Next Two Fridays Free French Films at the Park Beginning Tonight, Friday, June 8th (Next One: Friday, June 15th)

For the fifth year, The Cultural Services of the French Embassy and the City’s Parks Department present French films over 8 Fridays in New York City parks with Washington Square Park hosting two screenings, the first, tonight, Friday, June 8th and again next Friday, June 15th. Each film will be preceded by a DJ from WNYU playing music. Tonight’s film is by the Arch.

Tonight, Friday, June 8th, 8:30 p.m.:

Directed by Robert Guédiguian, 2011, France, Drama/Romance
French with English Subtitles, Not rated, 107mStarring Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Ariane Ascaride, Gérard Meylan, Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet, Anais Demoustier, Julie-Marie Parmentier

Despite losing his job, Michel lives happily with his wife Marie-Claire and their loving family and friends in Marseille. His happiness is shattered when he and his wife are robbed at gunpoint of their life savings by two mask-wearing thieves. The shock is even more devastating when they discover who the perpetuators are…

Based on the poem Les Pauvres Gens from La Légende des Siècles by Victor Hugo, Lévy et Hetzel, 1859, France. How Good are the Poor from The Legend of the Ages, published in the United States by Oxford University Press, 2004.

Next Friday, June 15th, 8:30 p.m.:

Directed by Yves Robert, 1962, France, Comedy (more…)

Will Performance Crackdown – Ticketing and Fining of Entertainers and Buskers – Be Reinstated at WSP?

This blog broke the story on May 10th — “City Reverses course of performance crackdown at Washington Square Park – no more fining of “entertainers and buskers”” — and all seemed right in the world. So, I was not sure what to think when I got the word yesterday from artist and activist (and artists’ activist) Robert Lederman that the reversal of the performance crackdown may be short lived and fining and ticketing may resume at the park. Lederman has a lawsuit ongoing against in the city in relation to the “expressive matter vending rules,” put into place by the Bloomberg Administration in 2010, which limit artists and artistic expression, previously protected by the First Amendment, in public parks. The “expressive matter” rules began being applied to musicians and buskers in the fall at WSP. After community outcry, the Parks Department seemed to back down. Common sense prevailed. And now this. It’s a bit confusing to say the least.

WSP Blog story May 10th:

In a victory for the community and park goers, the New York City Parks Department has quietly reversed their policy of ticketing and fining of musicians within 50 feet of the fountain or monument (such as the Arch, Garibaldi) or 5 feet from benches in Washington Square Park. This new “rule” was first implemented in the fall of last year; once uncovered, it sparked tremendous outcry and negative press. These rules basically set off-limits large swaths of the park (pretty much all performance public space) and restricted musicians from performing as they traditionally always have at Washington Square Park.

Through the diligent work of Community Board 2 which held a public hearing and issued a letter to the Parks Commissioner (proclaiming the rules as “overly restrictive and unnecessary”), New York City Park Advocates, which held a press conference and worked with lawyers Norman Siegel and Ron Kuby and the artists, media coverage, and the community and artists speaking out, this rule is no longer in effect.

Parks Department spokesperson Phil Abramson confirmed, “Busking and entertainers are not subject to the expressive matter vending rule.” He added, “They must still abide by other park rules though such as they cannot block benches or paths, play with amplified sound, etc.”

So, although not technically admitting a reversal in policy, the Parks Department previously had been applying the “expressive matter vending rule” mentioned above – set up primarily to regulate the locations of street artists in public parksto the musicians performing in WSP. That is no longer the case. At least the city agency was willing to switch course. In addition, all summonses previously issued were dismissed. Yay!

Now, from yesterday’s (6/6) Village Voice, “Will the City Ban Performers from Parks Again?”:

[Robert] Lederman said that in mid-May, the city changed its enforcement practices for performing artists, allowing them to set up near park monuments and benches, but failed to inform the Southern District court that it had done so. On June 4, the Corporation Counsel for New York City — which represents the Mayor’s Office and city agencies in legal matters — said that the reprieve was only temporary and that buskers and other performers would again be subject to summons and arrests if they broke the rules.

and ….

Broken down … the City seems to claim that the vending rules always applied to entertainers, but have just been put on temporary hiatus because another lawsuit (“Skyline”) puts to question the regulations. This seems to directly contradict what Department told us — that these guidelines never applied to entertainers in the first place.

Again, here’s what we were told earlier: “The expressive matter rules have not changed. Generally, expressive matter vending rules do not apply to buskers and entertainers.”

So, judging from these filings, it seems that the Department has two planned moves: if Skyline goes in its favor, then it will apply the “expressive matter” rule to entertainers again, meaning they won’t be able to perform. If Skyline doesn’t go in its favor, looks like Parks and Rec might try to figure out other ways to give them the boot, as it “will consider other solutions to address its interests.”

As far as what “Skyline” is… this explanation is from Robert Lederman:

The City’s response … is that the cessation of summonsing performers is only temporary and is due solely to the Skyline ruling, which is about guys selling tickets to the Empire State Building simulated helicopter ride on the sidewalk outside the Empire State building.


From today’s 6/7 The Villager “City changes its tune yet again on buskers in parks”:

“I told them [community board] — you think this is just going to affect street artists,” [Robert Lederman] said. “It’s going to affect everybody. They thought that wasn’t true. Then Parks started arresting performers [in Washington Square Park] that people love, and [the community boards] started seeing it is true.

“The full expression of it hasn’t happened yet,” Lederman warned. “Wait until they start arresting people for putting out a table with political literature and a donation can. Then they’ll see what this is really about. It’s about totally taking away the right of freedom of speech in parks.”

Strangely, I don’t think the Villager ever reported that the reversal happened – after being the ones to break the original story back in October.

I have to give a nod to Community Board 2 Chair Brad Hoylman who in all his comments warned to keep an eye out for the possibility of the fining and ticketing reoccurring. Even so, I really hope this does not come to bear. I think the Parks Department got caught in a legal maneuver and is now bound up in their own rules, which never should have been installed to begin with.

In Jeopardy: Washington Square’s 330 Year Old “Hangman’s” English Elm — Is Improper and Inadequate protection during Park’s recent construction the cause?

The “Hangman’s Elm” — Oldest Living Tree in Manhattan

Branches Cut at Top of Tree

An English Elm is the species of the tree which resides in the NorthWest Quadrant of Washington Square Park, the tree that is largely (and ironically, somewhat fondly) referred to as the “Hangman’s Elm.” Although there are no records of an actual hanging from the tree, at some point, it was given this name and it stuck. Perhaps because it looks so old, so majestic, and so strong, you can certainly imagine a hanging occurring from the tree in the 1800s, a century the tree lived through. In 1989, the Parks Department determined the age of the tree to be 310 years old, making it now 333. It is the oldest known living tree in Manhattan.

I contacted Bronx-based arborist Ralph Padilla to find out more about the English Elm in general, why healthy trees might get stressed, and if the Parks Department’s plan to trim branches of this tree ultimately made sense.

Padilla says that a healthy English Elm has wood so strong that “ordinarily you could hang a school bus from it,” the exception being when it is under stress or has “a defect or hole.”

Recently, Community Board 2 was alerted by the city’s Parks Department about concerns around the state of the tree and a plan to remove some of the majestic Elm’s branches. Community members were greatly concerned. The Parks Department provided this statement as far as their course of action and why:

Parks Department statement on the status of the Washington Square English Elm:

A ground based visual tree inspection and a subsequent aerial climbing inspection of the Washington Square Park English Elm found evidence of decay and strength loss. Approximately 20% of its crown will be removed in stages to reduce the mechanical stress experienced by its stems and branches and avoid the complete removal of the tree. The tree will also be treated against Dutch Elm Disease in the next few weeks.

When I read Padilla the statement the Parks Department gave in relation to the Hangman’s Elm, he said that it sounded “pretty reasonable.” He said if there is concern about “the vulnerability of the branch” which could break off, instead of removing the entire branch, “the strategy is to reduce weight … to prune away a bit. Now, it definitely won’t break.” Given the concerns, he said the way the city agency was proceeding sounded “very good.” As we spoke, he shed light on what might cause the stress the tree was under and that “decay and strength loss.”

Recent Criticism of City’s Parks Department over Maintenance of Trees

Recently, the Parks Department has been heavily criticized for its oversight of the health of the city’s trees resulting in deaths and injuries. On the one hand, great that they caught the problem with the Hangman’s Elm before something serious happened, but, on the other, is something else being ignored? That something is inadequate protection of our city trees during construction projects.

Padilla said, “Ordinarily with an overly mature tree, you never remove any green parts. There is barely enough food to power the entire system.” He said “the real plant food comes from the leaves which convert sunlight and energy into sugars. These sugars are the only real plant food.” (Fascinating!) He didn’t think, given the assessment, that there was much other option than the route they were taking. But I wonder why is the tree in this precarious state?

Protection around park trees during construction “a joke”

When I mentioned the park’s continuous construction and that the branches that were recently removed were at the top of the tree, he said, “When the branches at the top of a tree die off, the problem is in the root area; a disturbance of the root zone. The root zone of this tree would be far reaching – possibly half way across the park.

He continued, “Construction and trees almost never work out because the protection is so half ass. I didn’t see the protection they took but the right protection for this tree would be a chain link fence 30 feet out from the trunk.”

When I explained that the protection consisted of four rickety wood slats right around the trunk of the tree, he said “that’s a joke.”

This is what the “protection” around all the park’s trees during construction has looked like over the last four years, including the Hangman’s Elm:

WSP Tree "Protection" Could Certainly be Improved

WSP Tree “Protection” Could Certainly be Improved (October 2009)

Basically what happens, according to Padilla: “When the roots get damaged, the tree will sacrifice the tippy top to direct energy into the root system in order to make repairs where the roots were damaged.” (Also fascinating!)

Padilla did say that treating the elm for Dutch Elm disease is smart since the insect that is the vector for Dutch Elm Disease is attracted to holes and the cutting of the branches could make the Elm susceptible.

Can we change the city’s practices and prompt appropriate care of our city’s trees?

So, we have to send some good energy to the Hangman’s Elm. Perhaps it can be a lesson. NYC needs to make necessary and major changes in the way our trees are being protected during construction.

The Bloomberg Administration has made much of its “Million Trees” Initiative while not providing funds for the necessary maintenance of these new trees as well as existing ones. It becomes difficult not to believe it’s all a p.r. ploy. Now, we have the situation before us with the 333 year old “Hangman’s Elm” and its decline and it’s impossible not to point to the construction and the fact that necessary precautions have not been taken.

Will the Bloomberg’s Administration’s dramatic redesign of Washington Square Park be the cause of the demise of the oldest known living tree in Manhattan?


Very cool Time Lapse video from 7:19 p.m. to 9:35 p.m. of the Hangman’s Elm one day in April 2012 from Kristin Jones and Andrew Ginzel:

* Wikipedia Hangman’s Elm
How to Prevent Additional Trees at Washington Square Park from Dying – Questions Abound WSP Blog, August 23, 2011
* Training to spot Tree Decay is Urged for Parks Workers New York Times, May 31, 2012
* Kristin Jones’ “Behold,” Slated for Arbor Day 2013, Has Eye on Hangmen’s Elm at Washington Square WSP Blog, December 19, 2011

Performance Crackdown at the Park — Parks Commissioner says Bob Dylan Could Still Play at WSP; With New Rules, Is That even True?

Updated — Over the last three days, the matter of artists and performers being issued tickets at Washington Square Park has been covered by Associated Press, New York Times, New York Daily News, NY1, Fox5 News, Epoch Times, A Walk in the Park Blog, and more.

The Associated Press credits the New York Times with revealing the “crackdown.” Really the Villager broke the story in their October 27th issue. This blog covered it here on October 28th. Nonetheless, I’m glad this is getting so much attention.

In the New York Times article yesterday, NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe stated: “If Bob Dylan wanted to come play there tomorrow, he could … although he might have to move away from the fountain.”

As bizarre as that even sounds, actually that’s not true. Although the article omitted this fact, the rules also require performers and artists to be 5 feet away from a park bench. 50 feet from a monument or fountain and 5 feet from a park bench pretty much rules out the entire park.

Ron Kuby, Tic and Tac, Norman Siegel at press conference Sunday

At a press conference held Sunday at Washington Square, artists and musicians gathered (pianist Colin Huggins, sand artist Joe Mangrum, performers Tic and Tac) along with attorneys Ron Kuby and Norman Siegel to speak out against the recently enacted regulations which first began being implemented in October of this year at the park.

The Parks Department is applying “expressive matter” rules — which were created to limit artist vendors in parks in 2010 — to musicians and artists who take donations.  

Attorney Ron Kuby said: “Mayor Bloomberg wants to be the neutron bomb of fun. Parks are not museums for Michael Bloomberg and his rich friends to look at the statuary. They have their own museums.” (Comments about Mayor Bloomberg – made by at least three of the speakers – were, interestingly enough, omitted in all the coverage.)

Geoffrey Croft from NYC Park Advocates who organized the press conference stated: “[Parks] employees are forced to issue these summons. It’s all of us who lose. They [Parks Department] make these things up. It’s completely arbitrary. … Unless paying for a license by the city, they don’t want performers.”

Joe Mangrum interviewed by Fox News

Columnist Clyde Haberman today via the New York Times City Room blog :

A certain wacky flavor — including the guy who rolls out his baby grand piano on weekends or the performers known as Tic and Tac — has been part of Washington Square for as long as anyone can remember. On weekends, the park is our equivalent of Victor Hugo’s “cour des miracles,” the courtyard of miracles in front of Notre Dame where everyone gathered: musicians and beggars, holy men and hucksters.

The city says it is simply trying to harmonize an assortment of interests. The commissioner of parks and recreation, Adrian Benepe, in a ’60s music moment of his own, said the balance was between the performers and those who go to the park to “enjoy the sounds of silence or the trees blowing in the wind.”

An aide to the commissioner noted that fewer than two dozen summonses had been issued, hardly the hallmark of a brutal crackdown. “We really love musicians,” said Vickie Karp, a parks department spokeswoman. “This is not about the musicians. It’s about sharing the park.”

But if you truly craved the sounds of silence, you would head to the likes of Central Park or Prospect Park. Since when is Washington Square Park anyone’s idea of a bucolic retreat?

“We’re talking weekends, we’re talking tourists who love this stuff,” Mr. Kuby said. “Nobody ever comes back from their visit to New York and complains, ‘You know, Washington Square Park was so beautiful, but the fountain was all filled with people. I couldn’t see the architecture.’ It’s one of the few authentic pieces of New York left for people to experience.”

It’s important to also recognize what Robert Lederman, President of ARTIST (Artists’ Response To Illegal State Tactics), articulates in a recent Letter to the Editor submitted to the Times:

The public should understand that the choice is not between quiet parks with no vending or parks filled with artists and performers. The choice is between public parks where free speech is the rule, or privatized parks where only those with the most money are allowed to express themselves.

The AP article notes: “The Parks Department website calls the famous Greenwich Village park a ‘gathering spot for avant-garde artists.'”

Perhaps the Parks Department should reference its own materials.

Note: I’ve received word Community Board 2 may come out of hiding on issues relating to WSP and hold a public forum in mid-December. Update! Information confirmed: CB2 Washington Square Park Speak Out — Monday, December 19, 6:30 p.m. at the NYU Kimmel Center, 60 Washington Square South, 8th Floor.


New York Times: City Cracks Down on Washington Square Park Performers December 5, 2011

WNYC-FM: City cracks down on performers in parks December 5, 2011

New York Daily News: A ‘fine’ time for city park performers December 3, 2011

NY1: Street Performers Speak Out Against Summonses Issued at Washington Square December 5, 2011

Epoch Times: Washington Square Park Musicians Protest Summonses December 5, 2011

Fox 5 New York: Park Performance Ban in NYC December 5, 2011

The Villager: Musicians are told to keep their distance from fountain, seats! October 27, 2011

WSP Blog: City Parks Department’s “Regulations” Take Away From the Very Spirit of What People Come to Washington Square Park For – No Performances Allowed Near Fountain, Benches October 28, 2011

How to Prevent Additional Trees at Washington Square Park from Dying? — Questions Abound

Updated 1:15 p.m.Why are so many trees at Washington Square Park dying? In addition to those perpetually dying around the Washington Square Fountain (8 thus far in 2 years), numerous trees are dying along the perimeter and inside the park. Since there are so many, I’ve documented them with a photo montage. Note: Many of these dead trees were cleared on Friday.

Questions abound — What is the problem here? Are the tree deaths occurring from the construction from Redesign Phase I and II (as many predicted; in fact people in the community went to court over this matter to attempt to stop this)? Were – and are – the trees not properly protected? Are the trees not properly maintained? (Is it Parks Department karma?) How can we save Washington Square Park’s trees?

wash sq north

wash sq south (by kimmel center)

Inside park - Northern end

"The Hills are Alive" trees Eastern end

wash square west

Inside park - SW construction area

SW dead trees inside park (construction area)

wash square south (tree behind this one died also)

Trees Removed Friday

Dead Tree Uprooted

South sidewalk now

Southwestern corner now

Behind SW Construction fence -- These two trees are left (one of them now is also clearly dying)

For some insight into the cause of the problems, see most illuminating comment left here.

Garibaldi Uncovered!

From this...

to this

I’m not certain how long the statue of Mr. Giuseppe Garibaldi was covered in that somewhat atrocious bright blue cloak but, at some point, between when I posted about the status of Phase II on Friday and yesterday (Tuesday), he was uncloaked!

As for what happens next, according to Jonathan Kuhn, Director, Art & Antiquities, at the NYC Parks Department:

1) The Public Design Commission has approved all cleaning, patination, coating and restoration methodologies and procedures.

2) The contracted conservation firm performing this work plans to implement the work in the spring once the weather is cooperative and the mean temperature is adequate to conduct the work.

Good to know!

More on Garibaldi and his history from previous WSP Blog post from April 2010 when first relocated to new position: Washington Square Park’s Garibaldi Statue Moved!

p.s. Does it look like things are moving a little more swiftly? Yesterday, it sure seemed that way.

Washington Square Park Phase II Work To Begin This Week – Fencing Off of NE, SE, and SW Quadrants of Park Imminent


According to the New York City Parks Department, park goers’ access to all of Washington Square Park — which has been SO nice over the past four months after the NorthWest Quadrant and Fountain Plaza were previously closed for one and a half years — will soon end.

Work on Phase II of the Washington Square Park redesign is scheduled to begin shortly and the fencing around the NorthEast, SouthEast and SouthWest Quadrants of the park will be going up THIS WEEK.  (Today? Tomorrow? Friday? Not certain.)  It will take several days to get these sections fenced off.

According to the Parks Department press department:  The contract for phase II of the work was “awarded to Tucci Equipment Rental Corporation. Contract amount is $9.1 million. The work will incorporate the NE, SE, and SW quadrants of the park.”

You might recall that the entire budget for the park’s redesign was initially $16 million.  Phase I costs skyrocketed from a projected $6 million to $13 million. Update: I stand corrected. Phase I alone was $16 million. We are now upon Phase II and there is also a Phase III (bathrooms and Park administrative offices) up ahead.

Read more (previous blog entry) about Phase II plans for Washington Square Park here.

As I reported back in July, Phase II will see dramatic changes to : the Garibaldi Plaza, the Dog Runs, the “Teen Plaza” / Performance Area, the Chess Area, the “Mounds” and more!  A positive has been the Parks Department’s agreement to preserve four of the Park’s seating alcoves – one reconfigured on the Southeast side while the two on the East side and the one on the Northeast side of the Park will be preserved as ‘is’.

My Response to the Parks Commissioner! Regarding Washington Square Park.

February 13, 2009

Dear Commissioner Benepe:

Thank you for your January 30th response to my letter outlining my concerns around the work being done on the redesign of Washington Square Park and the lack of responsible oversight by the NY City Council and other elected officials.

While your letter contained some useful information, the situation still warrants additional scrutiny and oversight by both you and the City Council. Contrary to your assertion in your email that I have “misconceptions,” and in your reply to Council Member Tony Avella that I have “misrepresented the project,” what is going on at Washington Square Park is troubling on many levels. It is the re-design that is “misconceived,” not my statements about it. Further clarification follows:

Washington Square Park Plan: Extensive Review?

You state that “the renovation of Washington Square Park has probably undergone more review than almost any other Parks capital project in recent memory.”

First, the plan is not a “renovation” – which would signal repair, maintenance, ‘sprucing up’ – it is a dramatic re-visioning of this public space.

Second, While there were many meetings around the redesign plans, those plans were often misrepresented by representatives of the Parks Department, the designer and others. The community members, Community Board, and Landmarks Preservation Commission were frequently given incorrect or insufficient information, and so thereby lacked the necessary information to effectively evaluate the Parks Department’s plans for the park.

Third, “more review” is not meaningful if officials disregard the community sentiment (which I’ll address later in this letter).

Instead, with New York City in a budget crisis, the budget for Washington Square Park’s redesign now stands at $27 million and counting — an increased cost of $11 million over the $16 million budgeted. The Park could have been fixed up without chainsawing trees and bulldozing parts of the Park for a much smaller (and more fruitfully used) expenditure.

Public Space

Washington Square Park, as you know, is a dynamic public space with a history of being used for protest, performance, art. This park invites unique and spontaneous interactions between the people who visit and utilize the park. The park is not lacking for green space. The Parks Department had allowed the lawn – as well as the walkways and bathrooms — to fall into a state of disrepair. When maintained properly and brought back to a lush state, the Park contains more than enough “green space” for the “passive recreation activities” you suggest, like picnicking and relaxing. Each park – as you know – has its own distinct personality and cachet. In my opinion, these elements ought to be respected and nurtured.

You wrote: “The renovation will not result in the reduction of public space.” And yet, here are the actual figures:


* The interior plaza around the fountain — from outermost edge of fountain wall to innermost edge of any seating — was 27,650 square feet.

* The PROPOSED interior plaza is 20,662 square feet. – A LOSS OF 6,988 square feet.

* The entire (what is called the) exterior plaza (which includes and goes beyond the interior plaza) has been 51,223 square feet.

* The PROPOSED exterior plaza area is 39,419 square feet.
That’s an 11,804 square foot reduction, right in the official plans. How can you state “the renovation will not result in a reduction of public space?

In August 2007, the Washington Square Park Task Force – which, as you noted, is comprised of representatives for various elected officials, community members, and Community Board 2 Members – issued its report. Addressing the Fountain Plaza Interior area, it stated that the Task Force “did not have enough information from the Parks Department to draw a clear conclusion on the size of the inner circle of the fountain plaza in the Plan. Rough calculations made by Task Force members of the total square footage of the inner circle ranged from 88% to 77% of the current area.”

The “Gerson-Quinn Agreement” puts some mild monitoring on the Parks Department’s plans. Council Member Gerson and Council Speaker Quinn stipulated that the public space of the interior Fountain plaza would not be diminished by more than 10%. Clearly, there is a greater reduction than previously admitted. No further information has been provided by the Parks Department to allow anyone to ascertain what the exact reduction in space is. When I tried to get the information from the Parks Department’s press office, I was told it wouldn’t be a problem and then received no further information or return correspondence, despite following up on it several times.

As far as the entire exterior plaza, no further information has been given on the reduction in space (other than the numbers above, which had to be obtained via one of the lawsuit’s brought against the city in relation to its plan). The November 23rd, 2008 New York Times article “The Battle for Washington Square,” reports that the Parks Department will be reducing the public area around the plaza by 25 percent.

Is that acceptable to the community? No. Are our public officials monitoring this? Not that I can see.

The fountain plaza’s reduction in size, along with the removal (currently planned) of four of the six seating alcoves and a reduction in space at the northeast corner and southwest corners (these are the ones you acknowledge), signify a significant reduction in “public” space – particularly the public gathering space for which Washington Square Park is renowned, any way you cut it.

Would the additional grassy areas compensate for the reduction of the central plaza, as you suggest? And exactly how high will the fences around those “green spaces” be which are supposed to add to and compensate for the reductions in what is now an open central plaza?

Seating Alcoves

At the Washington Square Park Task Force meeting I attended on February 4th, the seating alcoves were discussed at length. You state that two – of the present six – alcoves are now being “included” as a modification to the original plan – in response to the Washington Square Park Task Force. One of the alcoves across from the playground is being retained in its entirety. From the ‘before and after’ diagrams shown by Parks Department landscape designer George Vellonakis at the meeting, the second alcove faces an unacceptable and dramatic reduction in size.

These alcoves contribute to the uniqueness of the park; they are used by students, tourists, seniors, classes, and people who’d like to retire to a more private nook of the park while viewing what’s going on in the park.

George Vellonakis stated that the plan is going to the Landmarks Preservation Commission on February 17th with just the “two” alcoves despite the fact that back in July 2008, the Task Force expressed the sentiment for keeping all the alcoves. I hope you will listen to the overwhelming public sentiment and retain these important spaces, in their current configuration.

Northeast and Southwest corners

You claimed that I described the reduction in the chess area (Southwest corner) in “misleading terms.” Not so. Unfortunately, the size of reduction of this area is hard to determine. At the Parks Department presentation last week to the Washington Square Park Task Force, your department did not come prepared with figures, specs, renderings, or with a model – in other words, the Parks Department failed to present anything that would give a true presentation of the changes to the Park. Unfortunately, this has been the case throughout the entire project. The correct figures concerning the reduction in space should have been presented at the meeting. This was not done.

You state that the center of the chess area is “generally empty” right now. An area may seem “empty” but other things occur within that space, thereby giving people options for congregating and interacting without feeling confined. Why must the Parks Department consider all unused space to be “useless”?

The Northeast corner reduction also is problematic. On the diagram, this actually appears to entail quite a large reduction, not a “slight” one as you put it. But once again the Parks Department presented no figures, no specs. Why not? It was confirmed that all the picnic tables in the park are being removed. Why? Why can’t some picnic tables remain in the park? Why can’t there be areas for picnic tables?

These changes amount to dramatic alterations of what has been a most successful public space – something you seem unwilling to acknowledge or respect.

Garibaldi Plaza (Formerly “Teen Plaza”) Performance Area/Space

The Task Force has submitted notes on what they would like to see at Garibaldi Plaza to meet the needs of the Washington Square Music Festival and other “ad hoc” use. The Washington Square Music Festival is apparently willing to work with the lower stage if the size of the stage can be increased. Because of the way the area is currently constructed, the musicians and performers are able to use the “Teen Plaza” area as a ‘back stage’/holding area. Without consulting the Music Festival, the Parks Department decided to reduce the stage and not accommodate this additional need. And, yes, under community pressure the Parks Department agreed to raise the stage from the originally planned 22″ to 28″ although the previous stage was well-liked and well-functioning at 36″ Lowering the stage height limits the number of people who can properly hear the music played from the stage.

There is a major reconfiguring of this entire area in Phase II of the Park’s redesign. Hopefully, the full information will be presented to the Landmarks Preservation Commission on the 17th. The community should get the same degree of respect and level of information. At this moment, it is woefully underserved.


You state that the fence does not have “spears” but instead has “rounded balls.” Please! The fence is composed of spears with small balled ends soldered on top to reduce the number of accidental injuries. However, more important an ‘argument’ than spears vs. balls is the exact wording in the “Gerson-Quinn Agreement” which states that the exterior fence of the park should “preserve the park’s sense of openness and its inviting character” and that it should “consist of a decorative ‘delicate’ design.” The new fence does not do that – just the opposite!

That is one example of where the Washington Square Park Task Force and our elected officials should be better monitoring these aspects. Hence, my appeal to the City Council. The old fence was a nice feature; people could lean or sit on the fence anywhere in the park; but now, with the four foot high fence at the exterior of the park and the post and chain fence in the interior, that is no longer possible, and the open, welcoming character of the park is destroyed.

Trees at the Park

You say that 12 trees were “removed” for reasons of “declining health” (my count is 14). In April of last year I spoke with you at Morningside Park and asked about the trees at Washington Square Park. You told me the trees being removed were “all dead.” I knew that this was not accurate at the time and told you that there were only “four dying trees” which you then agreed was the accurate amount.

The truth is that 6-8 of the trees removed lined the fountain and were not in “declining health” or “dead” — they were just ‘in the way’ of the Parks Department’s plan to unnecessarily move the fountain to align with the Arch. Although “new trees” – saplings – will be or have already been planted, they can never be equal to 40-80 year old mature trees, which we should work to preserve.

Gerson-Quinn “Letter”/Agreement

You remark that the October 6, 2005 letter from Council Member Alan Gerson and Council Speaker Christine Quinn is “not a legally binding document.” Nonetheless, you have gone “to great lengths to implement the sections applicable to Parks.” Yet Council Member Gerson and Council Speaker Quinn clearly believed you had reached an agreement. In fact as they stated in their letter, they were “delighted” that they had “reached an understanding” with you “resolving the outstanding major issues pertaining to the renovation of Washington Square Park.”

The “outstanding major issues” were articulated by the community (and not necessarily in the “Gerson-Quinn” letter), but the Parks Department ignored them:

a) leave the central fountain plaza sunken; b) do not shift the fountain so that it is now off-center, though aligned with the Arch at Fifth Avenue; c) do not cut down healthy trees; d) do not sell off the fountain naming rights to the Tisch Family, or to anyone; e) leave the dog runs where they were; f) leave the fence at its existing 3 foot height; g) keep all or the majority of the seating alcoves; h) keep the height of the stage and provide better accessibility to it for wheel chairs.

And more. None of these were accommodated.

It makes me wonder: If the public’s input is not respected and the Gerson-Quinn letter is begrudgingly implemented at times, at your whim, who is the Parks Department accountable to?

Shouldn’t input from our representatives and the community at large be taken significantly into consideration?

Shouldn’t the Community Board (which later repealed its approval of the plan) have been told that this was, in your view, a “Non-Binding (Non) Agreement,” and that even most of its very mild revisions to the Parks Department’s plan, such as keeping the fence in character with the park, consulting the Washington Square Music Festival on design of the stage, making the bathroom renovation a “priority item,” making “reasonable efforts to salvage all healthy trees,” etc. were non-binding and would not be implemented?


I ask you Commissioner Benepe – and the other elected officials – to please review the points in my letter and see if there are places where we can come to agreement

the public gathering space around the fountain being increased in size; retaining all of the seating alcoves; preserving the park’s remaining trees; reviewing and changing the fencing (interior and exterior); making the Garibaldi Plaza workable for the community and performing community’s needs; restoring the height of the stage to its full 3 feet; no Conservancy at this park; expanding the “plazas” to not have to be “uniform” but instead to fit the social character of this park.

Each park is different. You know this. Let’s honor the changes to Washington Square Park made in 1970 and the spirit of the last century, as well as the previous one. Right now, the Park Department’s design is much too formal and disrespectful of that history and today’s needs. Perhaps there is a way to save money in the city budget at the same time while bridging some of the previous discord between the New York City Parks Department and the public.

Thank you for your response and attention. Please feel free to contact me at any time.


Cathryn Swan


Photo # 3 & 4: Cat (# 4 – addition of caption/red snazzy lettering: Curbed!)

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


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.


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.”

On Washington Square Park’s Design Plan Going Forward

Washington Sq Arch and The Fountain Plaza before

Washington Sq Arch and The Fountain Plaza before

In this time of budget crisis, and with some time to reflect on the Parks Department’s design plan, it is the perfect moment to revisit the Washington Square Park redesign and rework the plan thereby maintaining elements of this dynamic, well-functioning public space as they are.

I have been working with others on a petition and letter to elected officials on changes going forward at Washington Square Park.

Additional feedback and any strengthening, rewording, etc. of the demands is appreciated.

The petition is drafted to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, NY City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, Council Member Alan Gerson, Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, and Comptroller William Thompson. Individual letters can also be sent to these elected officials by going to

The draft information reads as follows:

We, the undersigned, believe that the design of Washington Square Park, before construction began in January ’08, was a well-functioning model that fit the needs of park goers and contributed to this Park’s reputation and renown as a dynamic public space in New York City.

Washington Square Park’s basic maintenance and repair had been woefully neglected over the years by the New York City Parks Department. Repairing, upgrading and freshening up the park (lawn, bathrooms, pathways, fountain, etc.) — working within its existing design — would have saved the city money and pleased the majority of the Village community.

The current redesign plan is an unnecessary overhaul of this space and costly (budget now at over $25 million from $16 million originally) to New York City in a time of budget crisis. We regret the loss of the sunken nature of the fountain plaza, the moving of its historical location(since 1871), and, thus far, destruction of 14 of the Park’s mature trees.

Now that Phase I is almost completed, Phase II and III have elements that can most certainly be addressed.

We Stipulate the Following, Going Forward:

1. No Conservancy: We want Washington Square Park to remain a public park without corporate influence.

2. Preserve the Seating Alcoves Along the Northern, Eastern and Southeastern Edges. In the redesign plan, these areas are scheduled to be removed. People utilize and enjoy them for reading, music, studying, talking. They further contribute to the charm of the park.

3. Maintain the public space around the Fountain. Numbers vary as to whether the entire Plaza will lose up to 23% of its valuable public space. The NYC Parks Department has been less than forthcoming in confirmation of this number.

4. Save the Park’s Trees. Work all existing, mature trees into the design. They are part of our urban habitat and deserve to be treated as living entities that are an integral part of Washington Square Park.

5. Change the Planned Fencing. The height of the fence at 3 feet has been a core design element of the park and is welcoming and desired. The fence being installed is 4 feet (which makes quite a bit of difference) and contains decorative spears on top in direct violation of the Parks Department “agreement” with Council Member Alan Gerson and Speaker Christine Quinn.

6. Save the “Teen Plaza” and maintain height of the stage. This stage has worked well for many years for the Washington Square Music Festival and other events. The current height is 36″. The proposed height of the stage at 22″ is much too low for classical music performances and other usage (protests, other performances, etc.).

(Created by Washington Square Community Improvement District and Washington Square Park Blog.)

Photo: WallyG