Report-back from Washington Sq Park Task Force Meeting on Phase II of Park’s Redesign (Emphasis: The Playground, But So Much More is Revealed)

Washington Sq Pk in the Snow, Fountain/Arch, 2005

Washington Sq Pk in the Snow, Fountain/Arch, 2005

What was learned from the Washington Square Park Task Force – Community Board 2 Parks Committee meeting Wednesday, January 7th held at the NYU Silver Center addressing (more of) Phase II as Phase I of Washington Square Park’s redesign nears completion:

* The large playground (Northeast side) will be done in segments so that the whole playground is never closed at one time. It will remain in its footprint (same size) and will include a spray shower, new lightweight gate, spray area, spray features, a water trench, sand box, swing area, a children’s garden (outside the playground fence), floating benches, new trees (one cherry tree is slated for destruction), and “safety surface” (a sample of which will be provided at some point in the future).

* A Parks Department representative said, of the playground, “only so much needed to be done.” A statement which I find sort of ironic … isn’t that the case for the entire park? (Needed a renovation? … Yes. Some fixin’, some sprucing up, but a massive redesign? No, I think not.)

* Then, there’s the fact that playground received its own separate meeting. I asked CB2 Parks Committee chair and WSP Task Force co-chair Tobi Bergman about this: “Will the other parts of Phase II be getting their own meetings, the seating alcoves, the chess area, the Garibaldi performance area, the dog runs?” He answered no. So why did the playground get special treatment? Mr. Bergman informed me that, for the rest of Washington Square Park, the Task Force just submits its suggestions to the Parks Department and basically accepts whatever the answer is, like it or not. (I stopped writing at this point, so mesmerized was I by this answer, but it’s on film. I can get back to you on the exact words.)

CB2 Chair and WSP Task Force co-chair Brad Hoylman added, to explain the isolated meeting, “There are no parents of young children on the Task Force.” (Its purpose was to outreach to the community. Then, he said, by way of clarification, there are parents but of older children.) Matt Davis, who directed the documentary SQUARE: Straightening Out Washington Square Park,” then asked if there were any “dog owners” on the Task Force. This was not adequately addressed although it seems the answer is no, but that doesn’t mean the dog runs are getting their own meeting.

* So, basically, what is convenient for the New York City Parks Department is discussed by the Washington Square Park Task Force, at this point in time. (I’ve written a number of posts about my concerns with the WSP Task Force, a body which was put into play by local NY City Council Member Alan Gerson and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. See WSP Task Force under Categories, column to right.)

* The Parks Department has assigned a designer to work on the playground (Chris Crowley) who is willing to work with the community, contrast this with the landscape designer working on the majority of the park (George Vellonakis) who isn’t.

* And it was the first time I heard someone quote from the Landmarks Preservation Commission‘s ruling in a way that limited what was done. Apparently, the LPC “did not want McDonald’s in the playground” so there will be a limit to big, colorful, plastic fixtures, I gather.

* Wouldn’t it be nice if … high, unwelcoming fences, misplaced lamps, overdone gardens, leveled off plazas, aligned (Tisch) fountains, massive reduction of public space, sterile pathways, suburban plazas, and a close-to-maniacal-emphasis-on-symmetry were off limits in their ruling also?

Washington Sq Park Task Force to focus on Children’s Playground at Meeting Wed. Jan. 7th

A planned follow-up to the December 3rd Washington Square Park Task Force/Community Board 2 Parks Committee meeting focusing on the renovation of the large children’s playground will be held this Wednesday, January 7th. This part of the project is actually a renovation and not a dramatic redesign like the rest of the New York City Parks Department’s three phase plan for Washington Square Park. In a refreshing change of pace that hopefully will continue, the Parks Department is attempting to work with the community, in contrast to the situation – to date – with the other element’s of the park’s redesign.

Details: Wednesday, January 7th, 6:30 p.m. Location: NYU Silver Building, 32 Waverly Pl. Room 520 (I.D. Required).

The designer working on the playground is Chris Crowley, as opposed to Parks Department landscape designer George Vellonakis who has much different, um, style. Crowley was responsible for a renovation plan of the park drafted in the late ’80’s (never completed) – that allegedly received Landmarks Preservation Commission and Community Board 2 approval – which worked with the existing design that is favored by so many.