Part II – Arborcidal Design For Fountain Trees at Washington Square. Will City’s Parks Department Address This At Last?

Dead Tree #1 - by the Arch (3rd time)

The New York City Parks Department has a page on their web site dedicated to tree damage and arborcide which states:

It is illegal and punishable by law for citizens to remove, kill, or damage a street or park tree, whether intentionally or accidentally.

In April 2008, The New York Times wrote of two incidents of person(s) killing trees in Soho and Inwood Hill Park. Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe said at the time: “there is a city law against arborcide, passed during Mr. [Henry] Stern’s tenure as commissioner, that provides for fines of up to $15,000 and even jail time for tree killers.”

So what can be done when the tree killing is being done by the Parks Department itself?

It’s striking enough that under this Parks Department and Mayor thousands of trees have been unnecessarily felled. When Mike Bloomberg and Parks Commissioner Benepe talk about their “MillionTrees Initiative,” it’s one of the biggest greenwashing ruses possibly that exists, at least within this urban environment.

Dead Tree #2 - east side (3rd time)

The seven trees that have died around the fountain – planted and replanted; it totals seven over 2 years – presumably weren’t meant to be killed, but, due to an inappropriate design and lack of follow-through by the Parks Department, that is the result. In two locations, new trees have died three times after being planted. (Seven of the tree locations that surround the fountain are new and part of the park’s redesign; the new trees have replaced the previous 40+ year old trees which were healthy and thriving. More on this below.)

The dead trees were brought up at a Community Board 2 Parks Committee meeting in December 2009 (note: the Community Board has not addressed this since).

I wrote at that time:

There was one item of note: A brief discussion on why two of the new trees planted around the Washington Square Park Fountain died earlier this year. Landscape designer George Vellonakis insisted [note: when I asked] that there is “no drainage problem” and that it was just a result of the construction (which is troubling, if so, also).

I encountered a landscape architect at the park one day in August when the two trees were being dug up and removed who informed me that the (new) design is not appropriate for proper water drainage with structural soil and that this diminishes (perhaps eliminates) the tree’s ability to survive.

Latest #3 - west (as it was dying)

Seven of the trees that lined the Fountain (close to forty years old) were axed because of the Bloomberg Administration’s desire to relocate the Washington Square Park Fountain 22 feet east so that it would align with the Arch at Fifth Avenue. The Fountain had been in its previous location since 1871.

The true test will be if the new trees planted survive. If they don’t, let’s hope that the Parks Department will take some corrective action.  It seems wrong to sacrifice living trees for a potentially flawed design.

What I didn’t write when I first reported this — the landscape architect I encountered had strong ties to, and inside knowledge of, the Parks Department and was very familiar with structural soil (which is what is being used around the Fountain trees). He told me at the time that it was possible that all the trees would eventually die (and now we see that a third one has).

I’ve since also been told more recently by another expert that the roots are too deep and the tree’s roots are being suffocated. (Also, see this informative comment at WSP Blog left this morning.)

Neighborhood activist Sharon Woolums interviewed a “tree expert” who looked at the trees and confirmed all of the above. From her piece in the Villager from December 2009:

First, the tree pits they were planted in were a huge mistake because there appears to be no drainage capability! [Richard] Hawthorne surmised it was a design detail that won, over advice from any certified arborist.

“Instead of planting them in a pit,” Hawthorne explained, “they should have been planted at ground level with a small retaining wall built around them, the same diameter as the pits, preferably larger, making sure holes are built at the base of the walls to allow excess water to drain off. The walls would even offer a bench for people to sit on while listening to bluegrass music.”

I said, “Isn’t that what we used to have?

Second, Hawthorne maintains that some of the trees around the fountain were not properly planted. Too much dirt was piled over the “root flair,” which Hawthorne maintains can smother and kill them. A tree bought in a nursery, balled or burlapped, has only 15 percent of its required root system: That’s why it’s so important to make sure they are planted correctly. The worst and most common mistake is planting a tree too deep.

It doesn’t seem to be much of a secret — by those knowledgeable in this area — that the design is the problem. In effect, our city’s Parks Department is committing arborcide. The agency has not moved to properly evaluate – and remedy – the situation due to (what can only be attributed to) internal politics, bureaucracy, and a lack (seemingly) of anyone stepping forward to attribute the dead trees to the design.

At the time I met this landscape architect with connections at the Park in August of 2009, I asked him (somewhat naively, it seems), “If it’s known that there’s a problem and the trees will die, wouldn’t someone send a memo to the Parks Commissioner?”

He gave this some thought for a moment; then responded that they could … but they likely won’t. He said no one would step forward to implicate the design and contradict George Vellonakis, the park’s re-designer (who is on staff at the Parks Department), because of the ramifications for doing so within the city agency. The trees, he said, would keep dying until eventually it could no longer be ignored and required acknowledgement that there was an inherent problem. And that is exactly what has been happening. But will it be acknowledged this time?

Such is the dysfunction of this city’s Parks Department. Killing our park’s trees.

Tree #3 officially dead (west)

Part I from Monday July 11th: Why do the Newly Planted Trees Keep Dying Around the Washington Square Fountain?

Photos: Cathryn
Note: The three dead trees, pictured above, are no longer there; they were removed Tuesday morning.

WSP Phase II Construction Still At least 2 Weeks Away from Opening Yet Fences Come Down Along Washington Square North. More to this than meets the eye?

Then...

After more than 19 months guarding construction along the Eastern end of Washington Square Park, the fences are down along Washington Square North!

Don’t get too excited — it ends there for now. Phase II’s Eastern end construction is still at least two weeks away from its public unveiling. The decision to begin taking the fences down along Washington Square North was apparently a rush to judgment.

Or was it?

Now... No Fences along Wash Square North

View on Washington Square North

It’s evident that the re-designer of Washington Square has a strong desire to please those living and working along tony Washington Square North. This segment of the block has a heavy NYU presence (many of the university deans inhabit these buildings) and is also the location of the Washington Square Association, an organization which supported designer’s George Vellonakis’s plans for the park, while many did not.

So, it’s impossible not to link the fervor to please the inhabitants of this block and the fence being removed in that location, and only that location, first. Now, those folks have a picture perfect, unfettered view into the park  – after 19 months of construction – before everyone else, except where their view becomes a hilly tree-topped terrain at the far eastern end.

The Hills Are Alive...(fence since removed)

Have you noticed this yet? These newly placed hills and evergreen trees (photo at left — taken before fence was removed) are all new to the park. No one was aware that this re-visioning of the park’s landscape was in store.

(This might have something to do with the fact that efforts to learn exact details of Phase II’s plans were continually stymied by the Parks Department and Community Board 2.)

Previously, you could walk along the perimeter here and look into the park and see what was happening in that Northeast corner. Now, you can’t. A community activist told me that this is to allow the NYU Deans and so forth to “look out on the rolling hills in WSP” and think they are in “Princeton.” It also makes that area of the park dangerous as it creates a true blind spot when you are inside that corner.

It’s hard not to surmise – Is money involved here? Is this an expression of extreme gratitude for support of the controversial redesign plan (strings pulled perhaps?) that these people are being so looked out for and prioritized above all others?

Washington Square Park’s Phase II Construction began in the Fall of 2009. The scheduled completion date was Fall 2010. It is nice to be able to finally look in unimpeded (albeit one section) and know that the remainder of Phase II, after many delays, is at last almost complete (except, of course, for the pieces that were moved into Phase III) for everyone to utilize.

Note: Park’s Phase II Eastern end opened June 2nd and it remained this way for one month.

“Washington Sq Park: Designs Over Time” Wednesday, May 27th, 6 p.m. at Center for Architecture With Presentation by NYC Parks Department

This Wednesday night May 27th! “Washington Square Park: Designs Over Time” Presented by The American Institute of Architects(AIA) – NY with presentations by NYC Parks Department designer George Vellonakis and Washington Square Park Administrator Rebecca Ferguson.

From the announcement:

In recognition of the re-opening of Washington Square Park’s central plaza, the New York Chapter of the ALSA (American Society of Landscape Architects) and the AIA (American Institute of Architects) New York Chapter welcome designers, enthusiasts and community members to:

Washington Square Park: Designs over Time

Presentation and dialogue with:

* Adrian Smith, Landscape Architect, EDAW

* George Vellonakis, Landscape Designer, City of New York Department of Parks & Recreation

* Rebecca Ferguson, Administrator, Washington Square Park, City of New York Department of Parks & Recreation

* Nancy Owens, Landscape Architect, Nancy Owens Studio

Adrian Smith, ASLA (American Society of Landscape Architects), will present an historical overview of the park’s past iterations as a marshland, potters’ field and military parade ground, and review prior design proposals and implemented plans since Washington Square first became a recreational space. Park Designer George Vellonakis will discuss the freshly completed phase and the next steps of the current renovation. (more…)

Landmarks Preservation Commission Approves Phase II of WSP Redesign; NYC Parks Department agrees to increase # of alcoves

What follows are some of the highlights from yesterday’s (April 14) Landmarks Preservation Commission meeting, a continuation of the
March 17th public hearing
, scheduled to determine what the future holds for Phase II of Washington Square Park’s redesign by New York City’s Parks Department. So here goes…

* The number of seating alcoves in the Park

There’s actually some good news. Which is that the New York City Parks Department, responding to the calls from Council Member Alan Gerson, Community Board 2, and impassioned park goers to keep their hands off Washington Square Park‘s popular seating alcoves, increased the number in their plan from two to four. The Park currently has six. So, that’s … something.

The Parks Department, represented by Charles McKinney and designer George Vellonakis, started out stating that they were prepared to add one or two more alcoves to the originally proposed two. However, they preferred three. George Vellonakis said that ideally a fourth would be omitted because its location inside the Park lawn on the (south) east side “distracts the view and expansion of the lawn.” The other reasons given by Mr. Vellonakis for omitting that fourth alcove were possible damage to surrounding tree roots and that that area in the new design undergoes a “geometry change.”

At first, Robert Tierney, LPC chair, advocated for the 3 alcoves as he believed that was the Parks Department’s “preference.” The Parks Department stated that the fourth alcove would be very small and “intimate” but how small I’m not sure.

Thankfully, the heroine of the meeting, Commissioner Roberta Brandes Gratz, stood her ground and argued repeatedly for the fourth. She said, “There was a lot of controversy about the redesign – for many legitimate reasons. This park evolved with many layers of change and use which took it away from the original more pristine design. This park is not like Gramercy Park. The park evolved with the neighborhood.” She also said, “I’m not concerned if a piece of lawn is taken away. It’s about how the park is used and the weight of its importance and use outweighs the difficulty of it intruding on [tree] roots.”

It was Ms. Brandes Gratz’s persistence and unwavering that convinced the rest of the Commissioners of the importance of the four (vs. three) alcoves. The inclusion of these four adds to (and maintains) the Park’s charm and uniqueness and gives us a bit of a break from all the symmetry of Phase I.

* Increased seating? Depends what year within the Park’s history you base this on

The Parks Department claims that seating is being “increased by 37%.” George Vellonakis stated that there are currently 355 benches and there will be 487 benches in the newly designed version. (These numbers do not include benches being added into the new alcoves.) However, Park advocate Jonathan Greenberg walked with me around the park recently and he informed me that the Parks Department has been consistently removing benches over the years. (Why…? I don’t know.)

So, to truly determine what the increase would be, you’d have to calculate from an older number of existing benches from a previous year (1970 perhaps?).

In fact, if you walk around each alcove as well as the Northeast corner where the picnic tables are, you will see iron or metal ‘holders’ on the ground that indicate where the benches previously were located that have been removed. (I’m going to write a separate post on this.)

* The Stage – Garibaldi Plaza – Shrunken, Relocated, No Guardrail but Approved

The performance area – the newly named Garibaldi Plaza (previously “Teen Plaza”) – was very quickly discussed at the meeting and it’s unclear to me if any changes were made from the previous version shown. The stage is moving and shrinking and has no guardrails and basically no backstage, if it’s the same version last presented.

Again, Commissioner Roberta Brandes Gratz asked pointed questions such as “you moved the stage because…?” and “Is it better than the old stage?” and “Will you have a backstage?” To this last question, George Vellonakis said that the “[performance] groups will assemble in this pathway” and pointed to an area that I could not see from where I was. (I left Mr. Vellonakis a message to clarify and will update if I receive the answer.)

I think there may be a plan for a temporary railing to prevent the conductor or performers from, um, falling off the stage.

The Washington Square Music Festival testified at the last meeting calling for approval of the plan while simultaneously expressing their disapproval. Although this group only uses the area about five times a year, they are considered sort of the arbiter of the space, so their lukewarm “support” in a sense sealed the deal.

* The Vote – Plan Approved

Before the vote, another LPC Commissioner Christopher Moore referred to the testimony given at the March 17th hearing as “heartfelt and passionate” and intimated that that testimony should be respected. He also said he liked the addition of the fourth alcove because it added to the Park’s “idiosyncratic quality.”

The plan was approved unanimously with the intention that the lights, fence, and pathways will be restored in keeping with Phase I’s work, the stage will be moved and reconfigured, and that there will be four seating alcoves retained within the Park.

* The Past is Our Future

But, of course, it was the first set of Landmarks Preservation Commission hearings in May 2005 where the crucial decisions were made to approve the sweeping changes proposed by the Parks Department to reconfigure Washington Square Park.

It is widely alleged, that, at that time, the Commissioners were pressured by Mayor Bloomberg’s office to go along with an approval and information was leaked to the New York Times in advance that they were going to do so. An article appeared in the Times the morning of the critical vote signaling the Commission would be going along with the Parks Department’s plan.

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

* Video here of Q&A from the original Landmarks Preservation Commission hearing – May 10, 2005 by Matt Davis (who directed the work-in-progress documentary “SQUARE: Straightening Out Washington Square Park”). New York State Supreme Court Judge Emily Jane Goodman later ruled that “essential elements of the Parks Department’s plans … were not adequately revealed to Community Board 2 or the Landmarks Commission…”

Highlights from the Landmarks Preservation Commission Public Hearing March 17th on Washington Sq Park

Here are some of the highlights from Tuesday’s (March 17) Landmarks Preservation Commission public hearing on Washington Square Park Phase II Redesign:

* Charles McKinney from the New York City Parks Department gave the overview of the City’s retooled plan for Washington Square Park in Phase II focusing on the alcoves and the performance area. (Landmarks was also supposed to look at the pathways but these were not addressed – verbally, at least.) The landscape designer behind the City’s dramatic and oh-so-symmetrical redesign plan for the park, George Vellonakis, was there to assist him with visuals for the presentation.

Seating Alcoves

* Currently there are six seating alcoves at Washington Square Park which exist on the north, northeast, and southeast sides of the Park. The Parks Department’s plan is to eliminate all except for one (which will remain in its entirety on the north side, across from the playground) and to retain a 1/4 or a 1/2 of another (on the eastern side).

… Council Member Gerson: Alcoves are part of the “core Washington Square Park experience”

* New York City Council Member Alan Gerson appeared (!) and made a very important statement to the Commission advocating on behalf of the alcoves and the performance area. Council Member Gerson asked the LPC to hold off on a decision and not approve the plan before them. He remarked that the Washington Square Park Task Force and the Parks Department have “come so far” in their discussions over this and are “almost there” in reaching an agreement. He spoke of how important the alcoves are to “the core Washington Square Park experience” and said the replacement of seven (I count six but hey…) with one “deprives the community.”

* Council Member Gerson also stated that the removal of the majority of the alcoves “violates the spirit and letter between Speaker Quinn and myself on the one hand and the Parks Department on the other” (referring to the Gerson-Quinn Agreement). The Gerson-Quinn Agreement (which Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe doesn’t consider binding) called for keeping the alcoves in the Park’s design.

* Tobi Bergman spoke on behalf of the Washington Square Park Task Force in agreement with Council Member Gerson asking for modifications to the Parks Department’s plan.

... LPC Commissioner: Why can’t the alcoves be included? Parks Department: Here’s why….

* Many other Park users and advocates made compelling statements on behalf of the alcoves as places where people read, study, socialize, perform, eat lunch or just observe the park from a different vantage point to such a degree that by the end of the meeting, one of the Landmarks Commissioners finally asked, “why can’t the alcoves be included?Great question!

So what was Mr. McKinney’s reply to this? According to Mr. McKinney, the Parks Department’s view is that the alcoves …. “attract activities that are undesirable.” Hmmm.

Performance Area

* The current Garibaldi / Teen Plaza area (to east and southeast of the Fountain) acts as a stage for the Washington Square Music Festival and a host of other uses including rallies, protests, traveling high school bands, book festivals, musical performances, food festivals, and more. Mr. McKinney stated that as currently configured the area is “too isolated.” (??) Apparently, the Parks Department’s goal was to create a “centralized” space but truthfully it seems more isolated when you look at the plans.

… Washington Square Music Festival: “stage too small, too low, and without a backstage preparation area.” stage height “creates sight line problems for viewers beyond the first few rows.”

* Peggy Friedman, the executive director of the Washington Square Music Festival made a perplexing statement, first saying to the Landmarks Preservation Commission “with reluctance, I ask you to approve this plan.” She then elaborated on this statement remarking that the stage is too small, there is no appropriate back stage and that the stage height (it is currently an acceptable 36″ tall; in the plan, it is reduced to 28″) creates “sight line problems for viewers beyond the first few rows.” She said the area is “too small, too low and without a backstage preparation area.” (As currently configured, the “backstage” is located to the west and “in clear view of the audience.”)

* Another woman from the Festival spoke and stated that the stage itself is so improperly designed that if they want to present their typical 24 musicians and a conductor they would “not fit on the stage as currently proposed” and the Festival would have to “curtail the scale of some of our programs.” She said that the plan is “sadly inadequate for our needs.” Note: we are talking about a plan that was created fresh, right? It is supposed to work for the community’s needs and yet clearly does not.

Random

* Mr. McKinney stated at the end that the Parks Department believed a “small amount of people” were “somewhat unhappy” with this plan and they’d “prefer not to have a delay.”

* There were about three people who spoke in favor of the design… one who just wanted to see the plan move forward… and including community member Gil Horowitz who referred to it as the “Olmsteadian-inspired Vellonakis design.”

* Susan Goren from local group, ECO (Emergency Coalition Organization to Preserve Washington Square Park), read from a letter she wrote to Parks Commissioner Benepe stating: “Despite promises to the contrary, Washington Square Park’s historic use as a gathering space and as a performance space is being destroyed as the park is turned into Henry James’ Washington Square Park, lovely in the early 1800s, but hardly desirable in our modern world.”

LPC vote in 2005 one of the questionable moments in history of Park’s redesign plan

Another bit of trickery is that when Landmarks Preservation Commission approved the City’s redesign plan in May 2005 (another dodgey moment in the history of this plan), as Mr. McKinney explicitly noted, there were no alcoves and there was no performance area. One of the Landmarks Commissioners asked on Tuesday, “I don’t remember an outcry over the alcoves” (at the time). This is because it was stated – at that time – that this all would be revisited in later phases and yet the Parks Department believes the entire plan was approved without these elements so now anything they add in looks like a bonus. To them.

So… what’s next?

Head LPC Commissioner Robert Tierney said he’d like for the LPC Commissioners to “come back, discuss and then take an action.” He stated that that meeting shouldn’t be too far off in the future. Once that date is set, I will let you know.

Landmarks Preservation Commission Meets Today Tues. March 17th on Washington Sq Park

Today Tuesday, March 17th Phase II of Washington Square Park Redesign goes before Landmarks Preservation Commission at 4:15 p.m. Public comment is encouraged. Arrive 3:30 p.m.

The major historical, aesthetic, and cultural usage being destroyed relates to:

* loss of public space in the destruction of four and a half of the six seating alcoves (eastern side of park and southeastern – visible on right side of map). Much utilized and beloved and add character to the Park;

* the reduction in space and usage around Garibaldi/Teen Plaza (area in middle of diagram, to right of fountain circle);

* the removal of the entrance to the park at Thompson Street, shifting it to the east so that it can (like the Fountain) align with the Arch at Fifth Avenue. (Does this represent symmetry run amuk?

*The great reduction of space at the northeast corner (upper right hand corner of diagram). Soon to be a “plaza” (one at each corner of the Park – neat and pretty and functional. No picnic tables allowed).

If you plan to speak at the Landmarks Preservation Commission, please consider orienting your comments to the historical, cultural, and aesthetic aspects of the park’s design plan.

It’s not clear if Community Board 2, Washington Square Park Task Force, Council Speaker Quinn, Council Member Gerson, etc. will weigh in with their feelings to LPC (supposedly against this…)… ? Although the hearing was delayed a month so that, supposedly, the NYC Parks Department could respond to “community” concerns, it appears they made some small modifications to accommodate the Washington Square Music Festival (figuring not doing so would get them in hot water) but did not address any of the community’s other (real) concerns.

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

Details: Tuesday, March 17th, arrive 3:30 p.m.; hearing 4:15 p.m. Landmarks Preservation Commission Public Hearing on Washington Square Park Next Phase Redesign, 1 Centre Street (at Chambers), 9th floor, Manhattan

Trains: 2, 3, 4, 5, N, R, J, M, Z (Centre-Chambers Streets, City Hall-Brooklyn Bridge stops)

There is nothing wrong with the Parks Department economizing but…

Lights at Abingdon Square

Lights at Abingdon Square

Lights at Washington Square Park

Lights at Washington Square Park

Do these lights at Abingdon Square (W. 12th Street) and Washington Square look similar?

If so, it’s because they are!

Also note that the chain link fence in the background at Abingdon Square is the same as the one being installed in the interior spaces at Washington Square.

Both spaces were designed by Parks Department landscape designer George Vellonakis.

Abingdon Square also used to have a lot of open public space that has now been filled in by lawn. Do we notice a theme going on?

And, as a community member queried about the lamps, “Did the Parks Department get a discount at Restoration Hardware?” Perhaps so!  (Update: Corrected.  Not Home Depot as originally posted.)

Note: I can think of some other places the Parks Department could economize (even abandoning whole portions of their “plan”!) — in the $27 million (and rising) Washington Square Park budget … items that would make a lot of people happy and counter some of the resentment over their steamrolling of their plan — other than with important details like the lights and fencing.

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?

Remodeled Look of Washington Square Park = Mary Poppins’ London Circa 1964?



A reader named Miriam wrote in yesterday about the remodeled look of Washington Square Park (NorthWest Quadrant) completed thus far.

Miriam noted:

Has anyone commented on the fencing that has already been installed? It looks cheap, gimmicky, poorly scaled, and incredibly flimsy–the uprights are thinner than my 77-year-old arms. None of the new fencing will last more than few years. Just as I suspect will be true of the whole new park, the fencing is a triumph of someone’s fantasies of a London park as inspired by the 1964 movie, Mary Poppins. Do these designers have any practical experience? As for maintenance–good luck with it in the coming times. I fear we are going to be stuck with a half-finished, poorly maintained Washington Square. Actually, I know we will be. Sad.

I think Miriam may be onto something with the Mary Poppins look going on. The lamps would fit into that theme also.

Great movie but  …  ??

Private Tour of Fenced-Off Washington Square Park Led by Re-Designer George Vellonakis

My Encounter With George Vellonakis

I encountered George Vellonakis, the architect (albeit unlicensed) behind the unnecessary and controversial, extensive redesign of Washington Square Park, a few Sundays ago at the Park. I first saw Mr. Vellonakis outside the fenced-off Arch talking to a group of about 8 people who I assumed were his friends. However, once I made my way to the southern side of the Park, there he was inside the currently-under-construction NorthWest Quadrant clearly giving a private tour. I could not hear every word but for a few comments … about the Minetta stream which runs under Washington Square Park (which I learned about in preparation for my own walking tours) and the trees that had lined the fountain (those 40 year old trees are no longer, chopped down under his plan) and so forth.

George Vellonakis: Tour Guide?

As he stood there with the newly aligned fountain behind him (under construction but moved 23 feet east to be in ‘line’ with the Arch at Fifth Avenue – allegedly his idea) and this group around him, he seemed quite pleased with himself. I thought… this would be a great picture. As I attempted to take that picture of him amidst his crew, he started hiding behind them. I didn’t realize this was on purpose at first – I thought he was just moving into different locations. Mr. Vellonakis and I have never met. Once I realized what was transpiring, I was bemused to say the least. I looked at him quizzically and he smiled, sweetly, and said “No Pictures Please.” I was a bit taken aback. (Huh?) I asked him, “Are you camera shy?” The people on the tour looked at me quizzically and could not figure out what was going on.

So… why do you think George Vellonakis did not want his picture taken ? Why is he giving private tours of the under-construction part of this public space which is off-limits to everyone else? And… Who do you think the people were he was giving a private tour to?