Spotlight: Neighborhood Blog – The SoHo Memory Project

A new blog has popped up in SoHo! Only in existence since January 1st, 2011, the blog focuses on growing up in SoHo in the ’70’s and includes lots of great photos and insight into SoHo’s history as well as present day.

FOOD cooperative restaurant at Prince & Wooster, 1970's

Tiffany & Co., 550 Broadway at Prince, 1850

Check out The Soho Memory Project:

Every person has his or her own 1970’s SoHo, and it is very different from the SoHo of today. For me, it was a wonderful place to grow up and explore and make friends. In a way, my 1970’s SoHo resembled a description of your average American neighborhood, where people know their neighbors and all the children play together. But on the other hand, I did learn how to ride a bike in my house! Anyone visiting SoHo today could not even fathom such as place existing in lower Manhattan. And because this aspect of SoHo has not been well documented thus far, I would like to build this collection of recollections over the coming months and years before our ephemeral memories fade and disappear forever.

Photo of Tiffany & Co.: Curbed via Flickr

Greenwich Village Daily Photo Takes a look at History Soon to Be Lost as WSP Phase II Begins

Greenwich Village Daily Photo takes a look at Washington Square Park before the Phase II redesign in a post this week.

When asked what I think of Phase I’s redesign (encompassing the Park’s recently opened NW Quadrant and Fountain Plaza), I sometimes search for words and say, as a question almost, “it’s … pretty?”  Usually, it’s clear if the person has already come to that conclusion but may not have the larger context in mind (and may or may not realize that’s not meant exactly as a compliment).  Many who have looked on from afar still fail to assimilate the fact that no park users and community activists “fighting” the Bloomberg Administration’s dramatic redesign plans wanted the park left in disrepair, as the ‘bones’ of the park – the paths, the lawns, the lights, the bathrooms – clearly had been allowed to decline.

What people wanted – and fought arduously for – was a design that illustrated some acknowledgment of the park’s rich, more recent history (not sweeping back to the 1800’s, as if that is relevant to today) as well as its lived-in beauty and familiarity and (counter) culture.  The recently opened NW Quadrant and Fountain Plaza are deceptively pretty because is a “pretty” park what we all were looking for? For some, yes.  Unfortunately, New York City government, under the Bloomberg Administration (which placed this task in the hands of landscape designer George Vellonakis) wanted to erase the past, and under Mayor Bloomberg, this is going on across our entire city.  So, I think GVDP sums up well how a lot of people feel about what’s going on at Washington Square Park but perhaps it’s been difficult to put into words:

History Lost

Next week the final alteration/destruction of Washington Square Park begins. Last year the City updated the west side of the park, and it’s lovely. Lovely as a freshly scrubbed townhouse, devoid of soul, character or anything resembling history. The east side of the park (seen here last night) has that lived in look. Dig the old railings, the worn out fountain, the broken latches. This is where the Beats and the 60s folkies and all the lost artists held court from the 40s to the 70s. Gone. No more Bob Dylan, Peter Paul & Mary, Pete Seeger and Alan Ginsberg. Soon the City will wipe the slate clean. This will all be new and improved! Goodbye.

GVDP’s photos here.

The One Year Anniversary of this Blog!

I recounted here how I started this blog after going to an exhibit in January 2008 at the Municipal Art Society on Jane Jacobs. Jane Jacobs had been critically involved over the years at Washington Square Park (and, of course, New York City, in general). The goal of the exhibit was to inspire community activism. They handed out a little booklet which said, basically, if all else fails, if you’ve tried everything, START A BLOG. I recognized – from hearing their stories – that many of the people in the community had tried the typical routes (go to meetings, talk to politicians, talk to your community board, hand out flyers, etc. etc.). A blog seemed like something new, different.

Right around the time I started, I met all these wonderful Brooklyn bloggers at a luncheon. They were all so inspiring, honest, talented, encouraging, quirky. Truthfully, if I had realized how much work it would be, I might have rethought it but this blog provided a place to practice writing in a structured way that was part activism, part journalism. I have a background in public relations so it seemed like some of that might get thrown in also.

I started out wanting to tell the story of what had happened to that point. Then, last summer, new meetings about the park’s redesign began and I was able to report the story as it was happening. Curbed called this a “watchdog blog.” Along the way, this blog (and I) got written up in the New York Times, linked to by numerous other blogs and web sites, and had written dialogue with the NYC Parks Commissioner.

When I first got started – to catch up – I surveyed video footage and scoured newspaper articles recounting the numerous meetings and lawsuits and presentations … oh my! … navigating a history of incomplete and often inaccurate information presented by the Parks Department, questionable decisions made by the local Community Board 2, Landmarks Preservation Commission and City Council, and political deceptions and maneuvering across the board. Catching up, the well of information seemed bottomless.

I recognized early on that I needed to interconnect other issues going on in our city and public space that also relate to the issues at Washington Square Park.

Those inter-connections are:

* the reduction and privatization of public space (particular emphasis on Washington Square Park, Union Square Park, and Yankee Stadium Parkland);

* the cutting down of hundreds if not thousands of trees in our parks across the five boroughs while the Mayor hypes his MillionTreesNYC “initiative” ;

* the dangerous and controversial use of artificial turf in our parks and playing fields;

* NYU: Washington Square Park’s influential neighbor and its reckless real estate land grabs which are decimating our communities and neighborhoods throughout Manhattan as it plants its flags seemingly everywhere. (NYU’s influence on Washington Square Park’s plans is very behind-the-scenes but it is there. NYU owns, after all, basically all the real estate that surrounds the park.);

* Business Improvement Districts and Conservancy Models : The problem with the overly pervasive BIDs and Conservancies is that they get a stronghold on our public spaces, thereby influencing usage in ways that are based on bolstering real estate values over community interests;

* Failure of elected officials: City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and City Council Member Alan Gerson (its Gerson’s district but Quinn’s is next door, covering Greenwich Village) have failed in protecting Washington Square Park and in responding to their constituents’ pleas for intervention. They made some modest changes to the Parks Department’s plan in October 2005 and yet they can’t be bothered – to date – to make certain even those modest modifications are upheld.;

* Washington Square Park Task Force — The one body charged with watching the Parks Department as the redesign plan is put into place. Largely comprised of members of Community Board 2, as well as representatives of elected officials, and community members, I’ve been attending and covering the meetings this past year. While I recognize some of its strengths and gains, too often the requests it puts forward to the Parks Department and information it relays from these meetings to Council Member Gerson and Speaker Quinn lacks a true sense of advocating for the Park. “Going along to get along” seems to be its method of operating.;

And… of course…

* Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Without him and his deft and slickly corrosive way of maneuvering through city agencies and outside groups, I believe none of what’s happened at Washington Square Park and in our city would have been possible, particularly at such an accelerated rate.

-He and his policies are responsible for placing the interests of developers and corporations over neighborhoods and communities which has been a real detriment to the diversity and uniqueness that is (or should be) New York City.

-The Mayor (with the assistance of Speaker Quinn and 28 City Council members) and the overturning of voted-in term limits is another issue I’ve covered in-depth since I started, believing it highlights our CEO Mayor’s arrogance, lies and sense of entitlement.

So there you have it! I can’t say what the year ahead will look like. I believe there’s room for change in the NYC Parks Department’s plan for Washington Square ParkWe’ll see! At least we’ll all know exactly what went down. I hope you will continue to send me your ideas, your feedback, your comments, your help, and your encouragement, and we’ll navigate the road ahead together.

Thank you !

Cathryn.

Photo: Venetia27