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.

For Earth Day, Banner Launched Via Balloons At Washington Square Arch to Protest Use of Rainforest Wood In New Park Benches


Environmental activists took to Washington Square Park on Friday, Earth Day, with a flamboyant action in which large, colorful, helium-filled balloons ascended to the top of the Arch with a banner proclaiming, “Mayor Bloomberg: Why was the Amazon logged for Wash. Square Park Benches?” The new benches at Washington Square, installed as part of the Park’s “multi-million renovation,” are harvested from Ipe wood, a tropical hardwood logged from the Amazon rainforest. This usage goes against pledges made, according to organizer of the event, Rainforest Relief, over 3 years ago by the NYC Parks Department and Mayor Michael Bloomberg to stop its use in city construction.

From Rainforest Relief and NY Climate Action Group:

This ongoing use of ipê contradicts the pledge that Mayor Bloomberg made to United Nations General Assembly on February 11, 2008: “Our City’s agencies will immediately reduce their use of tropical hardwoods by 20%. They will do that by specifying domestic wood, recycled plastic lumber, and other materials in the design of park benches and other construction projects.” He was following the lead of the Parks Department, which had declared an end to the use of tropical hardwoods for bench construction in late 2007.

The ipê wood can be found in new construction at the High Line Park, Union Square, Hudson River Park, & Brooklyn Bridge Park.

The organizations made a statement about the impacts of privatization of our public space:

[These parks] are also part of a larger trend occurring throughout the city: duties and responsibilities concerning public space are largely being transferred from public agencies to private entities such as business improvement districts and public benefit corporations. These entities are assemblages of private investors and stakeholders who operate without public oversight.

The Village Alliance, a business improvement district, had substantial sway concerning both the redesign of Washington Square Park as well as its maintenance.

“The privatization of NYC’s public space is allowing the city’s destruction of the Amazon to continue unchallenged,” stated Tim Doody, the New York City campaign coordinator for Rainforest Relief.

Photo of old Washington Square benches here.

Stacy Walsh Rosenstock commented at the time of that post: Isn’t the 1934 World’s Fair Bench, designed by Robert Moses and Kenneth Lynch, a New York City classic? Why would we ever choose to use some earth-hostile imitation?

As for the new benches, I hear repeatedly from people that the new benches are uncomfortable and they liked the old ones just fine. Perhaps promises could have been kept and that rainforest could have been left alone after all?

** More on the action which took place yesterday (Friday, April 22nd) around noon here. **

Photos: http://rfny.net

Local Business Improvement District hosts “Taste of the Village” at Washington Square Park Wednesday, September 16th, 6-8 p.m.

Updated (See my question at the end)

Well, I’m not the biggest fan of the Village Alliance, the Business Improvement District, formerly named the 8th Street BID that at some point changed its name to the much more benign Village Alliance.  As the BID that promotes business in the Village down along 8th Street, they have worked to change the character of that strip to more high end (think Marc Jacobs/Magnolia Bakery end of Bleecker Street) – maybe some for the better, and some not (they’ve prompted the booting out of stores they don’t consider up to the proper caliber).  They have an interest in Washington Square Park being as un-counter culture and spruced up and non-controversial as possible.  And there is a concern that they are in line to be part of a private conservancy at Washington Square Park.

But, who’s to say this isn’t a nice event nonetheless? They will present a benefit, “Taste of the Village,” to raise money for Washington Square Park at Washington Square Park on Wednesday, September 16th, 6-8 p.m.  Tickets are $40 and part of the park will be closed off for the event.

Here’s what they say about it:

Celebrate the best tasting and wine festival of the year with a benefit for Washington Square Park. Mark the seventh anniversary of this event by inviting friends who love extraordinary food from award-winning chefs such as Dan Barber, named the nation’s top chef in 2009 by the James Beard Foundation; Mario Batali of International Acclaim and Chef Akhtar Nawab of Eletteria. With the purchase of a $40 ticket, you’ll enjoy more restaurants, more wines, and more pleasure gathered under one big tent.

Location: Washington Square Park

More Information:
(212) 777-2173
Village Alliance

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Oh, does anyone have any opinions on this event?

“Bidding adieu to BIDS” — on the Business Improvement Districts in New York City

The Brooklyn Paper takes a look this week in an editorial, “Bidding Adieu to BIDS,” at the formation in the ’70’s of the Business Improvement District, an entity which has become increasingly popular in Mayor Bloomberg’s New York. According to the weekly, there are 60 “quasi public” BIDS, as they are called, throughout the five boroughs.

As I’ve written here before, these organizations play a complex role in neighborhoods, taking over services the City itself should be providing, while spreading their tentacles outward in ways that are never quite as harmless as they may seem.

One newly formed BID — which is experiencing a mini-revolt amidst local business owners — is along Fulton Street in Fort Greene and Clinton Hill in Brooklyn. The businesses are being asked to pay a second “new city tax that would fund enhanced sanitation, policing and other basic services.” From the Brooklyn Paper editorial:

Taxes on business owners within the so-called “BIDs” raise $80 million — on top of the taxes already taking a bite out of Mom and Pop.

We’re not naive as to why BIDs were created two decades ago. The city was not — and, indeed, is still not — doing a good enough job providing sanitation and security along some of our busiest commercial strips. With the city abrogating these most basic of services, business owners jumped into the breach, taxing themselves to make up for the failure of our elected leaders to ensure clean and safe streets.

In the case of Fulton Street, another issue is arising in the debate. The anti-BID merchants argue that a BID’s cleaner and safer streets actually speed the gentrification process. … In a sense, the business owners forming a BID would actually be paying to speed their own demise.

… We agree with the BID renegades on the issue of who should pay to keep our neighborhoods clean, safe and vibrant. To us, this is solely a city responsibility.

Although the Brooklyn Paper almost comes out in favor of gentrification in their Editorial, claiming it’s all about “change,” the rest of the information is on point.

For more on the Business Improvement Districts and their negative consequences, see previous WSP blog post: Parks for Sale and the Privatization of our Public Spaces by Robert Lederman which looks at the Business Improvement District, the (purposefully) mildly named Union Square Partnership, which oversees – and has total control over – Union Square Park.

For more on the Business Improvement District around Washington Square, the also benignly named Village Alliance (formerly the 8th Street BID), see recent WSP Blog post here.

What we need are COMMUNITY Improvement Districts!

Musings: On Washington Square, The Villager and the Village Alliance BID

This week’s Villager features an article on the Washington Square Park ribbon cutting last week (May 28th). The writer is Albert Amateau who I met at the park’s opening the week prior. I’m a little stunned at this piece which glosses over anything that might have been problematic over the Park’s redesign. It’s not as if The Villager hasn’t reported it over the years, and in detail. There’s reference to some discord but little context. The little there is is allotted to one person who is quoted stating that “20 people” were against changes being made to the park. ??

It’s amazing how quickly the arguments can get lost or forgotten amidst the … pretty. This piece seems to rewrite history and ignore what was a truly problematic, non-transparent and unnecessarily hostile process put into place by the New York City government in the redesign of Washington Square Park.

On this blog, although I’ve certainly had people write in saying they love the new park, I’ve also had people write in with substantive and thoughtful explanations as to what they take issue with. Perhaps Mr. Amateau didn’t encounter many people who were able to give him concrete thoughts on-the-spot. Many people stayed away that day who felt uncomfortable with the “celebration.” Long time activist Mitchel Cohen, who was out of town, wrote in commenting and asked … why wasn’t anyone handing out flyers critiquing the Parks Department and informing people about what went on?

It’s a valid point and, as much as no one wants to be “the negative person” forever, it’s also important for other communities and other battles – and Washington Square Park’s history – that people know what went on here during the Bloomberg Administration.

On the Business Improvement District and their “significant” contribution?

Then there’s the question of the Village Alliance Business Improvement District (formerly the 8th Street BID) which is, it seems to me, gearing up to play a key role in any private conservancy. A conservancy is greatly opposed by the vast number of community members (and the Parks Department is well aware of this).

The Villager article states: “Honi Klein, president of the Village Alliance business improvement district, who raised significant funds for the Washington Square Park renovation, declared the phase-one completion a resounding success.”

From what I know, the Village Alliance raised $125,000 thus far with plans to raise another $125,000. Now, I’m not saying that’s a small amount of money but for a project (Phases I-III Washington Square Park Redesign) with a price tag of over $32 million, that’s really not a “significant” amount, is it?

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** For an up-to-date refresher on what the issues were and are, go here. **

Danny Meyer chairing gala event in Union Square Park Thursday 9/18 – and Citizen Chefs Cooking Up Change will be there too.

The USP BID chair, Danny Meyer

The USP BID chair, Danny Meyer

Updated 9/16!

Union Square Not for Sale moves into the fall season with a bang! (literally) when Citizen Chefs Cooking Up Change meets up Thursday night, September 18th, as restauranteur Danny Meyer co-chairs Harvest in the Square in Union Square Park.

Billed as “a festive celebration of community and cuisine,” Harvest in the Square is presented by the Union Square Partnership — the local BID, business improvement district (which Meyer also co-chairs). Described as “Manhattan’s premier food and wine tasting event,” tickets are $115; $125 at the door. VIP pre-event starts at 6 p.m. Tickets are $400.

The BID states: “Great Food. Great Fun. Great Fundraiser. Everyone leaves feeling Great.

Well, isn’t that … um, GREAT?

Except… they are taking over our public space (already threatened) for a private event.

Except… Our public parks should be funded by our City budget and not a private organization which then retains incredible control over the public space. The New York City budget allocate less than 1/2 of 1 percent of the entire budget to Parks and public spaces. Yet these areas comprise 14% of City land.

Except… Union Square Partnership is interested in “beautification efforts” to help improve businessaround Union Square. We are interested in public space, interactions, people, community, art, conversation, politics in Union Square.

Except… Union Square Partnership wants to place a private restaurant in the historic Union Square Pavilion thereby closing off the public space and catering to an “exclusive” clientele, off-limits to many New Yorkers. (At the moment, a judge has ordered a “no-restaurant” decree on the space.)

Except… Union Square is a PUBLIC SPACE, and like Washington Square Park, it is important that it be regarded AS an important public space. It’s not just about beautification as these architects and realtors and business people would have us believe. Once you gloss everything over, you lose the gritty, you lose the bohemianism, you lose the unique indescribable interactions that can occur in these places when you gear the space for one type of person (which is happening at both these parks).

Except… Everyone becomes a bit more Stepford. No offense to Mayor Bloomberg (although regular readers know I am not a fan) but our CEO Mayor needs to stay out of our public spaces. Our Boston-raised Mayor is not the model for how to keep New York New York. How to keep Wall Street Wall Street and keep us believing that the Financial District is the most important thing for our city? That he does quite well.

So, come on out ! ******************************

EVERYONE IS INVITED to one of our premier public spaces, UNION SQUARE! (it’s free!)

CITIZEN CHEFS COOKING UP CHANGE * Keep Parks for People NOT for Profit

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 18TH, 6 P.M.

UNION SQUARE SOUTH – GEORGE WASHINGTON STATUE (SOUTH END, AT 14TH STREET, ON PLAZA)

Bring some pots and pans (and something to bang on them with) and your spirit (or just bring yourself).

Attire: Festive — &/or Come in costume – black pants, white shirts, bow ties… Union Square Not for Sale will provide chef’s hats.

Context:
The Union Square Partnership is selling out one of our most important public spaces, the pavilion on the north side of Union Square, site of seminal speeches from Emma Goldman, Paul Robeson, Cesar Chavez, Dorothy Day and many many more, rally site of the first Labor Day Parade, AND one of the last remaining public assembly areas in the city.

More Info: Union Square Not for Sale.

Community Improvement District(CID) model to counteract the far-reaching Business Improvement Districts(BID)

Community Improvement District
Although this is a Recycled Entry, originally published June 12th, 2008, it’s also a reminder of the Community Improvement District(CID) model. We are going to begin giving out information at Washington Square Park on the Washington Square CID soon!

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It seems every district in New York City has a Business Improvement District, breezily referred to as BIDS. On the face of it, businesses wanting to improve their districts … it sounds so benign, right?

But as artist and activist Robert Lederman outlined in a previous entry Parks for Sale: Business Improvement Districts and the Privatization of our Public Spaces,” the BIDS don’t just stay on their side of the street. In Mayor Bloomberg’s New York, their tentacles spread far and wide, amidst the roots of the trees, up through the dirt or concrete, and busting out into our public spaces.

A new model, Community Improvement Districts(CIDS), works to protect, preserve and promote the well being of the community. The needs of the people are the primary concern, distinguishing the CIDS from the better known and financed groups known as BIDS, whose sole interest is to promote better business and an environment conducive to shopping.

City-wide pattern

The city underfunds the park, pushes aside public funds and then brings in a BID and a few millionaire friends posing as saviors.

Union Square Park

The local BID, Union Square Partnership (co-chaired by restauranteur Danny Meyer), runs all the activities in Union Square Park from clean-up to yoga! A significant down side is that they have unrestrained control over what happens at this public space (including cracking down on artists and free speech). Their latest plans to place a restaurant within the historic Pavilion (more…)

Union Square Park “Push Back Picnic” Takes on Danny Meyer and Union Square Cafe

Outside Union Square Cafe July 2ndBearing Trees!Outside Union Sq Cafe July 2ndThe “Push Back Picnic” presented by Union Square Not For Sale/Community Improvement District(CID) occurred at Union Square Park yesterday and contained a bit of a surprise for restauranteur and Union Square Partnership co-chair Danny Meyer. Union Square Partnership is the local BID(business improvement district) and has tremendous influence over what goes on at Union Square Park. It is their plan that aspires to place a private restaurant in the historic Pavilion at Union Square.

The picnic began on the lawn at Union Square near the Abraham Lincoln statue on the northern end. There was preaching by Reverend Billy, singing by Community Improvement District/”Church of Stop Shopping” choir, petition signing (to stop the building of a restaurant in the historic Pavilion and further privatization of the Park) and watermelon!

Then, a large contingent, including a marching band, carrying trees marched through the Park and along 16th Street until they came to Danny Meyer’s Union Square Cafe. Reverend Billy, Savitri D. and others sauntered in bringing with them the trees to the surprise of stunned diners and restaurant staff. Their message: “Union Square, Not For Sale.” The Park is pushing back.

Not surprisingly (although they were in there for a pret-ty long time), they were then asked to leave by management and also undercover policemen who came in to the restaurant from the street. After having delivered the message, Reverend Billy laid sod and trees down on the sidewalk outside the front restaurant window and put Danny Meyer on notice:

The BID has had enough influence on the Park; the community is pushing back and reclaiming our public spaces. A large sign appeared in front of the Cafe: “Union Square Community Pushes Back.” There was chanting. “Union Square. Not for Sale.” The lively group then marched and chanted its way along 16th Street back to the Park.

Really not enough of this type action goes on in our city right now. Diners seated outside at the Blue Water Grill and the Coffee Shop, both on the corners of Union Square West, watched in awe, took pictures, some chanted along.

Community Improvement Districts (CIDs) to counteract the far-reaching Business Improvement Districts(BIDS)!

Community Improvement District
It seems every district in New York City has a Business Improvement District, breezily referred to as BIDS. On the face of it, businesses wanting to improve their districts … it sounds so benign, right?

But as artist and activist Robert Lederman outlined in a previous entry Parks for Sale: Business Improvement Districts and the Privatization of our Public Spaces,” the BIDS don’t just stay on their side of the street. In Mayor Bloomberg’s New York, their tentacles spread far and wide, amidst the roots of the trees, up through the dirt or concrete, and busting out into our public spaces.

A new model, Community Improvement Districts(CIDS), works to protect, preserve and promote the well being of the community. The needs of the people are the primary concern, distinguishing the CIDS from the better known and financed groups known as BIDS, whose sole interest is to promote better business and an environment conducive to shopping.

At Union Square Park, the local BID, Union Square Partnership (co-chaired by restauranteur Danny Meyer), runs all the activities in the Park from clean-up to yoga! A significant down side is that they have unrestrained control over what happens at this public space (including cracking down on artists and free speech). Their latest plans to place a restaurant within the historic Pavilion have been met with community disapproval and outrage. It was design plans they initiated that led to fourteen old trees being chopped down for no reason, other than they were in the way of the design. (Apparently the idea of working them into the design was not considered). And our NYC Parks Department, under the aegis of Mayor Bloomberg, supports this, and further privatization of our parks.

It is part of a city-wide pattern. The city underfunds the park, pushes aside public funds and then brings in a BID and a few millionaire friends posing as saviors.

At Washington Square Park, the local BIDS(who have prominent positions on local Community Board 2), along with NYU and the Tisch Family, and with full support and implementation by Mayor Bloomberg and his Parks Department, have played a role in a redesign plan that is destroying the very heart of this beloved and historic Park.

The BIDS’ role in our communities needs to be lessened, not enlarged. The BIDS need to stay out of decision-making related to our public spaces. We need transparency and democracy. What we have in our city parks and public spaces is considerably removed from that at the moment. The Community Improvement District model works to change that and, instead of the well-being of Danny Meyer or NYU or Barnes & Noble, places the well-being of the community first.