 80-year-old gathering spot should be set aside as public space.

The city concession was outlined in an Aug. 24 letter to Borough President Scott Stringer informing him of the upcoming request for proposals.

The winning bidder would score a 15-year contract to run the private café six months out of the year and also have the option to operate a satellite cart or kiosk.

The restaurant has been a bone of contention during the $20 million overhaul of the Park.

In April 2008, park advocates sued the city and the Union Square Partnership, a business improvement district that which manages the park. The lawsuit halted the restaurant’s construction for nearly a year.

The restaurant would have table service and an outdoor seating area on a deck.

Critics argue that the pavilion, a historic landmark, should not become a privately run space.

Previous WSP Blog coverage on judge’s ruling on Union Square here.

Save The Pavilion – Come to Union Square Wednesday, April 8th 5:30-6:30 p.m.

Union Square Not for Sale is reaching out to NY City Council Member Rosie Mendez — whose district includes Union Square Park — to help save the historic Pavilion from being privatized into an exclusive restaurant. They are asking people to bring “Roses for Rosie” — or just yourselves — to Union Square this Wednesday, April 8th from 5:30-6:30 p.m., north end at 16th Street.

As you likely know, nearby Washington Square Park is under the jurisdiction of City Council Member Alan Gerson and Council Speaker Christine Quinn. They, like Council Member Mendez, are two Council Members who didn’t push back when the City’s Parks Department announced its dramatic re-visioning of WSP, thereby allowing Mayor Bloomberg to trample over our precious public space. Yet again. But there’s still time. Gerson took a stand recently against the Parks Department’s plans (better late than never) at the Landmarks Preservation Commission hearing for Washington Sq Park – and he can do more! And Rosie Mendez certainly can as well. It is time for our elected officials to stand up to the Mayor.

Come out on Wednesday to protect Union Square.

SAVE THE PAVILION

Wed, April 8, 2009
5:30-6:30 p.m.
Union Sq. Park (North side)

The details from Union Square Not for Sale:

“The injunction preventing construction on the Union Square Pavilion was lifted by Judge Jane Solomon on March 31, 2009. Construction of Union Square Partnership’s tablecloth restaurant will now proceed as planned. This is very disappointing news but hardly the last word: the judge made it clear that another lawsuit can be brought further on in the process as the bidding for the lease unfolds.

The fight for the historic pavilion is far from over. It is as important as ever to resist the introduction of a private, for-profit enterprise in the pavilion. Once the privatizing begins it will be impossible to reverse. Union Square has the highest concentration of restaurants and the lowest amount of public space in the entire city. There is no need for a restaurant that will remove thousands of square feet of potential play space and threaten one of the city’s most important public assembly areas.

Council Member Rosie Mendez can put an end to this! Join us ­— let’s ask her to return the Pavilion for recreation and community use! Parks for the people, not for profit.

Let’s get in the park! Bring roses for Rosie and SPREAD THE WORD!”