NYC Parks Department Drops off Washington Square Park Phase II Blueprints at Community Board 2 Meeting; More Arborcide at Washington Square Park and by NYU

Well, yes, Community Board 2’s Parks Committee met Wednesday night, February 3rd, in the Village with a list of topics to discuss. On the agenda: Design of the Washington Square Park “comfort stations,” part of Washington Square Park Redesign: Phase III which will begin later this year or early next. There was, at last, a look at the plans for WSP Phase II construction, currently underway.

The Parks Department unveiled full Washington Square Park Phase II redesign plan blueprints, the first time anyone from the community had seen these despite the fact that the work began in the Fall of 2009. Clearly, these Phase II blueprints have existed for awhile — the fact that the Parks Department just now got around to bringing them before the Community Board is particularly vexing.

At the previous December meeting (a joint meeting of CB2 Parks Committee with the Washington Square Park Task Force), the Parks Department was unprepared and attendees were told that representatives would return at February’s meeting to give the Community Board full and final details on ongoing Phase II construction and design plans for Phase III.

Instead, the Parks Department dropped off some blueprints (which were nice to finally see, of course), placed them on a table and focused on presentations related to other parks.

No information was presented about the design of the Washington Square Park comfort stations/restrooms. (You might recall that the Greenwich Village community repeatedly insisted over the last five or so years that WSP’s failing rest rooms be addressed first in their redesign plans to which the New York City Parks Department smiled and nodded their heads while ignoring this request all along the way.)

At the meeting, other village neighborhood parks got the spotlight, including Bleecker Street Playground, Petrosino Park, and Minetta Playground. I miss the presence of Community Board 2 Chair Brad Hoylman (who left his position at the beginning of this year after a 2 year term).

With Hoylman there, the spotlight shone a bit brighter on WSP – and park – issues. CB2 Parks Committee Chair Tobi Bergman, previously a Parks Department employee, is more likely to dismiss items when they might get a bit thorny, not holding the Parks Department accountable. I can’t say for certain that Hoylman, who works for Partnership for New York City (a pro-Bloomberg, pro-development entity), increased the Parks Department’s responsiveness but the process felt more open.

Arborcide by NYU and at WSP

For example: NYU devastatingly chopped down 6 trees along Thompson Street between Washington Square South and West 3rd Street recently during construction of their new Interfaith center at 58 Washington Square South. Their reason: to install an intricate heating system. Clearly, the design could have been configured otherwise.

In December, Bergman took a strong stand, with the rest of the board’s committee, when NYU officials came before them with these plans. The Parks Committee disapproved of this arborcidal concept and instructed NYU to find a new way to proceed. Yet, it was revealed on Wednesday that the Parks Department went ahead and gave the University the jurisdiction to send the trees to the chopping block.

Trees now gone. To those who objected when this news was brought to light, Bergman told them, quickly shutting down any discussion: it was done, yes, we objected, move on.

When Mayor Michael Bloomberg says he is in favor of a MillionTrees, there may be some planting going on, but it seems for every one tree planted, another is axed. (See Union Square and Yankee Stadium Parkland, as well as Washington Square Park14 trees axed in Phase I, unclear # in Phase II to be destroyed.)

Another example: the two magnificent, non-uniform, non-aligned trees that graced the path from Garibaldi Statue alongside Teen Plaza to LaGuardia Place at WSP. I’m not certain the type tree they were but they had character, were clearly very old, and their branches drooped at bizarre angles, infusing immediate charm and an eclectic feeling.

When landscape designer George Vellonakis walked me through a tour of his plans for Phase II in May 2009, I asked specifically about those trees. As he had stated previously in public, he confirmed to me that those trees would remain. But, like most everything that shows a bit of non-conformity at the Park, as I walked through Wednesday night, I noted those trees are gone.

Parks Department Given Way Too Much Latitude

In the end, there was no presentation from the Parks Department on WSP. Bergman was vague about when they would return (March was fleetingly mentioned) and didn’t seem to recall the stated agenda items from December slated to be readdressed at this meeting.

It wouldn’t be hard for the city agency to detect that Bergman is quick to forgive – or more pointedly ignore –  failings on their part. He’s very adept at pointing out that CB2 role is advisory, instead of forging a more activist and assertive front. I’m not certain why, when the CB2 Chair was rotated at the beginning of this year, new committee chairpersons were not put into play.

Blueprints Dropped Off: Washington Square Park Phase II

The Parks Department dropped off diagrams displaying Washington Square Park Phase II which were placed on a table for viewing.

Evident from the plans:

*There will be 19 chess tables. I can’t recall the previous number (does anyone offhand?) but it looked like an increase although the Parks Department had initially said the number would remain the same. That SW corner becomes reduced in size – becoming another conformed, aligned “Plaza,” like the other three that grace the corners of the Park’s quadrants.

*Nine NYPD security cameras and devices, four within the Park, installed on poles. “2 cameras will be installed on new poles that currently do not have security devices installed.” I gather the other five will be along the perimeter of the Park.

*As we knew, four of the six seating alcoves will be preserved. Three are supposed to remain as they were, one reduced in size.

*As previously outlined, the two dog runs will be relocated along Washington Square South. (Designer Vellonakis previously has stated that no trees would be disturbed there. We’ll see…)

*Garibaldi is being moved from his position facing West to a position a bit further North, facing South.

As for Phase III design plans, it seems that they will be unveiled by the Parks Department at the Parks Committee meeting in March – at least that’s what was implied. Whether the Parks Department will keep to their word, we shall see. We’ll also see whether Community Board 2’s Parks Committee holds them to it.

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For a look at the Phase II diagrams and a report about the meeting from Curbed, go here.

My previous WSP Blog post on Phase II plans.

If you are not up on what’s happening at Coney Island…

AstroLand Park, Coney Island

AstroLand Park, Coney Island

In case you’re not up on Mayor Bloomberg‘s re-“vision”ing of Coney Island, here are some sites with the most up to date information.

Okay, this one is not really Mayor Mike’s “plan,” as so many others are where he’s behind the curtain pulling the strings, like Washington Square Park. But we know he’s engaged because it involves destroying the collective memory and history of a beloved place in New York City. That’s our Mayor’s specialty.

What the city hasn’t done (intervened properly) in this instance is as telling as what they have done. However, city officials are available for photo ops. See yesterday’s entry from Curbed about the Astroland Rocket. Here’s an excerpt (which, of course, made me laugh):

A little while ago we had news that one of our obsessions, the
iconic Astroland Rocket, had been donated to the city and would remain in Coney Island. We now have more details from the city, where a full cast of characters, including City Planning Director Amanda Burden and Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert Lieber showed up for the announcement and photo op. First the good news: the iconic Rocket isn’t going to Pakistan. Now the bad news: Sources tell us it’s leaving tonight for shipment to Staten Island, where it will remain until it comes back as part of the amusement park the city wants to build. Not to be the skunk that wanders into the Garden Party, but In practical terms, this means it could be a loooooooong time before it returns to Coney Island.

* To see some great photos of Coney Island in its hey day and now, check out the new Coney Island blog.

* And for an overview of what’s happened thus far – the big player in this drama is a corporation called Thor Equities which bought up a lot of the land and put For Rent signs up on the businesses on the boardwalk and main drag right around Christmas last year which broke many people’s hearts – visit the Save Coney Island site.

* And here is Gowanus Lounge‘s analysis from earlier this month on the “disgraceful state of Coney Island.”

Curbed Highlights of ’08, featuring the Mounds, Waterfalls, NYU destruction of Provincetown Playhouse and more!

Some days Curbed just makes all the difference.

Check out the “Curbed Awards’ 08: The Neighborhoods in Glorious Detail!”  I, for one, miss being entertained reading about the “public art” of the Waterfalls and their (or despite their) arborcidal ways. Curbed is a bit concerned about the Mounds’ longevity at Washington Square Park in the next phase (II) of the Parks Department’s redesign plan … and tells us what’s going on with Provincetown Playhouse now that NYU has its way.

Curbed goes inside Washington Square Park Redesign Site.

Well. Call me days behind on my Curbed reading but how is it exactly that Curbed got inside Washington Square Park to take up close photos of the redesign work? Could it be that someone inside the NYC Parks Department (or somehow linked to the work) wanted to counterbalance some of the news that has appeared there from this blog that is not quite so … favorable.

I enjoy reading Curbed a lot. They consistently cover issues around real estate and neighborhoods related to the massive changes going on in our City in a unique, accessible way. They’ve been great covering news from this blog.

But it still makes me go … hmmm.

Read the piece here.