A Tale of Two Fences and No One Minding the Store at Washington Sq Park

What is wrong with this Picture? The fence on the bottom right is the 4 foot high fence that the New York City Parks Department has begun installing in the NorthWest Quadrant of Washington Square Park (currently being redesigned) with, I would say, decorative spears on top – in direct defiance of the “Gerson-Quinn Agreement.” And much too high overall.

Washington Sq Park Fence Now

Washington Sq Park Fence Now

Washington Sq Park Fence The City hopes to Install

Washington Sq Park Fence The City hopes to Install

This, as you see, changes the welcoming intimate nature of this Park as demonstrated in the photo on the left which depicts Washington Square Park‘s current 3 foot high fence which has worked beautifully for many years.

The existing height is one which everyone likes – except for designer George Vellonakis and Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe because it doesn’t work with their vision of pacifying this magnificent public space into a pass-through garden.

Unfortunately, thus far, I have found no one really minding the store (Community Board 2? Washington Square Park Task Force? NY City Council Member Alan Gerson? Community Groups? Is anyone out there?) to make sure the Parks Department is in compliance with the tepid “Gerson-Quinn Agreement” brokered by City Council Member Alan Gerson and Speaker Christine Quinn. (Yes, it’s tepid in what it ‘won’ on behalf of the Community for the Park’s redesign but at least it’s something. However, apparently the City can’t even adhere to that).

Have you seen the lamps they’ve begun installing? Tragic.

Photo at top: Louis Seigal

Photo bottom: Cathryn / WSP Blog

Conclusion/Part VIII: Update on NYC’s redesign of Washington Square Park – Ways in which Americans with Disabilities Act was used insincerely

Washington Sq Park 08-16-08

Washington Sq Park 08-16-08

Here is the final piece, Part VIII, of the series Update on NYC’s redesign of Washington Square Park:

Americans with Disabilities Act(ADA) and George Vellonakis’ use and misuse of it

Some of the elements of the redesign of Washington Square Park have been championed by redesigner George Vellonakis as being necessary in order to get the park up to code under the Americans with Disabilities Act(ADA).

This came up at the Washington Square Park Task Force meeting, specifically in relation to The Fountain, the Bathrooms, and the new Elevated Concert Space.

Although it might seem to affect only one part of the community, once you dig a bit deeper, the changes – or reasons given for the changes – affect everyone.

Causes for Concern:

The Bathrooms

One of the most important elements that people with disabilities asked for at Washington Square Park was renovation of the bathrooms which are currently not accessible to the disabled. In fact, virtually everyone who utilizes the Park felt the bathrooms and the cracked pathways were most in need of immediate repair. Yet, as discussed in Part III of the WSP Blog’s series, the bathrooms are not being renovated in Phase I, or Phase II, but in Phase III (sometime in 2009).

The Fountain and Surrounding Area

George Vellonakis stated that the fountain area had to be changed to a level surface (from its “sunken” surfacing) to make it compliant to ADA and therefore accessible for people with disabilities.

Margie Rubin, from NY-based group Disabled in Action and a Village resident, counters this. I spoke with her the other day to clarify some statements she made at the WSPTF meeting.

As far as filling in the “sunken” area of the fountain – a favored aspect of Washington Square Park because of its charm and enhancement of the sound for performances – she says, “No one in the [disabled] community wanted that. … People were perfectly happy with a ramp [being put in] – except for George Vellonakis.” Apparently, the ramp interfered with Vellonakis’s design aesthetic.

Instead of retaining a unique and well-liked aspect of the Fountain area, Vellonakis was given the leeway to proceed with his own vision for Washington Square Park over countless numbers of the Park’s users.

The new Elevated Concert Space Area

In Part II of the series, I addressed the problems with the diminished height of the Elevated Concert Stage which is in Phase II of the design plans. The stage is currently 36″ high which works quite well. The new plans make the stage an astonishingly low 22″ with no railing.

This area will be utilized by the Washington Square Music Festival and other performances, protests, and overall community use. The reason Rubin believes that the stage is not the necessary height is because, at the higher height, Vellonakis would need to change his design to accommodate ADA regulations. ADA stipulates that, for every 1″ high, the ramps needs to be 12″ long. Once it reaches 30 feet, there needs to be a (5 foot) platform/resting area.

Let’s hope that reason – and functionality – prevail on this one.

Vellonakis track record & Conclusion

Rubin has dealt with George Vellonakis on other designs and is aware of his track record on projects such as Abingdon Square (Hudson Street & 8th Avenue) and Father Demos Park(6th Avenue & Bleecker). She said quite bluntly, “George Vellonakis has never met a park that he couldn’t diminish into a garden.”

And, if you take a look at the NorthWest Quadrant in Phase I of the Redesign of Washington Square Park, presently being completed, you’ll see exactly what that means.

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