For Earth Day, Banner Launched Via Balloons At Washington Square Arch to Protest Use of Rainforest Wood In New Park Benches


Environmental activists took to Washington Square Park on Friday, Earth Day, with a flamboyant action in which large, colorful, helium-filled balloons ascended to the top of the Arch with a banner proclaiming, “Mayor Bloomberg: Why was the Amazon logged for Wash. Square Park Benches?” The new benches at Washington Square, installed as part of the Park’s “multi-million renovation,” are harvested from Ipe wood, a tropical hardwood logged from the Amazon rainforest. This usage goes against pledges made, according to organizer of the event, Rainforest Relief, over 3 years ago by the NYC Parks Department and Mayor Michael Bloomberg to stop its use in city construction.

From Rainforest Relief and NY Climate Action Group:

This ongoing use of ipê contradicts the pledge that Mayor Bloomberg made to United Nations General Assembly on February 11, 2008: “Our City’s agencies will immediately reduce their use of tropical hardwoods by 20%. They will do that by specifying domestic wood, recycled plastic lumber, and other materials in the design of park benches and other construction projects.” He was following the lead of the Parks Department, which had declared an end to the use of tropical hardwoods for bench construction in late 2007.

The ipê wood can be found in new construction at the High Line Park, Union Square, Hudson River Park, & Brooklyn Bridge Park.

The organizations made a statement about the impacts of privatization of our public space:

[These parks] are also part of a larger trend occurring throughout the city: duties and responsibilities concerning public space are largely being transferred from public agencies to private entities such as business improvement districts and public benefit corporations. These entities are assemblages of private investors and stakeholders who operate without public oversight.

The Village Alliance, a business improvement district, had substantial sway concerning both the redesign of Washington Square Park as well as its maintenance.

“The privatization of NYC’s public space is allowing the city’s destruction of the Amazon to continue unchallenged,” stated Tim Doody, the New York City campaign coordinator for Rainforest Relief.

Photo of old Washington Square benches here.

Stacy Walsh Rosenstock commented at the time of that post: Isn’t the 1934 World’s Fair Bench, designed by Robert Moses and Kenneth Lynch, a New York City classic? Why would we ever choose to use some earth-hostile imitation?

As for the new benches, I hear repeatedly from people that the new benches are uncomfortable and they liked the old ones just fine. Perhaps promises could have been kept and that rainforest could have been left alone after all?

** More on the action which took place yesterday (Friday, April 22nd) around noon here. **

Photos: http://rfny.net

High Line Phase 2 to Open Late Spring; Restaurant in 2013; NYC Privatized Park Keeps Getting Grander – And More Expensive to Maintain

-Updated 4/20-

Map of the High Line Park

The High Line, a grand span which currently runs from Gansevoort Street to 20th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues, just keeps getting grander. Next up: after food carts and a beer and wine “porch” appear in soon-to-open Phase 2, a restaurant/cafe is scheduled for 2013. This, according to executive director Robert Hammond, who told Community Board 2 that Phase 2 Construction of the High Line — which extends the park from 20th Street to 30th Street — is scheduled to be completed “later this spring.”

The location for the restaurant will be under the High Line at 16th Street and Hammond told me via e-mail that it “is being designed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop in conjunction with the design process for the new downtown location of the Whitney Museum of American Art.” At the meeting earlier this month, Hammond stated that a Requests for Proposals(RFP) for possible operators of the restaurant will be offered at the end of this year. Hammond said they are aiming for food that is “healthy for you,” “local and affordable” and “a revenue source.”

Money and Maintaining the High Line ; Its Former “Life”

It takes a lot of money to maintain the High Line. Hammond wrote that “virtually every employee you see on the High Line is employed thanks to private donations. Without this support, we would not be able to maintain and operate the park at the high level of care we all have come to expect.”

Yes, what about that “high level of care we all have come to expect?” Could we have expected a little less? After reading for years about efforts to get the High Line preserved, it all came together in 2002 after Hammond and others formed Friends of the High Line in 1999. The High Line tracks sat virtually unattended for close to 20 years. But FOHL’s vision for it was to take it so far from what it had becomepictures of that vacant time period illustrate its almost wild glory with remarkable, beautiful wild life in the form of plants and flowers that had taken over the tracks and surrounding area.

Phase 2 construction of the High Line cost $66.8 Million; $38.4 Million came from the City of New York. Phase 1 – cost $86 million – opened in June 2009, shortly after Washington Square Park Phase I opened. The park’s total construction costs are paid by a combination of city, state, federal and private sources. As Hammond stated, most of the money to keep the new park going comes from private sources.

Considering the great efforts needed to “maintain” the High Line, I’ve wondered if there ever was a proposal to do something a little … well, less grand? Keeping the park a little more “savage” as one commenter in favor of such wrote at the New York Times site in relation to a December piece about Phase 2.

I didn’t ask Hammond this so I don’t know the answer. Perhaps the group recognized Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe‘s love of “public-private partnerships” figuring this was the best way to get the project done.

“Developers love the High Line”

At one point during the CB2 meeting, Hammond stated “developers love the High Line.” Parks Commissioner Benepe told the New York Times that the High Line has “been a huge magnet for development.” In fact, because it is so expensive to maintain, there has been an effort, relatively unsuccessful thus far, to get residents in nearby buildings to contribute to its maintenance as part of living fees. This effort is considered controversial and unwelcome among those who want more public and less private.

Where the Problem lies with “Public-Private Partnerships” and City Parks

A Walk in the Park Blog wrote of the privatizing effort:

The City’s increasing reliance on these funding schemes, including so called “public/private partnerships” has resulted in a vastly inequitable distribution of services. It has quickly become “a tale of two cities.” Some of these park funding schemes directly divert funds away from the city’s general fund. Experience with these deals over the last twenty years has proven that private subsidies to individual parks has created an enormous gap between the haves and the have-nots, while ignoring the real problem – that our parks are not funded as an essential city service.

From New York Times piece, When Parks Must Rely On Private Money (Feb 5, 2011):

Two of three sections of the High Line, an abandoned elevated rail bed that was transformed into a linear park, cost about $152 million to build. Now, the private conservancy that developed the park with the city is scrambling to devise an income stream to cover the expected $3.5 million to $4.5 million annual cost of maintaining its jewel-box appeal. A proposal to assess a fee on nearby property owners foundered after business owners and residents objected to paying for what they see as a tourist destination. Officials are now looking to increase concessions and to raise money for an endowment.

According to this New York Times piece, the High Line focus on concessionsfood carts, beer & wine porch, and now a restaurant – is in part because reliable private funding from nearby developments hasn’t worked out and the city budget doesn’t have much money to offer a park with such extensive maintenance needs.

This brings up the question: Is it possible that the initial vision for the park, grand as it is, could have been not quite so large in scope, cost and maintenance, and anticipated something that would work over the long haul, not aiming to be yet another luxury product to boost real estate values in Mayor Bloomberg’s NYC?

Additional background:

* New York-based architects Axis Mundi are designing the Downtown Whitney beginning of the High Line at intersection of Gansevoort and Washington Streets.

* Another Meat Packing Plant Pushed Out of The Meat Packing District To Make Way for the Downtown Whitney from Vanishing New York

* Paying Extra to Smell the Flowers, New York Times (4/8/11)

** this is part 3 of my report back from the community board 2 meeting. there’s still a part 4. **

Community Board 2 To Address Status of Neighborhood Parks Including Washington Square Wed. April 6th

Community Board 2 Parks Committee MEETING
Wednesday, April 6th, 6:45 PM

Community Board 2 announced some long delayed topics will appear on its April 6 agenda including “status of capital projects in CB2 parks”: Washington Square, Seravalli Playground, Petrocino Park, Minetta Playground, JJ Walker Field, Bleecker Playground Comfort Station, and Bleecker Sitting Area.

There are so many parks listed mainly because it’s been six months and longer since any substantive discussion has occurred of these projects.

Also on the packed agenda is an update on the 2nd phase of the High Line opening.

Notably absent? Whether there will be discussion of Washington Square 2nd phase opening date.

(If you’re thinking this seems highly unusual, that’s because it is. This is how Community Board 2 handles their – and one of New York City’s – most prominent park and public space.)

Meeting Location: NYU Silver Building, 32 Waverly Place, off Washington Square East, Room 714.

NYC Parks Department Concedes Artists Have Right to Sell Art in High Line Park Post Arrests

Visit the recently debuted A Walk in the Park Blog to hear the latest on the High Line Park where artists were arrested three times in recent months for selling artwork in the new park. Artist and activist Robert Lederman is prepared to challenge the City Parks Department with a new lawsuit. He has previously prevailed in federal court where it was decreed that it is a First Amendment right for artists to be able to sell art in a public park.  Mr. Lederman met with NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe after the arrests. Subsequently, the Parks Department has retreated from their original position (that this vending is illegal because a permit is required or an issue of “public safety”) and said they would no longer authorize Park officers to arrest artists in the park.

$153 million of public funding has been allocated to the High Line Park’s creation. Geoffrey Croft of NYC Park Advocates writes at A Walk in the Park Blog that that money could have been directed towards “communities that desperately need their already established parks fixed up.”

From the blog:

On Saturday [12/12] artists were allowed to sell their wares on the High Line without incident for the first time. The day before, the Parks Department reversed its position which had resulted in three arrests. Their previous vending policy only permitted selling items which included designer muffins, exotic teas, coffee and gelato. Unlike the “expressive matter” vendors, commercial concessions bring in revenue to the city.  The City is currently negotiating a sole source concession agreement with the Friends of the High Line (FOH) which would allow the group to keep revenue from items sold on the park property. Since its opening in the Spring, the City has allowed 29 different permitted commercial vendors on the High Line but no art vendors.

In addition, Croft writes: “One would think that the Friends of the High Line would have made every effort to accommodate artists instead of actively trying to discriminate against them.”

From the Friends of High Line Park:

Artwork is a logical inclusion for the High Line; artists, gallery owners and art collectors were among the earliest supporters of its transformation into a public park space, and it runs through some of the most culturally significant neighborhoods of Manhattan. “

Renegade Cabaret comes to High Line Park off Neighbor’s Fire Escape Above

Great story in today’s New York Times about Chelsea resident Patty Heffley who has lived for 31 years above the High Line before it was a park (she even witnessed a train going by a few times in the early days!).  Her fire escape looks right onto the end of  (what is now) High Line Park at 20th Street and, in addition to viewing her laundry (which for years she has hung off that fire escape), park goers can now listen to and watch the “Renegade Cabaret” she presents there.

Lighting installed by contractors to brighten stairs of the High Line Park also beam a very artificial light onto her fire escape and into her living room so Ms. Heffley has turned something that could be perceived as a negative into a positive and added a bit of a wild element to the otherwise manicured park.

From the article: 

At 10 p.m., closing time for the park and the cabaret, Ms. Heffley and Ms. Soychak bid the audience goodnight. “If you see the party patio lanterns lit,” Ms. Heffley told them, “you’ll know something is going to go on when it gets dark.”

Robert Hammond, a founder of the Friends of the High Line and a member of the audience, remarked, “This is what we wanted,” referring to the cabaret. “It is going to keep it wild more than that will,” he continued, pointing to a patch of wildflowers.

As for the lights that shine like kliegs into Ms. Heffley’s windows, he said ruefully, “We screwed up on those.” But he brightened when told that she had said they were good for a stage. The Renegade Cabaret, he said, “is born of a mistake, just like the park.”

The full story is here.