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.)

“Glee” Films at WSP Again Over the Weekend

Lea Michele

Hit tv show “Glee” filmed at Washington Square on Saturday, August 11th. Here’s a shot of star Lea Michele on a park bench from Just Jared Jr., entertainment blog. It is not the first time the show has filmed in the park; click here to see some really fun shots of the cast in May of 2011 dancing between the Fountain and the Arch.
Photo: Anthony Dixon/WENN.com

Washington Square Summer 2012

August 2012

(I don’t usually post straight-on shots of the Fountain and Arch because the aligning of the Fountain with the Arch at Fifth Avenue just seems a little more crazy as time goes on. However, since it’s not really aligned and I liked this shot, I left it in.)

You’ll notice a man in the fountain reading a book…

And closer up… so caught up! Wonder what he’s reading…

Bobby (Red-Tailed Hawk) atop Judson Church cross (fountain plume to right)

Tree still dead near the Arch

Bustling near the Arch (Empire State Building in background)


Just a few snap shots…

NY Post Op-Ed: Get a spine, (Christine) Quinn

Christine Quinn 2009 Ribbon Cutting Ceremony WSP Phase I

An Op-Ed worth reading in today’s New York Post by Michael Goodwin on Christine Quinn, New York City Council Speaker, her run for Mayor 2013 (fingers crossed that Mike Bloomberg will be ready to vacate the office by then!), and the lack of oversight by the City Council under her watch:

The council speaker is trying desperately to be all things to all people. She believes she can become the next mayor by splitting all the babies in half.

Stop-and-frisk, wage mandates, economic development, education, union power, taxing and spending — she tries always to thread the needle between competing interests. Only on gay rights is she consistently principled, although her overreach in trying to close down the Chick-fil-A store at NYU revealed a militant streak.

As unappealing as her behavior in that incident was, her approach to other policies isn’t much better. Quinn is no Bill Clinton when it comes to triangulating. Her “third way” is mostly a ham-handed effort to simultaneously pander to opposites.

Thus, she wants the business community to believe she shares its concerns about wage and sick-leave laws, while telling the unions her heart is with them on the same issues. She collected money from both sides, and both now demand their piece of flesh.

Whatever she decides, her formula for governing is doomed to fail because there is no clear guiding principle. If she were to use that calculating, transactional approach as mayor, City Hall would resemble an auction house, with all bidders assuming they would get something for their money. Prosecutors and newspapers would have a field day.

Quinn has been able to get by up to now because she is hiding under the wings of Mayor Bloomberg. His power and money shelter her, and she has repaid him by acting more as a deputy mayor than the head of the legislative branch. He owes her for that, and for organizing the votes that allowed them both a third term.

It is worth noting that, of the big scandals involving Bloomberg’s contracts on technology and other private vendors, none was uncovered by the City Council. Agency oversight has rarely been strong in the council, but under Quinn, it is an oxymoron.

At heart, Quinn is not a reformer. She is a creature of the clubhouse and advocacy worlds, with taxpayer cash and special-interest logrolling the coins of her realm.

If you missed the recent New York Times piece on Ms. Quinn’s home life on weekends in Bradley Beach, New Jersey, it’s worth reading more for its puff piece quality than anything else. (I’ll add link in later.)

To Raise Awareness of Homelessness in NYC, Queens Resident Yusef Ramileze Sleeping in WSP for One Week

Yusef Ramelize, Union Square by Gandhi statue

For the fourth year, Queens resident and homeless advocate Yusef Ramileze will be sleeping in a New York City public space for one week; this year his location of choice is Washington Square Park. His goal is to raise awareness of the plight of the homeless in New York City. Ramileze told DNAinfo he chose Washington Square Park because of “its reputation as a haven for the homeless.” He began sleeping at WSP yesterday and will stay through August 11th, also fasting and taking  vow of silence.

Nearby Union Square was the creative manager’s location for two of the previous years and Grand Central for one. This will be his last year conducting the project, Homeless for One Week, which Ramelize began because he was “looking for a new way to raise awareness of homelessness.”

The homeless population has been at record highs during the Bloomberg Administration’s oh so long tenure.

From DNAinfo, Homeless Advocate Plans Week-long Stay in Washington Square Park:

“We need to let politicians know that this is something that really matters to us,” Ramelize said. “Because of the economy, organizations doing really great work have been lacking in funds. We need to pick up the slack.”

Like past places where Ramelize has slept, he chose the busy Washington Square Park, which is officially closed from midnight to 6 a.m., for its reputation as a haven for the homeless.

“This is something I’m just experiencing for a week,” he said. “I can’t even imagine doing this every night.”

After years of advocacy, Ramelize said he has a better understanding of the scope of homelessness. While mental illness and drug addiction are among the most common causes associated with homelessness, Ramelize has learned about students living out of their cars to afford tuition and single mothers forced to live on the street.

“The extent of the type of person you would see going homeless over the past few years is much bigger than I thought,” he said, as people who were once middle-class have begun to struggle for survival.

Ramelize will be fasting and taking a vow of silence – which will be interesting at WSP! He hopes to raise $5000 for Muslims Against Hunger this year. You can visit his web site Homeless for One Week to make a donation or learn more.

More on Mike Bloomberg administration’s relation to homeless advocates from Coalition for the Homeless.

Washington Square Music Festival Responds to Post on Scaling Back of Performances and Festival Relationship to Washington Sq Association

On Tuesday (7/31), this post appeared on this blog: Washington Square Music Festival Dramatically Scaled Back Performances at Washington Square Park This Year Due to Park Redesign; Final Concert of 54th Season Tonight. Washington Square Music Festival Executive Director Peggy Friedman, while not questioning the substance of the piece itself, wrote in to offer her position as far as the Washington Square Association’s relationship to the Washington Square Music Festival. She wrote, as follows:

Re: New stage in Washington Square and the WS Music Festival: While we are always glad for the coverage given to the Music Festival, I must take exception to the statement that I was somehow influenced by our parent organization, the Washington Square Association in the 2009 meeting before Landmarks Commission. So much water has gone under the bridge since then, that I would have to see a transcript to agree to how the Festival did or did not vote. We have never been satisfied with the stage, or the smaller audience space, but we are getting used to it, and had two fabulous concerts there recently. However, the suggestion that any vote I made was influenced IN ANY WAY by the Washington Square Association is false. We are our own entity and the Association respects us and supports us. It is not necessary for the two entities to agree on every point. Anne-Marie Sumner, president of the Association has always been particularly helpful, and I would like to clarify her and the Board’s policy of “non-interference”. Thank you, Peggy Friedman.

In other news, The Villager has a nice profile of Ms. Friedman this week.

The Park in the Summer Rain


Everything looks so vibrant when it rains and also immediately afterwards. The flowers look so pretty. Garibaldi (far left) looks a bit lonely.

Scene (and Seen) on Sixth Avenue



The Other Day. Just off West 8th Street.

On Display: The River album.

Washington Square Music Festival Dramatically Scaled Back Performances at Washington Square Park This Year Due to Park Redesign; Final Concert of 54th Season Tonight

Charles Mingus Orchestra on previous stage at WSP

Updated-There is a story behind the scaled back number of concerts the Washington Square Music Festival is performing this year at Washington Square Park. Traditionally, the Festival, which has performed in its namesake park for 54 years, would present four or five concerts each season at the landmark park. This year, the number of concerts taking place was scaled back to two. The other performances have taken place at nearby St. Joseph’s Church, traditionally the ‘rain date’ venue. The final concert of the season takes place tonight at Washington Square.

Executive Director Peggy Friedman told the New York Times that the festival “kept clear of the park it was named for this summer, partly because of construction and partly because the music on its first two programs was better suited to the festival’s rain space — St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church, on Sixth Avenue at Waverly Place — than to the traditional outdoor setting.”

However, that’s not entirely accurate; perhaps she didn’t think the New York Times was going to care about all the specifics behind this decision but Ms. Friedman knew this blog would. It would be hard for any one involved in the years’ long saga behind the park’s redesign not to have known that the stage would ultimately not work out for the Music Festival. Last year was the first year the Washington Square Music Festival (WSMF) performed on it after Phase II opened in June.

The reconfigured stage was forced upon the community and the park by the Parks Department despite the concerns the Music Festival – and pretty much everyone involved – expressed. The WSMF said publicly upon viewing the plans that they anticipated problems with the sight lines, the size of the stage, the height of the stage (28″ versus a standard and acceptable 36″), the fact that there is no railing, and no real back stage.

One of the ‘stipulations’ of the (basically non-binding) “Gerson-Quinn Agreement” was that the redesigned stage work for the Washington Square Music Festival. (The Gerson-Quinn Agreement was an intervention of sorts by former NY City Council Member Alan Gerson – WSP fell in his district – and Council Speaker Christine Quinn – neighboring parts of Greenwich Village were, and are, in her district – which acted as a quasi-blueprint to alleviate some of the concerns the community had about park’s redesign.) It was clear all along that it wouldn’t.

However, if the Music Festival had spoken up to the Landmarks Preservation Commission in April of 2009 before Phase II was approved and stated ‘it just wouldn’t work,’ the Parks Department and designer George Vellonakis would have had to go back to the drawing board. Instead, the WSMF told the Landmarks Preservation Commission they reluctantly supported the plans. The reason the organization did not (and I gather felt it could not) speak out is because they are under the “auspices” of the Washington Square Association — which was in favor of the Bloomberg Administration’s redesign of the park. And so, they sealed their fate and the fate of others who would utilize the stage by not speaking out.

Executive Director Peggy Friedman told me before the season started why the Music Festival had scaled back this year:

We faced two challenges last summer on the new stage that need to be addressed  1) the total lack of security and the inability to contact police help 2) the overwhelming heat now that the trees that used to surround the stage near Garibaldi have been cut down.  We are hiring private security which is a considerable new expense and probably performing in the Wenger Wagon, a covered stage which must be rented from Parks, another new expenseTherefore we have designed two indoor concerts of music that is more appropriate in a controlled, indoor space.  It is cheaper to do concerts indoors and St. Joseph’s has been very generous to us.

Shortly after the 2009 LPC hearing at which the new stage was addressed, a comment came in to this blog with some interesting feedback from reader Elton:

“Praise be to Commissioner Roberta Brandes Gratz for her stand in redirecting the Phase II design proposals toward stated community needs. Another community need I feel is getting very short shrift in Phase II is the PERFORMANCE STAGE. Its design and location should be restudied, especially in the light of potentially expanding long-range uses of the park, and in line with the recommendations envisioned by many park-use evaluations. For instance, in past seasons, attending musical performances at Teen Plaza, one must contend with competition from being seated in the middle of a crossroads, limited stage area, no acoustical baffles or wind (or even slight, provisional weather) protection, etc., and Phase II envisions even more compromised conditions. Why can’t a STATE OF THE ART PERFORMANCE STAGE be insisted on as a FOCUS and (geometric, if that’s the winning buzzword) FEATURE of that axis of the park, not a badly-served and watered-down afterthought? Wouldn’t this be an essential part of a long-range plan to underscore the park’s continued and expanding viability as a performance venue?”

However, there was no rethinking of the plan. At some point, years from now, I believe this stage will be readdressed but, for now, you can catch the last concert of the Washington Square Music Festival’s season at the park tonight at 8 p.m.

July 31, 8 pm: DEEP SAHARA BAND — free
Washington Square, main stage south of Fifth Avenue
Abdoulaye Alhassane Touré leader and vocal soloist
performs music of West Africa, the roots of American jazz, on guitar, Kora,(African harp), ngoni (ancestor of American banjo), talking drum, tama, drum set, conga, djembé (a rope-tuned skin-covered drum played with bare hands)

**************************************************************
Review of first concert this season New York Times (July 11), Dickinson and Dylan Thomas, Set for Strings and Voices

Review, New York Times (July 19th), Echoes of Vienna and Byron

Previously at WSP Blog:

Landmarks Preservation Commission Approves Phase II of WSP Redesign; Parks Department Agrees to Increase # of Alcoves

On the 2011 season

Photo: Nan Melville

Washington Square, Sunday: Mystery Atop the Arch, Phase III Construction Continues, Obscured from View, More

As I wrote earlier, I’d been in San Francisco. Here are some ‘snapshots’ from yesterday. Most perplexing: what is protruding from the top of the Arch?

A first look

the thing atop the Arch… another view

Wider view…

another view… (there’s a small bird there checking it out)

fenced off construction area

Interesting. The fence cordoning off Phase III construction has been draped with green plastic sheeting to obscure public view. Was this a decision of the contractor? the Parks Department? This was not the case during Phase II or Phase I. It’s not a terrible idea but it makes me wonder. Also there are no official signs indicating what is being done (as is traditionally the case).

southern end encased fencing

inside the construction zone

A last look at park buildings before demolition

A pigeon tried to land on this light and diverted his course and that’s when I noticed..

this…

shattered light, fountain plaza

Rain, the Fountain Plaza


(This post was amended from an earlier version.)