New “Mounds” at Washington Square Park Taking Shape – but in what form?


The somewhat controversial “Mounds” at Washington Square Park are starting to take some shape in the Southwestern mid-section of the park. Originally part of Phase II of the park’s redesign, they were moved into Phase III construction, going on now. I’ve always been a little confused by the Mounds — as I indicated in this post from 2008 — but I also respected the passionate ‘fight’ for them, what they offered and perhaps also represented to people with a longer history at the park.

I suspect, however, that they are becoming “cable-net play” structures and less “the Mounds” (which were also referred to as “the three hills”). There’s not really anyone overseeing what’s going on; the people who had been fighting for them with former Council Member Alan Gerson have long been silent.

What will be the end result be? It will be interesting to see. It would be great if Community Board 2 stepped in and asked for an update now that there is a new Parks Committee chair! (At last! Rich Caccappolo, who I do not know, has replaced Tobi Bergman, who had been Parks Committee chair for way too long.)

The Mounds are supposed to remain six feet high. This photo represents a ‘first look’ but doesn’t really look like they are going in that direction. Also, unfortunately, despite protest, they will be covered in artificial turf.

In the video that’s linked to below, one Mounds’ advocate states, “They are places of spontaneous play which is different from play equipment which sort of mandates play. The Mounds allow spontaneous play, discovery, risk taking, all the things that are part of growing up.”

It seems to me they are being turned into the opposite of this and will be “play equipment.” It would be good if there was some actual tracking of what the final result will be (before it is too late).

Go here to read this refresher on the Mounds; originally published December 16, 2008: What’s Up with the Mounds? Why People Like Them.
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Also, this links to another video of the Mounds being used for sleigh riding a few years back and is very sweet.

What’s happening with Phase II-B / Chess Plaza & Southwestern End Construction? Will it Reach Completion This Year?

Checking in on Washington Square Park Redesign: Phase II

September is around the corner and while Phase II-A – the entire Eastern end – finally opened a few months ago in early June; the remainder, Phase II-B, the Southwestern Quadrant which includes the Chess Plaza, is still lagging far behind.

Lately, it looks like the work has stalled. Are the same issues that I first reported one year ago still occurring now? One thing is certain, the absence of oversight by any city governing agency continues.

While neglecting to provide a reason for the prolonged delay, Parks Department spokesperson Phil Abramson pointedly commented that the construction will be finished “by end of summer” which he clarified “is mid/late September.” The Parks Department web site says Fall 2011.

WSP’s Phase II construction: A story of moving parts and roving completion dates

Washington Square Park Redesign: Phase II originally included the entire Northeast and Southeast side as well as the Southwest Quadrant of the Park including the Chess Plaza, Mounds, Large Dog Run and Perimeter Sidewalks.

These last three areas have been removed from Phase II entirely (moved into Phase III) although, all of Phase II, with these sections included, was initially scheduled to be completed by Fall 2010. That date then moved to December (tho’ I doubted it); next came word of Spring 2011. After this, Phase II was split into two parts with the city’s Parks Department reporting that the Eastern end was scheduled to open “around Memorial Day.” That date was pretty close to being realized — Phase IIA opened June 2nd of this year.

Phase II B was supposed to follow a similar trajectory. In April, it was announced that its completion was scheduled “in June,” to follow close on the heels of the Eastern side. However, as the SW section dragged behind, the date changed to “August 8th,” and now, as you see, the official word is end of September.

As a relatively small section of the park, what could be the hold up? Some days there’s barely any work done and yet two Fridays ago, there was much action with numerous workers and multiple trucks (that was the day the trees were removed). At that time, it seemed like the work could be completed momentarily. Since then, not so much.

Will people be able to actively use Chess Plaza again this year? Will the London Plane tree in the Plaza survive?

As you see, questions remain with no concrete answers.

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Coverage Close to One Year Ago at WSP Blog:

Part I – Washington Square Park Phase II: An Eerie Silence – What’s Going On? September 1, 2010
Part II – Washington Square Park Phase II: Lack of Transparency & Oversight Continues September 7, 2010

Phase II Parks Department WSP construction signs — “Working to Improve Your Park” —

Completion Fall 2010

Completion Spring 2011

Summer 2011

Happy, Merry, Enjoy! – Merry Mounds Video Shot at Washington Square Park

** Recycled – modified – Entry from December, 24, 2008 **

Happy Holidays! (Blogging a bit less frequently now but) There’s still more in store for the New Year!

Since you can never get enough of the Mounds, this is a delightful clip of kids at Washington Square Park sledding and frolicking in the snow. The video features Karen Carpenter’s version of the song “Sleigh Ride” and illustrates how the children gravitate towards the Mounds as places of spontaneous play. Perfect if you are in need of a bit of holiday spirit.

Produced by Matt Davis (“SQUARE: Straightening out Washington Square Park“).

* Be sure to check out the archives; there are 290 544 posts which cover many topics – see the Categories to search for a few.

What Needs to be Done to Have a Functioning Washington Sq Park Task Force? #1: Separate from Community Bd 2 (Part II)

Part 2 of 2; 3/10/10: The same issues I wrote about when this post first was published in November 2008 seemed abated for awhile but have resurfaced anew. No one has any idea what is being missed in relation to Redesign: Phase II details pertaining to the chess tables, the Mounds, the childrens’ playground, the alcoves, the Garibaldi Plaza, etc., because the questions are not being asked. The heads of the Task Force currently have the laissez faire attitude that since the design is “approved”, there’s nothing for them to do now. In December 2009, the body asked for an update on Phase II. Since the Parks Department said they didn’t have one ready, the Task Force now sits idly by. They do not ask to view the design details which are part of the reason for their existence. No one has any idea how many trees are being cut down in Phase II because they have not asked.

Edited version of post from Nov. 13, 2008:

Washington Sq Park Fence Being Installed

Washington Sq Park Fence Being Installed

I’ve been grappling with how to tackle addressing the Washington Square Park Task Force following Part I in which I listed its purported goals and the NY elected officials who have actual representatives on it. The Task Force has a lot of good people on it from the community who from the beginning wanted to have an impact but as Fusun Ateser, a member of the Task Force, told me recently, “we were not allowed to do anything.”‘

Task Force Linkage to Community Board 2

Part of the problem I believe is the close linkage of the WSP Task Force to Community Board 2. Presently, Brad Hoylman — now, Jo Hamilton — Community Board 2 Chair is the co-chair of the Task Force, with CB2 Parks Committee Chair Tobi Bergman.

Community Board 2 has already made its own share of mistakes around Washington Square Park approving the Parks Department’s redesign plan twice with insufficient data and despite widespread community disapproval. They ultimately rescinded their approvalalbeit on the third try.

There ought to be an independent body monitoring what’s happening at this Park. At Task Force meetings, Mr. Hoylman and Mr. Bergman are adamant that the Task Force was only created to uphold the Gerson-Quinn letter. While others on the Task Force seem ready to go further, they are continually reined in by Hoylman and Bergman. In July ’07, when people attempted to put forth resolutions, Mr. Hoylman stated that he “wanted to be sure it doesn’t resemble a Community Board resolution.” Therefore, resolutions were not allowed.

What would a Functioning Body look like?

The Task Force needs to be taken out of the hands of the Community Board in this instance. We need people to continue fighting for this park. The people who comprise the WSP Task Force feel they have no power. This is a historic park. It is a landmark in New York City. It is a dynamic public space. It deserves to have people fighting for it – who will fight for it.

Problems with Washington Square Park Re-Design not caught by WSP Task Force

Most recent example: As I noted in the updated version of Part I, the Task Force totally missed that the new benches being installed at the Park were made of rainforest wood – a wood from an endangered area that certainly could have been avoided putting into use. They never asked so they didn’t know.

Example: The lamps in the park. Ms. Atessur said the Task Force was never shown the two different lamp choices (the Task Force has oversight on design “details”) and asked for their approval on them. When I asked Brad Hoylman if the body approved the choice of the lamps, he told me he thought so but never got back to me with a confirmation. (Task Force member Doris Diether also confirmed she never saw – or approved – the lamp choices.) If they were not approved by the Washington Square Park Task Force, then what is the Task Force doing? This is part of their charge.

Note: some people wrote to me at the time this post was written and told me that the lamps were a trivial item to focus on, that they were fine enough. But I don’t think it’s trivial to note that the Task Force hadn’t been doing its job. They have not been paying attention to the “details,” as mandated.

Example: The fence. The fence (coming in is 4 feet high, as opposed to the more welcoming 3 feet that exists currently) is not supposed to have decorative spears or points on top (this is actually stated in the Gerson-Quinn Agreement). And yet – it does. (See photo above.) Is anyone looking after this?

There needs to be a point person from the Washington Square Park Task Force walking through the park regularly and monitoring each aspect. There needs to be a point person talking to the Parks Department. Now, unfortunately, if Council Member Alan Gerson is the designated elected official you go to if you are not getting answers from the Parks Department, then you may be in trouble because he will not rock the boat. But at least get the boat in the water!

Washington Sq Park Fence Now

Washington Sq Park Fence Now

Top photo (fence being installed): Cathryn/WSP Blog
Bottom photo (girl with guitar sitting on fence): Louis Seigal

Edited version of post originally published November 13th, 2008

Updated Part I here.

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.

Washington Square Park, As It Looks Now, and What’s Been Happening Of Late

Washington Sq Pk, early Dec. 08

Washington Sq Pk, early Dec. 08

For a refresher, or in case you missed ’em, read more about what’s been happening lately at Washington Square Park from these recent posts:

* Update from Washington Square Park Task Force Meeting 12/3, featuring a Parks Department Presentation on Next “Phases” of WSP Redesign, Part I.

* The “Tisch” Fountain plaques have arrived!

* Rocker Pete Wentz and Band Fall Out Boy Attempt “Spontaneous” Concert in Washington Sq Park 12/15.

Photo: J. Bary

Happy, Merry, Enjoy — “Merry Mounds” Video Showcases Winter Frolic at Washington Sq Park

Merry Christmas Eve! I’m taking a blogging break until Monday, December 29th but there’s so much more in store for the New Year!

And, since you can never get enough of the Mounds, I know, this is a delightful video clip of kids at Washington Square Park using the Mounds for sledding and frolicking in the snow produced by Matt Davis (“SQUARE: Straightening out Washington Square Park“).  The song features Karen Carpenter’s irresistible version of the  song “Sleigh Ride” and illustrates how the children gravitate towards the Mounds as places of spontaneous play. The music fits in perfectly and it is worth your time watching especially if you are in need of a bit of holiday spirit.

* Be sure to check out the archives; there are 290 posts which cover many topics – see the Categories to search for a few.

What’s Up with the Mounds? Why People Like Them.

I admit to at first being a little confused by the Mounds, the “three hills” located in the southwestern part of Washington Square Park. After doing some research on them, I can see their value. The Mounds were created during the 1970’s design of the Park and were part of an “adventure playground” for older children. Ten years after they were installed, the Parks Department paved them over with asphalt, a substance, according to Mounds advocates, they were not meant to be covered in, and it led to a decline in their appearance as it broke down.

The linked footage is from the documentary, Square: Straightening Out Washington Square Park. The first person speaking is the Parks Department’s (controversial) landscape designer George Vellonakis. Later in the piece, sitting at a table with advocates for the Mounds, you’ll encounter City Council Member Alan Gerson informing people – at a point when it did not look like the Mounds would be saved – that temporary sledding structures would be brought to the Park in the winter to counteract the loss of the Mounds for that usage.

Thus far, the Mounds have been saved and are scheduled to be recreated. The most controversial part in that plan at this point is the use of artificial turf around the Mounds (see previous entries on the plans and on artificial turf).

You’ll see in this video (at the link) children actually using the Mounds (they have been closed off for use for awhile). As one advocates states: “They are places of spontaneous play which is different from play equipment which sort of mandates play. The Mounds allow spontaneous play, discovery, risk taking, all the things that are part of growing up.”

Watch video “The Three Hills” here.

“Places of spontaneous play…” Isn’t that part of Washington Square Park‘s charm overall and what makes it so unique … part of its renown? It offers places of spontaneous play — in the form of music, art, protest, conversation. Yet the New York City Parks Department insists on attempting to pacify this public space by … reducing the areas in which these activities occur, adding more and more LAWN and little plazas (has anyone been to a suburban town square lately?), removing the unique and widely used seating alcoves, reducing the area around the chess tables, heightening the fence, and more.

On Artificial Turf —

The entry below was taken from a July 9th post here at Washington Square Park Blog on artificial turf. Although the Parks Department insists there is a new and better version they are using, it’s still questionable. As reported in Wednesday’s (12/10) entry, the Parks Department wants to place artificial turf around the Mounds (southwestern area) at Washington Square Park.

As you’ll read below, the New York Daily News reports the results of testing done by NYC Park Advocates. Upon testing some of the “new” turf at Macomb Dams Park (one of the Parks in the Bronx obliterated and split into pieces to pave the way – literally – for Yankee Stadium), the organization found it still reached 160 degrees. In the meantime, I am looking into this “new” “not infill rubber” material to get some other feedback on it. At the time of this entry, artificial turf had been placed in 94 locations across New York City. … Entry follows

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In the July 5th NY Daily News, Jeff Wilkins and Elizabeth Hays report: “Artificial turf installed in city fields can heat up to a blistering 162 degrees even on a mild summer day, a Daily News investigation has found.” This is twice as high as the temperature of natural grass.

The writers encountered 9 year old Yannick Pena at Macombs Dam Park in the Bronx after he walked on the artificial turf there. He said, “My feet are burning! I had to dump cold water on my shoes just to walk around.”

Other than the heat, there are other problems: “Earlier this year, The News reported concerns that the millions of tiny crumbs contain heavy metals like lead and cadmium, as well as volatile organic compounds and other chemicals.”

Deputy Parks Commissioner Liam Kavanagh said the city would begin using a “carpet-style turf” and “plans to stop using the crumb-rubber infill because of excessive heat.”

However, in testing a field at Macombs Dam Park that has the “new turf,” The Daily News found that it also registered “as high as 160 degrees.”

In the July 9th Metro NY, Patrick Arden reports new signs are now appearing in the NYC parks and ballfields that contain artificial turf. The signs state:

This field can get hot on warm, sunny days. If you experience symptoms of heat-related illness, such as dizziness, weakness, headache, vomiting, or muscle cramps, move to a shaded area. Drink water, rest, and seek medical attention if you do not feel better.

Metro’s investigation, also with the assistance of NYC Park Advocates, backed up the Daily News report: “One day last month, the artificial turf at Brooklyn’s Cadman Plaza was 165.5 degrees, while a nearby plot of grass measured just 83 degrees. Waves of heat rose from the field.”

Will the Parks Department follow the logical route and abandon their turf dream of installing these substances in 68 more locations? All evidence points to the contrary.

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A longer version of this post originally appeared July 9th, 2008: “NYC Parks Department Motto: Stick to the plans no matter how irrational or unwelcome they are.”

Part III Report-back on NYC Parks Dept. Presentation of Future Phase Redesign Work on Washington Sq Park

Part III, the final installment, of my report-back from the NYC Parks Department presentation of the future Phase (II and III) redesign work at Washington Square Park based on information presented at a joint meeting of the Washington Square Park Task Force and Community Bd 2 Parks Committee held December 3rd.

* The Plazas – Reduction in public space seems excessive

Phase I’s NorthWest quadrant’s “plaza” is basically finished. It is a circular pattern with a large circular flower bed in the midst of it with a walkway around it and benches at its edges. I personally don’t like how large the flower bed is in the center — I think it interferes with the flow of how people interact with one another which is my critique of much of the park’s design — but it doesn’t change dramatically what was there prior. So, fine.

— What happens to Washington Square Park’s other “quadrants” in the next Phase?

Each quadrant of the park has a “plaza” and, as George Vellonakis explained, they each have different designs. (A break from symmetry. Imagine.) The Southwest quadrant and the NorthEast quadrant — these areas are addressed in the next Phase — currently are quite large. The Southwest quadrant holds the chess tables and the Northeast quadrant is a large gathering spot prone to spontaneous performances; it also has picnic tables, which people utilize. So… what did George Vellonakis reveal about his plans for these two areas? Firstly, they are both being greatly reduced in size (same # of chess tables, smaller area to congregate). It sounded fairly significant although, unfortunately, he had no numbers or percentages to share.

The question is … Why? Why does the chess area have to be reduced? Why do the picnic tables have to go or at least why does that area have to be so greatly reduced?

* The Mounds / Artificial Turf

I’ll do another post on the Mounds one day this week but they are three “hills” on the southwestern side of the Park that children use as informal and spontaneous play structures and also are used in the winter for sledding. The Mounds have their fans and they have some opponents.

The Mounds are scheduled to be recreated in Phase II. However, the two words associated with the recreation of the Mounds area that got people alarmed were “artificial turf” which the Parks Department hopes to use on the ground surrounding the Mounds.  (Note: this is a clarification which did not appear in the original version of this post.)

Although Mr. Vellonakis tried to assure people that what the Parks Department planned to use was some better version of synthetic turf and “not infill rubber,” (a) can it really be that much better ? and (b) is it really necessary to use in this area? Mr. Vellonakis tried to make an aesthetic argument for using the artificial turf stating that it would “blend into the landscape” and therefore “make [it] more attractive.” Mr. Vellonakis also stated that the artificial turf would “hold snow better.” Hmmm.

I’ve written some posts on artificial turf here and here. (Links to be added in later.) It gets very hot (although Mr. Vellonakis said that the area is shaded so that’s less likely) and the pieces separate and kids have come home with it in their shoes. What if kids eat it? We still have no idea how it affects wildlife or the environment at large.

* The Playground

The large playground on the north east side will be completed in stages so as not to close off the entire area for an extended period of time – this is in response to parents’ wishes in the community. It will remain the same size within the same footprint. Chris Crowley from the Parks Department is in charge of the playground and does seem dedicated to working with the neighborhood users on this effort. The playground will also contain a children’s garden.

— “Safety Surface”?

Another controversial item — mentioned in relation to the playground — was the use of “safety surface” which is basically black rubber mats, ya know, the ones kids have burned their feet on.

— Interesting about the Fence…

The fence around the playground is currently 7 feet high and there was talk about perhaps putting a new, lower fence in around the area but there are (first we’ve heard of this…) concerns about the cost. When the fence was put in, Washington Square Park, interestingly enough, did not have a perimeter fence (the one that was put in is the current 3 feet high fence, the one being installed is 4 feet).

There will be a meeting on January 7th to discuss the playground in more depth.

* Dog Runs

The two dog runs – small dog run and large dog run – are being moved from within the park to the southern edge of the park. They will have multiple gates to hopefully prevent dogs from getting out into the street. The dog run advocates are still hoping that the dog runs will be enlarged. Although the large dog run is being expanded by 500 square feet, it is not considered large enough. Where the dog runs are being installed, there are some large trees which Mr. Vellonakis said would not be disturbed.

* Conservancy? — No, They Say

Bill Castro, Manhattan Borough Parks Commissioner, stated that there is “no plan to have a conservancy” at Washington Square Park. There are concerns amongst community members that because the Park’s budget is so high at this point and maintenance of the park will be costly that a private conservancy will be formed including NYU, the Tisches, the local BID(Business Improvement District), and real estate interests in the area. For reasons why, Conservancies spell trouble (they are basically BIDs), see here. (Link added later.)

There will however be more park enforcement rangers.

Bathrooms

Although the Washington Square Park Task Force and community members have stressed again and again that the bathroom repairs and upgrading are a priority and therefore should have been tackled in the first or maybe even the second phase, they have been relegated by the Parks Department to phase III. When asked again about this, the Parks Department response to this “high priority” was “we will get back to you on that.” There was this strained silence but also covert smiles amongst Bill Castro and George Vellonakis and it is clearly not taken seriously – at all.

* A comment that seemed to sum it all up:

Mary seemed to sum up the underlying community sentiment:

“Washington Square Park keeps being compared [by the Parks Department] with [what’s done at] other parks. It is important to keep its character intact. A cookie cutter idea is not acceptable.”

Exactly.