2nd Anniversary of this Blog!

This is an abbreviated, edited version of the post I ran last year on the blog’s 1 year anniversary – with an update at the end:

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. I recognized that many 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.). At the exhibit, a little booklet was handed out which stated, basically, if all else fails, if you’ve tried everything, START A BLOG. That got my attention. I thought, why not?

Right around the time I started, I met all these wonderful Brooklyn bloggers at a luncheon. They were all so inspiring, honest, quirky, talented, encouraging. 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 (’08), 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 got written up in the New York Times, linked to by numerous other blogs and web sites, and I had written dialogue with the NYC Parks Commissioner.

I’ve felt it was important to interconnect other issues going on in our city and public space that also relate to the issues at Washington Square Park, such as:

* 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 communities and neighborhoods throughout Manhattan as it plants its flags seemingly everywhere. (NYU owns, after all, basically all the real estate that surrounds the park.);

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

* Failure of elected officials: City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and (former) City Council Member Alan Gerson failed in protecting Washington Square Park and in responding to their constituents’ pleas for intervention;

* Washington Square Park Task Force — Largely comprised of members of Community Board 2, as well as representatives of elected officials, and community members. Too often the requests it puts forward to the Parks Department lack a true sense of advocating for the Park;

And… of course…

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

**************************************************************

2/26/10: Right now, we’re in full swing of Phase II construction at the Park. There is a Phase III yet to come! This blog became an important space for me personally when I first started writing it — it’s written itself at times! I’ve had to slow down and post less often (I posted once a day for close to the first year and a half) and future posting will be more sporadic. Yet, there are 492 posts in the archive (check ’em out – see Categories on right hand side bar) and a lot of material has been covered here.

I learn all the time from the other NYC bloggers, and it’ll be interesting to see where this whole “citizen journalism” movement goes (especially as mainstream journalists move in).

If there’s one change I would have liked to have seen, it would have been more transparency and less arrogance, a change in the way the NYC Parks Department related on Washington Square Park and all park issues.

While the Phase I section of the Park (around the Fountain), which opened May ’09, looks “pretty,” it also looks suburbanized, homogenized, “aligned.” Even the latest news, of those two old trees axed amidst Phase II Construction ones that landscape designer George Vellonakis insisted would be saved – confirms another untruth, on top of too many others, from the New York City Parks Department. Another inappropriate action from a city agency, as we navigate Mayor Bloomberg’s (engineered) third term.

However, the spirit of the park will live on! It’ll change (again) as the years go by. And I believe ultimately the truth (about Mayor Bloomberg, about the Parks Department under Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, about whatever behind-the-scenes deals that were done) will prevail.

As always, thanks for reading and stopping by whether it’s been often, from time-to-time, or just today!

best,
Cathryn.
WSP Blog

*The First Post: The Magical Park, February 26, 2008

*Links to many of the issues noted above (topics covered on this blog) here.

Photo: Venetia27

A Personal Appeal — Support This NYC Blogger/Writer

Dear Blog Readers:

I’m writing you a personal note to ask for your support! Whether you read my blog regularly, stop by from time to time, or totally disagree with some of my views but appreciate the updates and hard work (!!) that have gone into this blog, I thank you! — this note is for you – and you – and you!

It’s hard to imagine that it’s close to two years since I started the Washington Square Park Blog (February 26, 2008) but it is. I’d never written a blog before but jumped into creating it because the issue of New York City’s actions as they affect our parks and public spaces is so important.

As I was figuring out various things in my own life, this blog connected me to other bloggers (I met many of the amazing Brooklyn bloggers in person and the Manhattan & other borough bloggers have been great support virtually). Those connections have been very important to me and this blog.

Washington Square Park Blog has given me the opportunity to delve into this burgeoning concept of citizen journalism and expose the intense – and sometimes joyous – details of what is happening in our City. Today, the idea of hyper-local blogs focusing on specific neighborhoods or places like Washington Square Park as a window onto the larger world has gained more traction.

While I’ve been writing my blog, I also have been writing a book.

Connecting the Dots

At times, finding the connections between disparate news items — such as the City’s attempt to put a privately owned restaurant in Union Square Park, or the construction of the new Yankee Stadium (which involved confiscation of 22 acres of public park land that still has not been fully replaced), privatization of our parks, or the question last year of Mayoral and City Council term limits! — and writing about these topics on this blog has been so compelling that I couldn’t turn away and not write about it, sometimes at the expense of working on the book!

And, of course, all the material directly related to Washington Square — the Community Board, Task Force & Landmarks Preservation Commission meetings, outlining the Phases of the redesign of the Park, letters to – and from – the NYC Parks Commissioner, write-ups in the mediaNY Times, NY Daily News, NY1, Time Out NY, NYmag.com, MSN.com, Curbed (Curbed has kept me going at times and always made me laugh!), and numerous other blogs, the re-opening of the park upon Phase I completion, highlighting events at the park, the history of the park, to, more recently, breaking the news of the discovery of the tombstone from 1799 during recent construction! – it has often been difficult to turn the stove down to simmer.

I realize that when we read blogs – I read many of them! – we consider the content “free.” As it SHOULD be! There’s something really nice about the fact that it is.

But, as you probably know, A LOT OF WORK goes into researching and writing this blog. So, I’m asking you, now, to help support your local blogger! For a number of personal reasons, this would be a very good time to do so! And there’s good reason to: You can help me publish my book. (more…)

New York Times Launches “Citizen Journalism” Sites

Updated 12:06 p.m.

On Monday, the New York Times launched five test “citizen journalism” sites called “The Local” focusing on two New York City neighborhoods – Clinton Hill and Fort Greene, both in Brooklyn – and three (?) New Jersey neighborhoods – Maplewood, South Orange, and Millburn.

According to an article in Friday (2/27) Editor & Publisher, “Most of the contributions will come from local residents, with a Times staffer overseeing each site.” The E&P writer, Joe Strupp, asked Times’ editor of “digital initiatives,” Jim Schachter, about “the dangers of having inexperienced non-journalists doing reporting for the sites.” To which, Schachter replied, “I don’t think we would expect to get the exact same thing that we would get from a New York Times reporter. (WSPB Note: let’s hope not.) One of the qualities that we bring to the plan is our good judgment.

Interesting that the Times jumps on the “citizen journalism” trend (instead of, say, initiating it) — the article acknowledges it as a “growing world” — and yet disses the sites that already exist; sites which have managed to communicate, gain readers and attention, without the Times’ imprimatur.

Schachter adds: “It is a grassroots effort, to see if there is a new kind of journalism we can be part of.”

For “The Local” of Brooklyn, the Times will also use community journalism students from CUNY Grad School of Journalism.

Then there’s this: “The mission is to educate the community about how to be citizen journalists and contributors,” Schachter added. “There are ‘place’ blogs everywhere. We have to create a real quality community that figures out the answers to questions on the minds of people in each place.”

Do you think that’s really the mission?

On the Maplewood blog (which is not far from where I grew up), I read an interesting story about a wrangle between a possum and a dog (both survived). Tina Kelley who edits the NJ section is from Maplewood. Maplewood, South Orange, Millburn – all sort of similar. Whereas Andy Newman, who edits Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, lives in Park Slope which is very different from those neighborhoods. We’ll see how this one plays out.

As someone who writes a “place blog” (albeit very specific and not about a neighborhood per se), I think they should figure out a new way to do it. Not jump on what community and neighborhood bloggers figured out for themselves. A. long. time. ago. Of course, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the Times writing about neighborhoods. That’s a good thing. If you look at the sites; however, it just doesn’t seem different from what other bloggers are already out there doing.

What do you think?

Room 8: The role of bloggers as citizen journalists

Brooklyn BlogFest Sign * May 2008

Brooklyn BlogFest Sign * May 2008

On the day I testified at the City Council term limits public hearing, one of the other panelists was a journalist from a site called Room 8. Room 8 describes itself as: “the imaginary neighbor to New York City Hall’s legendary press room, Room 9. It’s a place for insiders and informed outsiders to have a running conversation about New York politics.”

Yesterday, Room 8 featured a post about the role of bloggers in covering Mayor Bloomberg and the whole term limits fiasco. In an article titled, “Was the Lie of ‘Consistent Leadership’ Old Media’s Last Stand?,” Oneshirt writes:

Only the city’s bloggers like Your Free Press, Pardon Me For Asking, The Brooklyn Optimist, The Daily Gotham, Queens Crap, and Washington Square Park [note: yes, yours truly] reported to their readers during the term limits debate that the Council’s argument for continuity of leadership to save the city’s economy was nothing more than public relations spin to cover the Council’s blatant power grab for an additional term in office. At the same time these citizen journalists across the City were reporting the real facts, the Mayor was meeting with the publishers of the three major dailies to coordinate a cover story for his support of extending term limits.

The writer then notes a lawsuit that lawyer Normal Siegel (who is running for Public Advocate and is one of the lawyers on the term limits lawsuit) has filed on behalf of bloggers – “citizen journalists” – who have been denied official press passes by the NYPD (which issues these media credentials):

Siegel’s lawsuit argues that … in favoring corporate-employed reporters over citizen journalists and independent bloggers, the City’s press credentialing system effectively chooses to license primarily staid, cautious reporting – with a strong bent toward corporate coddling – over the dynamic, unadulterated articles of journalists like [plaintiff Rafael] Martinez-Alequin.

The article ends by stating:

The city’s fast-emerging community of bloggers is quickly growing its readership simply by providing the type of truthful analysis that is hard to find in the City’s dailies. In so doing, New York’s blogosphere has established itself as the City’s premiere forum to debate controversial opinions, encourage participation in local politics, and further the belief that people should control their own lives.

I’ve thought often about the role of New York City’s bloggers in reporting the dramatic changes in our city under Mayor Bloomberg which go largely unreported by the mainstream media. Without this information, one day we’d all wake up, would not recognize anything about where we are and we’d wonder how it happened.