Should Downtown Sixth Avenue’s Bluestone be Replaced with “Tinted Concrete?”

On the agenda tonight, Tuesday, September 11th, for Community Board 2’s Traffic and Transportation Committee meeting is the following: “Proposal by Village Alliance for capital replacement of bluestone on Ave. of the Americas from West 4th to W. 14th St. (excluding the Jefferson Market Library & Ruth Wittenberg Triangle blocks) with tinted concrete.”

Interesting, right? First of all, do I think a Business Improvement District should be in charge of decisions relating to our city streets and sidewalks and be paying for that? Uh, no. I think that should be a governmental expense. The lines get too blurred otherwise.

I did a quick search and found some more information on bluestone and the push to preserve streets made of it at a New York Times’ article from 1994, Preserving the History That Lies Underfoot; Bluestone Sidewalks on Comeback Trail. Not sure what’s been happening in the last 18 years but apparently the preservation of bluestone has been big in Park Slope. I’d love to hear more of the argument for replacing it (surely it’s cost-motivated). More from the article:

The path toward extinction has been the same for other old-time paving materials — the granite sidewalks of SoHo and TriBeCa; the red brick streets of Queens; the Belgian block, commonly called cobblestone, of lower Manhattan and dockside neighborhoods in Brooklyn, all inexorably fading away.

But bluestone, indigenous to neighborhoods like Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope, seems to be making a comeback. Prompted by pressure from the city to fix decrepit sidewalks of all types, and after years of campaigning by preservationists, many more property owners are making the historically correct choice and creating a bluestone boomlet.

And —

Preservationists estimate that bluestone made up half the city’s sidewalks at one time, chiefly areas near the harbor that were developed first, while today it accounts for just 5 percent. But they say hundreds of sidewalk strips have been renovated in the last two years, and that bluestone has been used in major new restoration projects like Bryant Park.

Lurching progress is also being made in setting up new city contracting procedures that would lower prices and make installation easier. Cost is still a stumbling block, and many home owners in historic districts, where sidewalks must be replaced with bluestone or concrete tinted to look like it, have complained about having to pay almost four times the cost of poured concrete. …

Though the movement to save the material began in Brooklyn Heights, Park Slope and other neighborhoods in brownstone Brooklyn, proponents say interest has spread to areas with a bluestone heritage in Harlem; Long Island City, Queens; Yorkville on the Upper East Side, and Staten Island.

The revival is being catalyzed by stick and carrot. The stick is violations issued by the Department of Transportation to property owners whose walks have been heaved about by tree roots or erosion. Owners have 45 days to fix them or the city sends contractors in to do the job and sends owners the bill. Though the city offers bluestone replacement, the cost is four times the $4.81 per square foot it charges for pouring concrete. (Note: this is in 1994.)

Some background also from the Times:

Concrete has been the preference for New York sidewalks and streets since the turn of the century. But glimpses of the stones of the past are still to be found.

BLUESTONE Often confused with slate, the dark stone is quarried in the Catskills and Poconos. It can still be seen in Brooklyn’s brownstone neighborhoods, lower Manhattan, Harlem, Long Island City in Queens and the northern part of Staten Island.

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WSP connection: I’m fairly certain the fountain is made of bluestone if I recall correctly. And also maybe the Fountain Plaza is bluestone pavers ? Happy to be corrected if this is inaccurate!

To attend tonight’s meeting, it’s at 6:30 PM at Church of Our Lady of Pompei, 25 Carmine St. Father Demo Hall.

The Fountain, (Side) Plume-Less Again

Fountain, No Plumes

Side Jet Uncovered

For a brief period beginning in late August, the fountain regained its side plumes but, alas, as of sometime last week, the fountain is plume-less again. In case you’re wondering, it seems one source of the trouble is this ‘jet,’ above, on the Northern end of the fountain which is uncovered at the moment. All the other jets, which are the source of the fountain’s side plumes, have brass coverings.

A reminder of the fountain in its glory (for a brief period, late summer, after no plumes for more than a year) – from a week and a half ago:

What a Difference a Plume (Or Two) Makes!

Top Two Photos: Cathryn
Bottom Photo: Scott Steinbaugh

Seven or Eight New York City Red-Tailed Hawks Dead Thus Far in 2012 from Secondary Rodenticide Poisoning; Is Rodenticide Returning to Washington Square Park?

Detex Block Monitors Rodent Activity

In late July, the number of New York City Red-Tailed Hawks dead of secondary rodenticide poisoning numbered six or seven and was receiving red flags of alarm in some quarters. Then, two of Pale Male’s latest children both got sick, were subsequently rescued, and are believed to be on the road to recovery.* In late August, Zena, Pale Male’s most recent mate, disappeared and is believed to be dead. Ginger Lima, his previous mate, died early this year of secondary rodenticide poisoning. A new female hawk has moved in according to the Pale Male Blog (they will not move into the territory unless the other mate is gone).

It’s getting hard to keep track but I think we are at seven or eight (maybe more) deaths – as of early September this year – of Red-tailed Hawks dead due to secondary rodenticide poisoning (eating a mouse or rat poisoned by a rodenticide).

SE corner of WSP

In May of 2011, the Parks Department agreed to remove the rodenticide at Washington Square and NYU made a big thing about how they were advocating for that (and how “sustainable” they are) although nearby University buildings were still displaying rodenticide bait stations. The hawk watchers believe that the rodenticide is coming back to Washington Square and I’d say the monitoring of the “rodents” with Detex (sign above near construction) indicates that is possible.  The hawk advocates are genuinely concerned and with good reason. They seem to want to push for a different, “kinder” (my word, not theirs) rodenticide but is that even the answer?

I will reiterate that I think it’s time to rethink poisons in our city. Author Robert Sullivan, who studied rats in the city and wrote about his discoveries in his book, “Rats: Observations on the History & Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants,” states that removing garbage and the rats’ food source is the key,  even tho’ no one considers that was the “sexier” solution – it IS the solution. He consulted with David E. Davis, the “founding father of modern rat studies” who determined that “when rats are killed off, the pregnancy rates of the surviving rats double and the survivors rapidly gain weight. The rats that survive become stronger. ‘Actually, the removal merely made room for more rats,’ Davis wrote.”

The sign at top is for Detex and is located on the southern end of the park near the Phase III construction. It is allegedly “non toxic” and tracks the “rodent activity.” This bait station (above) is currently in the southeastern section of Washington Square and I don’t know if it’s newly placed or old. An email query to the Parks Department as to its position currently on rodenticides and specifically to Washington Square Park did not receive a response.

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* In a sad turn of events, Jeff Johnson, the person who killed a former co-worker outside the near the Empire State Building a couple of weeks ago, had provided that latest update on Pale Male’s children; he was an avid hawk watcher. The Pale Male Blog has an interesting take on the last time hawk watchers saw him at Central Park in “The Man We Called ‘SUIT.” The New York Times interviewed his mother who spoke of his love of his cat in addition to the hawks. Comments at many of the city’s papers mentioned how hard it is for people right now and how certain things push some people over the edge. The Bloomberg Administration’s coddling of developers and uber-gentrifying of neighborhoods makes it harder for people outside of the Mayor’s billionaire friends to make a living and doesn’t help. Obviously this was a complex situation and sad for everyone involved.

Late Summer 2012: After More Than a Year, The Washington Square Fountain’s (Side) Plumes are Back On!

Plumes On!

After more than a year not functioning, the Washington Square Fountain Plumes are Back!

The new fountain debuted, with side plumes, in May of 2009. At some point in June of last year, the side plumes (or jets) stopped working and remained that way. I wrote about it in August (“It’s the Prime of Summer 2011: Is Something (New) Wrong with the Washington Square Fountain?”) and have wondered about it since. So imagine my surprise as I sat by the fountain yesterday and it slowly dawned on me that something was different.

No Plumes Summer 2011

2012: What a difference a plume makes!

No idea what caused the push to repair whatever the problem was but … yay! (I reached out to the Parks Department to find out some more information. We’ll see if there is a response.) It truly makes a difference. Scott who took these shots – thank you! – decided to sit down by the Fountain when he realized the plumes were on; he noted, “There’s less room to sit” but was in agreement it was nice having them on. Repaired just as the summer is coming to a close, the side plumes make the Fountain experience fuller somehow.

Top and Bottom Photos: Scott Steinbaugh
Middle Photo: Cathryn

Have a Problem and Need Someone to Talk To? Free Advice Girl Arrives at Washington Square Park

At Washington Square Park, you never know what you’ll encounter – whether it’s hula hooping, opera, tarot readings, bagpipes, Red-tailed hawks, and more — now, there’s something new to add to the list, of particular value when you’re grappling with how to pay the rent, the guy or gal who just doesn’t call, the boss who is giving you grief …

For the last two months, Lisa Podell, aka Free Advice Girl, has plunked herself and her sign down at varying locations throughout the park offering just that – free advice. What originally began as a “one day thing”  – she wondered if anyone would sit down – has now turned into a regular occurrence; she has fans, is never lacking for people to talk to, and a Facebook page.

I spoke to her recently about some of the people she’s encountered, why she chose Washington Square Park, ways the idea could expand into other NYC public spaces, and more.

How did the idea come about?

I’ve grown up at this park. I’ve always had this [idea] in the back of my mind but I was scared I’d be judged and thought no one would talk to me. I’m a mentor and work with students and adults with behavioral issues. I wanted to do something with my free time that could help people. I originally was going to do it for one day to show myself I could do it. As soon as I put up the sign, two or three people were there ready to talk.

What do you give advice about?

It’s a diverse community — there’s homeless, college students, tourists, people who work around there… I’m having substantial, challenging, thought-provoking conversations with strangers. I’ve talked to a father whose daughter won’t talk to him and suggested some strategies how to get back in her life. Sometimes someone is looking for good place to eat. People sometimes come up to me with substantial issues that I’m not qualified to address so I started keeping a list of resources – shelters, food kitchens. There are young people who stop by who just moved here [to NYC] with no money, no place to live. I suggest places to look for jobs, apply for scholarships.

What has the experience been like?

I’m not telling [the person] what to do. What I do really well is I listen, ask questions… break you out of your point of view, see what you’re dealing with with new eyes. They’re [the people who sit down] choosing to come to me and they’re ready and open to whatever the discussion becomes. It becomes a powerful experience with a playful element to it.

I was speaking to a man who is a musician who performs in subways and parks and he told me “You need to know more about opportunities for people who are struggling, not the shelters but places like the Bowery Mission. You don’t know what to tell them because you don’t live on the streets.” I respect what everyone brings to me. It teaches me how to respond to different people.

Do you move around in the park?

Yes. The new benches get really hot in the sun, and, fortunately for me, they’re empty so I put a blanket down and usually switch to different benches. Ownership still happens in the park… there’s a culture in the park.

What is your background?

I went to college and graduate school at NYU. I studied drama at Tisch. I didn’t want to be an actor so I went back to (graduate) school for education studying educational theater which finds ways to integrate theater into education. I received a dual masters in educational theater, grades K-12 and English education, grades 7-12. [Now,] I teach in public and private schools and work for small businesses. I do adolescent mentoring where I travel to students’ homes. [The issue is] usually not an inability to learn the content but [schools] don’t teach how to study for a test, teach them how to manage their time, and manage procrastination.

I really love one-on-one [interactions]. I’ve always wanted to be a therapist; it’s a role I’ve played in my life.

How often do you set up Free Advice Girl at the park?

I wake up every morning excited to go to the park. I typically go every other day for 2-3 hours.

Did this meet or exceed your expectation?

It completely exceeded my expectations. I’ve always been very shy; I’d rather not be noticed. And I took a big risk. The most effective conversations take 10 minutes. It’s amazing saying stuff out loud… I’m here for whatever experience happens. It pulls people out of their every day. For people walking by, it’s something they don’t see. They stop and smile, take a picture. The ability to create that in people’s every day makes me feel alive.

There’s a wealth of information and interactions and weird stories. Doing this brought up the question – what if there was an opportunity to talk to someone in public spaces in New York? At Port Authority? [As a resource] for homeless people, rich people to go to… The more I do it, hopefully the more opportunities there will be to keep creating and keep growing whatever this is.

Why did you choose Washington Square Park?

I chose the park because I thought people would be receptive to it. Something about Union Square Park doesn’t feel as friendly or open. The park has always been a creative source for me.

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You can write to Lisa or find out when she’ll be at the park via the Free Advice Girl Facebook Page.

NYC Parks Department Not Complying with 2008 Law to Monitor Disparities and Track Private Money Amidst City’s Public Parks

The New York Times reports today that the city’s Parks Department has not been complying with a 2008 law passed by the New York City Council to  “shed light on how much money was flowing into different parks across the city.” Disparities between parks across the five boroughs have been a concern, with private money allocated to specific parks, primarily located in Manhattan, not revealed and properly documented.

The legislation “required the Department of Parks and Recreation of New York City to prepare an annual report that would detail, park by park, the contributions of nonprofits and other private donors.”

At the time the law was passed, the Parks Department went on record as agreeing that it was a good idea and even suggested that it played into the Bloomberg Administration push for “transparency” (the pretense of which many of us would question).

However, surprise! The documentation from 2010 was never listed on the city’s web site and, even if it had been, it is sorely lacking in its compliance, missing data that would properly shed light on the true state of affairs in our city’s parks, the intent of the legislation. In addition, the 2011 report is seven months overdue.

From the Times:

It [the 2010 report] fails to list the city’s largest parks nonprofit, the Central Park Conservancy, which spent $28 million during that period. Other major parks groups, including the Union Square Partnership, the Madison Square Park Conservancy and the Friends of Washington Square Park, are also missing.

Stopping there for a moment. These other “major parks groups” — Union Square Partnership, Madison Square Park Conservancy, one is a BID (Business Improvement District), the other is obviously a Conservancy –are really well known. Friends of Washington Square Park? I’m not even familiar with that. (I’ll come back to that later.)

Nonetheless, Alan Gerson reappears. The former City Council Member, who previously represented the district which encompasses Washington Square and is now under Margaret Chin’s purview, so to speak, was a member of the Parks Committee, and is quoted in the story. (I wonder if Gerson will run again against Margaret Chin – who has been so disappointing – next election; that would be interesting.)

“It doesn’t reflect a real effort to comply with the law,” Alan J. Gerson, a former councilman who sat on the parks committee in 2008, said.

“Whether it’s for schools, or parks or any public place, the public should know where the private money is coming from and what it’s buying. It’s basic good government,” Mr. Gerson, a Manhattan Democrat, said.

“That’s what we wanted to establish,” he said.

The city’s Independent Budget Office concurs with the problems. Doug Turetsky, its chief of staff, states, “It’s clearly not the most illuminating. You’d want to see more detail in terms of specific amounts.”

Some things are peculiar in the article — the current Parks Committee Chair, Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, who has been somewhat of a champion of changes in the Parks Department’s structure, declined to comment. A spokesperson for Council Member Helen Foster who represents the Bronx and was the previous Parks Committee Chair said  that Ms. Foster “did not feel she remembered the legislation.”

The Parks Department declined a request by the Times for an interview with a Parks Department “official” and offered no rationale for the incomplete data. My guess is that this data would not reflect favorably and that’s exactly what the City Council was pushing for – to see what – and how – resources are allocated to, say, Central Park vs. Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx.

As for the “major parks group,” Friends of Washington Square Park (an organization, as I mentioned, with which I’m not even familiar), via a Google search, I see that it is now listed on the Washington Square Association’s web site (and given pretty much equal ‘billing,’ so to speak, listed on a line with the organization’s name). That seems a bit, uh, dubious. However, such is the world of the city’s parks under the Bloomberg Administration.

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Previously at WSP Blog:

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

Bagpipes at the Park


On Saturday, I was sitting near the Arch and I heard bag pipes emanating from somewhere in the park. They stopped and so I basically forgot about them; my attention diverted elsewhere. As I was leaving, they started up again and I snapped this pic of a young woman playing near the LaGuardia Place entrance on the southern end of the park! They were really nice to hear. It’s a distinct sound … it feels regimented and yet celebratory and meditative all at the same time.

The Washington Square Arch — Is it Leaking (Water)?


I write this partly in jest but there was some kind of water issue happening by the door to the Arch on Monday. My delay in posting this is due partly to computer issues (fun!). Above is a photo of the magnificent Arch taken from Fifth Avenue Monday. The photos BELOW show the door to the Arch (the door is on its western side — if you’ve never noticed the door, it is to the right when you are at the front of the structure) leaking water or pooling water. What’s even more unusual is that the last rain was on Saturday, a decent amount, and these photos are from Monday.

It’s always fun to write about the Arch but this is, um, a bit curious. You’ll also notice this major lock that is on the Arch door which appeared in the last year. (I’ve noted it before ..)

Majorly locked Arch door (water at bottom)

Curious…

I wonder if any of this is in relation to that strange structure (in retrospect maybe that was the opening to access the top) that was popping up from the top of the Arch a few weeks back. I questioned the Parks Department about it – even sent them a photo – with no response. I have another thought on that (to be continued…).

New York Fringe Festival Takes Over 1 E. 8th Street (at Fifth Ave.) for One Month as “FringeCentral” HQ

“FringeCentral” – 8th Street & 5th Avenue

1 East 8th Street, just off Fifth Avenue, is now “Fringe Central,” home to Fringe NYC (officially the New York International Fringe Festival), now in its 16th year, with events running through August 26th.

The festival set up at the 8th Street location — previously home to …  a Duane Reade? a CVS? (I can’t recall … either that or a bank?!) — in late July. It’s just being used temporarily. It looks sparse – but festive! – and pretty much as it did when I’d peek in before with its “For Lease” sign adorning the window — with a few chairs, colorful signs and people added to the mix. It has a warehouse feel and seems to work for this purpose; the location had been sitting vacant for awhile. A nice change of pace for sure!

FringeNYC began August 10th and is “the largest multi-arts festival in North America, with more than 200 companies from all over the world performing for 16 days in more than 20 venues.” There will be 1200 performances in all.

Heading from the Park, you can pick up a program, tickets and encounter other events at the site. Hours are 12 p.m. – 8 p.m.

Find the schedule here.

New “Mounds” at Washington Square Park Taking Shape – but in what form?


The somewhat controversial “Mounds” at Washington Square Park are starting to take some shape in the Southwestern mid-section of the park. Originally part of Phase II of the park’s redesign, they were moved into Phase III construction, going on now. I’ve always been a little confused by the Mounds — as I indicated in this post from 2008 — but I also respected the passionate ‘fight’ for them, what they offered and perhaps also represented to people with a longer history at the park.

I suspect, however, that they are becoming “cable-net play” structures and less “the Mounds” (which were also referred to as “the three hills”). There’s not really anyone overseeing what’s going on; the people who had been fighting for them with former Council Member Alan Gerson have long been silent.

What will be the end result be? It will be interesting to see. It would be great if Community Board 2 stepped in and asked for an update now that there is a new Parks Committee chair! (At last! Rich Caccappolo, who I do not know, has replaced Tobi Bergman, who had been Parks Committee chair for way too long.)

The Mounds are supposed to remain six feet high. This photo represents a ‘first look’ but doesn’t really look like they are going in that direction. Also, unfortunately, despite protest, they will be covered in artificial turf.

In the video that’s linked to below, one Mounds’ advocate states, “They are places of spontaneous play which is different from play equipment which sort of mandates play. The Mounds allow spontaneous play, discovery, risk taking, all the things that are part of growing up.”

It seems to me they are being turned into the opposite of this and will be “play equipment.” It would be good if there was some actual tracking of what the final result will be (before it is too late).

Go here to read this refresher on the Mounds; originally published December 16, 2008: What’s Up with the Mounds? Why People Like Them.
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Also, this links to another video of the Mounds being used for sleigh riding a few years back and is very sweet.