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.

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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

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.

Union Square Park Pre-and-Post Tree Destruction

union sq pre-tree destruction may 08

union square post-tree destruction may 08

The photo to the left illustrates the luscious trees that existed at Union Square Park just a week ago. The photo below portrays the area as it looks now.

NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe has issued strong statements in the past about “serial tree killers” in our city who destroy trees for no reason and how it is a crime with a $5,000 fine. But I’d have to say that he ranks up there as one. The tree destruction under his Parks Department, at the direction of Mayor Bloomberg, often in the interest of privatization, is outrageous and criminal.

What’s important to be aware of is that the Parks Department plays public relations word games in dealing with communities. They’ll state… but look we’re going to increase the playground to THREE TIMES the size!

First, did the playground really need to be tripled? Would doubled have worked if it meant saving these mature, healthy trees that are integral to the park?

Also, it’s important to be aware that this redesign plan is being put forth by the local Business Improvement District, Union Square Partnership, with influential restauranteur Danny Meyer as co-chair. There is a decrease in the public space for free speech, for the GreenMarket, for the artists, for everyone to utilize. And don’t be surprised if the restaurant idea for the historic Pavilion creeps back into the picture now that they are working on a fresh canvas.

Next up amongst Parks Commissioner Benepe’s standard responses is … but we’re planting MORE trees!

As if most of us will be alive in 80 years to see the new baby saplings reach the magnificence of the ones they’ve destroyed. We live in an urban environment. Much has been discussed about the importance of trees. Parks Commissioner Benepe and CEO Mayor Michael Bloomberg are businessmen through and through. Neither one of them should be in charge of our city’s trees. But perhaps what I find most offensive is that they get a free pass on this and the media spouts back their p.r. about “MillionTreesNYC” so that is all that most people know about.
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Read this too: “Crimes Against Nature: The NYC Parks Department” for further background.

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Photos: Jessica Alfieri

More old trees cut down at Union Square Park

Timber !  at Union Square May 08This amazing tree, a Siberian Elm, was cut down at Union Square Park last week. I would say that this tree was most likely between 80 and 100 years old.

It would seem fitting that the media, which is always capturing Mayor Bloomberg and NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe at their “tree-planting” photo ops, would capture the sadness – and the reality – that is embodied in this shot.

14 trees are being axed at Union Square Park. 14 trees have been chain sawed at Washington Square Park – thus far. (In both instances, just because they were in the way of their grand and unnecessary redesign plans.) I’ve documented the tree destruction under Mayor Bloomberg that has occurred throughout our city’s parks.

When will the New York City Parks Department start treating the trees in our urban environment with the respect and care they deserve? The trees are part of these parks – their history and environment. They are not just expendable.

I will run additional photos to show just how barren Union Square Park looks now tomorrow.

Thank you to Jessica Alfieri for documenting what’s been going on there.

Time Magazine Believes Mayor Bloomberg’s Tree Hype

Does all the media believe Mayor Bloomberg’s “I’m a tree hugger” spin?

According to Thursday’s (5-1) New York Post, Time Magazine will include Mayor Bloomberg in their 100 Most Influential People In the World issue coming out May 2nd. Time asked Mayor Bloomberg to pose on a tree branch outside of City Hall (which he was more than happy to do clearly, via a cherry picker which lifted him up to that branch) to “illustrate his commitment to environmental issues.” What’s more… Robert Kennedy Jr. wrote the accompanying piece! It’s a bit troubling when the “experts” don’t look beyond the p.r. to get the real story.

For a refresher on the destruction of our City’s trees under Mayor Bloomberg and NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, click here.

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Coming up — Part II of my conversation with Parks Commissioner Benepe: what he thinks about community input, and some confusion on his part about the fact that neither district Community Board has “approved” his plans for the redesigns of Washington Square Park and Union Square Park, more.

NYC Parks Department: No record of number of trees felled at Randall’s Island

Metro NY reporter Patrick Arden reported Monday that New York City has no record of the number of trees felled at Randall’s Island for the “controversial sports fields” run by private corporations they are pushing to place there. The city is currently in court over this issue. It is estimated that thousands of trees were destroyed on Randall’s Island.

“Contractors are required to have forestry permits issued by the Parks Department before removing trees,” the article states. This information is provided by Henry Stern, former NYC Parks Commissioner prior to Adrian Benepe. Current Parks Commissioner Benepe seems to take any opportunity to cut down trees, particularly if it provides a way to privatize public space.

Metro has been trying to obtain the forestry permits but the Parks Department has refused their requests.

At Washington Square Park, the document that went out for contractors’ Bids had a blank space where the Forestry Department’s sign-off was supposed to be. Eleven 50-to-100 year old trees have been cut down at Washington Square Park thus far. No one knows what the total number will be.

Doesn’t this call for oversight of Mayor Bloomberg’s Parks Department? There needs to be a moratorium on their tree destruction and some careful thought as to how we utilize our public space — in ways that benefit people, not corporations.

Bloomberg MillionTreesNYC: What I really think about trees

bloomie_trees.jpg

I have no idea how NYC Mayor Michael (“No One’s Ever called me a Tree Hugger Before”) Bloomberg really truly deeply feels about trees but his MillionTreesNYC “initiative” strikes me as mostly bluster and p.r. In case you missed the news, Mayor Bloomberg has designated April MillionTreesNYC Month.

Assessing the # of trees that have hit the chopping block during his administration (with his Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe), it becomes clear that when there is a chance to privatize or add a corporate interest to a public space, in Mayor Bloomberg’s book, it’s time for the fellows with the chain saws to move in.

No matter what Mayor Bloomberg’s press releases say, that is not “green” nor “sustainable” nor “ecological.” (Click here for a refresher on “greenwashing.”)

Nor is it how I think our city Parks Department is supposed to function — putting private interests over the care and stewardship of our city trees, open space and wildlife. You can read a previous entry on this here.

Trees that once stood in our boroughs prior to the Bloomberg administration:

*11 trees at Washington Square Park felled thus far to align the fountain — Naming rights sold to Tisch Family. Tisch Fountain, anyone? — with the Arch

*THOUSANDS of trees at Randall’s Island levied for private development to swoop in

*400 trees destroyed from two Bronx Parks, Mullally and Macombs parks, paved over for Yankee Stadium

*Over 105 trees sacrificed at East River Park for its “reconstruction”

And on the way:

*The proposal by Parks Commissioner Benepe to destroy 14 trees at Union Square Park to expand the restaurant space for his friend restauranteur Danny Meyer; and,

*Thousands of trees at Ridgewood Reservoir/Highland Park in Queens to cover over the naturally occurring landscape with Benepe’s favorite dangerous synthetic material: artificial turf.

At Washington Square Park, no one actually knows how many trees are coming down in later Phases of the City’s redesign plan. However, upon a closer look recently at the widening of the paths at the Park to accommodate machinery, it looks awfully tenuous how the living trees are being treated and questionable how many will survive the city’s “renovation.” (Trees affected by construction don’t die immediately so we wouldn’t see the results of this for 8-10 years.)

I think the picture above is fairly accurate in representing Mayor Bloomberg’s relationship to NYC’s trees. Something is wrong with the Mayor’s p.r. machine and how smoothly it is able to hide these statistics and machinations. (Yes, I know that’s what good p.r. people do but hopefully – ? – the media would see through it.)

*Thank you to the Queens Crap blog for unearthing this Bloomberg photo. They cover steadfastly the craziness that too often represents our city government and how it relates to the over-development of the borough of Queens, in ways that affect us all!

In the news: MillionTreesNYC Month, NY City Council, Randall’s Island

In the News Today …

  • Metro new york covers Mayor Bloomberg’s hypocrisy in declaring April “MillionTreesNYC Month.” Metro writer Patrick Arden follows the Parks Department’s seemingly endless acts of arborcide across the five boroughs. Perhaps we’re all missing the point – maybe Mayor Bloomberg’s actual goal is to chop DOWN a Million Trees in NYC?
  • New York City Council Parks Committee Chair Helen Foster (Bronx) received her own bit of press today in the New York Times, “Conspicuous absence on Congestion Pricing Vote.” She is cited for being the only City Council member absent for this “important” vote on Monday(3/31).

Although the Times says that Council Member Foster stood up to the Mayor on the Yankee Stadium deal (which gave away Bronx parkland), it’s not exactly the full story. Ultimately, she came out against it, but, in what was a key measure early on, she introduced the legislation before the Committee on State and Federal Legislation which gave Albany the “go-ahead to alienate the parks.” (Metro NY, “How the South Bronx lost its parks to Yanks,” March 14, 2006)

The Times’ article takes a shot at the City Council when they state that council members “have provided little resistance to the mayor’s initiatives in recent years.” Could that be linked to Christine Quinn’s emergence as Speaker of the Council?

  • Apparently, thousands of trees have already been sacrificed on Randall’s Island but at least people will be able to play tennis. (Randall’s Island is run by the Randall’s Island Sports Foundation, another example of the “public-private partnership” of which Mayor Bloomberg, and Giuliani before him, is such a big proponent.) There are 100-150 fewer tennis courts in Manhattan than there were in the ’70’s, according to the managing partner of Sportime, the private corporation “breaking ground” tomorrow(4/3). He does not delve into how many fewer trees there are.