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.
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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.

Coverage:

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

Update on Mama Hawk Violet

Latest on Washington Square’s gorgeous Red-tailed hawk Violet whose leg band is now causing her trouble (tho’ official DEC rep continues to deny that is the issue – DEC placed band there) —

Yesterday’s New York Times City Room blog: Violet the Hawk has Worsening leg problems

Roger_Paw blog has pics of Violet and Bobby together from Sunday.

Thanks to @PipTheHawk alerting me via Twitter.

** Previously on WSP Blog, May 13th, 2011: No Intervention right now for Mama Hawk Violet; Rodenticide Seems to be All Removed from Washington Square

The decision not to intervene was always deemed as controversial and a bit political when the DEC – Department of Environmental Conservation – was brought in by NYU vs. following the advice of seasoned wildlife rehabilitators who were already on the scene. A tough call, without a doubt. Comments at the Times site are worth reading.

Wishing Violet the best —

Jedi Light Saber Battle Scheduled for Washington Square Saturday, September 24th 9 p.m.

Washington Square Park's own Jedi on the Fountain Plaza

Updated — Just spoke to Kevin Bracken, one of the organizers, and so, as first reported in the Village Voice a few weeks ago and also in today’s New York Times, the “giant light saber battle” scheduled for the Park on Saturday 9/24 from 9-11 p.m. may move to a covered location due to pending rain will happen. (Update 3 p.m. Event will happen at the Park. Location is stated as “Teen Plaza” which I gather is Garibaldi Plaza. Hope that’s enough room…) Kevin and his partner, Lori, organize other events such as those giant pillow fights in Union Square. For this spectacle, light sabers are $5 and they recommend you bring your own goggles. (There’s a rumor there may even be Jedi robes!) I’m not sure what I think about this exactly but still it sounds like fun. (If it remains in the Park, I’m considering handing out light sabers – they are looking for volunteers! — update: Show up at 7:30 p.m. and look for a white van near former Teen Plaza – likely behind Garibaldi stage? – to volunteer. Light sabers are sold out.)

Bracken told the Village Voice: “The event was inspired … by Star Wars … and, actually, Burning Man: ‘There used to be a guy who gave out 10,000 sabers. If we were rich we’d arm all New Yorkers with blinky lights.'”

You can check out the newmindspace web site to get the latest news and I’ll update a location change here.

If you miss the event, it changes locations, and/or you want to view something on a smaller scale, check out Washington Square Park’s own Jedi. They meet at the park every Wednesday at 7 p.m. They have two web sites which both seem to be down but above is, I presume, a picture of one (or else a rogue force).

Photo: Ossip Kaehr

Mama Hawk Violet Spotted At Washington Square — Visits the Nest With Bobby; Bobby and Pip splitting time between WSP and Union Square

I haven’t written about the Washington Square Park Red-tailed hawks of late. Last Thursday (8/11), hours before the New York Times shut down the HawkCam, and in time to be captured on video, Violet and Bobby returned to the nest together. Mama Hawk Violet had been ‘missing’ – not spotted in close to a month – so there was relief that she was still around and doing okay.

I wonder how they communicated to each other to meet up back there.

Pip - West 3rd Street Antenna Late July

A couple of weeks ago in the early evening at Washington Square, I encountered Bruce from the Urban Hawks Blog and Heather from Roger_Paw blog, who were there with a group seeking Bobby and youngster Pip along Washington Square North. They informed me that the two hawks had begun splitting their time between Washington Square and Union Square. I had mixed feelings about that (feeling a bit, uh, territorial?) but this would appear to give the pigeons and squirrels at Washington Square (and mice and rats, should they be there too) some breathing room.

As for Pip’s gender, I’ve always thought of Pip as a boy but then one of the hawk blogs stated very definitively that Pip is a girl. I started referring to Pip as ‘she’ thinking this was confirmed. According to Andy Newman at the Times (in the comments at Thursday’s post), it is the “consensus” that Pip is a girl but it is not verified. A Times‘ commenter wrote that boy hawks are usually smaller than girl hawks and she thought, based on the young hawk’s size, that Pip is a boy. This sounds plausible. Thus far, I’ve noticed a lot of things expressed about the hawks as fact end up being entirely wrong or else these downtown hawks are going against the ‘norm.’ (Which would also make sense, right?)

Earlier this summer, Pip had been taking advantage of the area that’s fenced off and under construction (Southwestern end of the park). Since that section (Phase II-B) is not scheduled to be completed any day soon (more on that later), somebody should be enjoying it! Of course, then there’s still Phase III construction to come — for which bids to complete the work are allegedly due August 17th.

Pip will have access to the soon to be recreated Mounds (moved from Phase II to Phase III) before anyone else! This final phase of Washington Square Park construction probably won’t start until next year, I’d imagine, but we’ll see.

Photo: Redtail 10025

Previously on WSP Blog: Violet, Bobby and Pip

In the News: Washington Square Music Festival

Today’s New York Times features a review, Unusual Sounds to Play in a Park,” of this week’s concert by the Washington Square Music Festival (it was the second performance of the season):

The programming at free outdoor summer events often favors standard repertory, but the Washington Square Music Festival veered far off the beaten path with a concert called “The Joy of Unfamiliar Music” on Tuesday evening. A large crowd braved sweltering weather to hear the Festival Chamber Ensemble play works by Berio, Emmanuel Séjourné, Corrado Maria Saglietti and Vincenzo Gambaro.

Bach’s Keyboard Concerto in D minor (BWV 1052) was the only chestnut in the lineup, and it was offered with an unusual twist. The marimba player Pius Cheung, who has transcribed Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations for his instrument, played the solo part with flair, although the softer passages were sometimes barely audible despite amplification, and there was some shaky ensemble work.

More at the New York Times.

Of course, braving the “sweltering weather” was not easy for those in the audience because the amazing two trees that previously surrounded that location amidst the walkway were chopped down. I was told people were complaining at the premiere performance July 12th that there are no trees and therefore no shade to absorb some of the heat. The designer told me personally that those two trees would not be axed – but they were. If they still remained, the stage would have some shade. (There’s a lot of tree issues going on at the park right now.)

There’s no mention in the review of the low stage (which was 36″ high and is now 28″) and how this affected sight lines. (Previous WSP Blog coverage here.) I have not attended a performance this year so I cannot report personally yet.

There are two more concerts of the Washington Square Music Festival Tuesday, July 26th and Tuesday, August 2nd. All shows begin at 8 p.m.

A reader’s query: With 3 Hawks in the Hood, Can We give the Washington Square Park Squirrels a Little Assistance?


hawk, squirrel & tree-Wash Sq Pk

Commenter Drewo wrote in the other day with concern about the beloved Washington Square Park squirrels and their fate with the arrival of red-tailed hawks Violet, Bobby, and now Pip.

From Drewo:

I found your WSP blog on the internet. As a long-time visitor to the park, I am concerned the squirrel population will be annihilated by the hawks that now reside around the park. Much attention has been paid by the media (particularly the NY Times) to the nesting hawks – I guess the fate of the squirrels does not require as much attention.

I was in the park on Wednesday (7/6) and found a hawk perched directly atop a squirrel house – with one terrorized squirrel crouching inside the house. The hawk was just waiting for it’s food. No hunting required – easy pickings in a squirrel house.

I took pictures and posted this note to the latest NY Times City Room article about the NYU hawks:

I may have partially answered my own question (#6). I entered WSP again today shortly after 2pm and immediately came upon one of the hawks, just west of the arch. The hawk was sitting directly on top of one of the squirrel houses. Just inside the squirrel house was one terrified occupant. The hawk sat there for quite some time, at least 20 minutes, before finally flying off.

It seems like the squirrels are easy pickings for the hawks. Perhaps the Parks Department might consider a modification of the squirrel houses (to make the tops less like attractive as a perch) and/or a relocation of some of the houses.

The hawks are a sight to behold – but it would be a shame to lose the playful squirrels that have been a fixture of the park for, well, ever.

I responded:

I did see your comment (at the Times) and I thought it was really on target. It’s a really good idea. Love the squirrels at Washington Square and I know they have many fans. I’ll definitely run a post with your comment in it on Monday Tuesday.

Maybe we could start a campaign? Ask the Parks Department? Perhaps the NY Times would run something. The hawks have to eat something so it’s going to be a squirrel or a pigeon or a rat but I suppose we don’t have to make it so easy for them. Poor little squirrel you witnessed!

I don’t know how easy it is to move a squirrel box or modify or get them to use another one… That would be interesting to know.

Cathryn.
WSP Blog

What do you think?

Note: this photo an encounter of a hawk and squirrel at the Park was from a few years ago (pre-Violet, Bobby and Pip).

This past weekend at the Park: Adoptapalooza, Violet & Bobby HawkWatch Fans Meet & World Science Festival Transforms

Adoptapalooza!

There was lots going on this past weekend at Washington Square. Good thing Phase II construction on the Eastern side finished in time!

First, Adoptapalooza on Saturday, June 4th featured over 100 cats and dogs for adoption. Fox News reports on the event here and Metromix New York has some great photos (including photo above). Metromix wrote:

Adoptapalooza is held regularly under the arch of Washington Square Park, celebrated with a day full of dog agility demonstrations, pet training, face-painting and photo ops.

This year over 100 adoptable dogs and cats were on hand to turn our hearts to mush and lick our faces clean off. There were mutts and pit bull mixes, papillons, beagles, puggles, chugs (chihuahua pugs, for the uninitiated), kittens and cats galore from shelters across the city. We wanted to take them all home with us! Trust us: one look at these faces and you will feel the same way!

Violet and Bobby (and Pip!) Hawk Cam followers via the New York Times met under the Arch on Sunday, June 5th at 10 a.m. The Times has the story here.

TreeHugger has a great piece on what went on at the park when the World Science Festival, a five day event (which sounds fantastic), came to the park on Sunday, its last day, utilizing the new “stage” and surrounding area.

Nice!

Photo: Gabi Porter

NYS DEC, Mama Hawk Violet’s Rescue and Remembering Hal the Central Park Coyote

Does anyone remember Hal the coyote who was living freely for awhile in Central Park, evading capture, before finally being caught, and dying at the hands of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation when they handled his “tagging” vs. leaving this task in the hands of experienced wildlife rehabilitators? Instead, politics and ego got in the way. This feisty, healthy creature was dead at 1 year old while “being tagged for release.” What I heard, the back story, was that the person who insisted on handling this, handled Hal incorrectly and this amazing coyote died. The tag is the coyote equivalent of a band which is what is causing Mama hawk Violet’s leg to swell. The tagging and the banding go on.

There is great concern about the decision by NYU to have the DEC handle beautiful mama red-tailed hawk, Violet vs. the Horvaths, certified wildlife rehabilitators. Yes, their plan to capture Violet sounded risky but no less risky than now deciding that Violet may not return to her nest at all? According to the New York Times City Room Blog, the DEC is working on this today, perhaps as I write this.

When Bobby and Violet set up their nest outside NYU President John Sexton’s office (what are the chances?), I worried about the University and Sexton’s involvement but it seemed fine – up until this point. I am concerned they were not able to think through this particular situation clearly; calling in the DEC indicates this. (I did, after all, witness John Sexton’s up-is-down speech in support of Mayor Bloomberg and abolishing voted-in term limits.)

Violet and Bobby, the new neighborhood red-tailed hawks and their baby, have taken the place of the Washington Square Arch on NYU’s home page – temporarily, of course.

I don’t believe animals and wildlife should be banded unless a true argument was made on an individual basis. It was a band placed on Violet’s leg that constricted it, causing it to swell and why she may now need attention and intervention. Humans decide that these bands placed by “researchers” are not bothering the animal. How do they know? At Prospect Park, some of the Canada Geese, before all of them were killed at the hands of the city, had big yellow bands placed around their necks with numbers on them, I presume, by the DEC. How do we know this is not bothersome, does not affect them in some way as they go about their lives?

Can we at least learn from Hal and not cause other suffering and death and let nature be?

Parks Department says Rodenticide Removed at Washington Square. (And yet…) On Rethinking Use of Poison in Our Parks

Rat Poison Sign Washington Sq Park

The City’s Parks Department told the New York Times yesterday (May 6th) that they were removing the rodenticide “bait stations” at Washington Square that day to accommodate red-tailed hawk couple Violet and Bobby and their newborn hatchlings now residing above the park. This is good news!

However, at 7 p.m. yesterday, bait stations were still visible along Washington Square South and Washington Square East behind Phase II construction fences and close to the Bobst Library; the building’s 12th floor ledge accommodates Violet and Bobby’s nest.

From New York Times City Room Blog, “The Dangers of Rat Poison”:

bait station at base of tree washington sq south

The main threat Bobby and Violet’s brood face, and it is a serious one, is from Bobby bringing home a poisoned rat for dinner. Rat poisoning is believed to have caused the death last month of an adult male red-tail in Riverside Park, state officials say.

The city parks department regularly sets poison in rat burrows in Washington Square Park, which the hawks’ nest looks out on. But in anticipation of a possible hawk hatch, the department has refrained from doing so since April 22.

bait station, washington square east

“We will not be placing additional rat poison in the park while the hawks are fledging,” Phil Abramson, a parks spokesman, said in an e-mail Friday.

“Parks staff is searching the park today to make sure there are no bait boxes or any other signs of poison remaining.”

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Hopefully, those remaining bait stations, pictured above left, were located and removed today.

Meanwhile, it might be time to rethink rat poison in our city parks in general.

In Robert Sullivan’s book, “Rats: Observations on the History & Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants,” he interviews David E. Davis, “the founding father of modern rat studies.”

Sullivan writes: [Davis] consulted with cities on their rats, preaching his most important discovery throughout the country – that poisoning rats was not in itself an effective way of controlling them. In fact, when rats are killed off, the pregnancy rates of the surviving rats double and the survivors rapidly gain weight. The rats that survive become stronger. “Actually, the removal merely made room for more rats,” Davis wrote.

The only way to get rid of rats was to get rid of the rat food, or garbage, but no one wanted to hear this: as it was the dawn of the age of ecology so also it was the dawn of the age of the chemical, of poisons and pesticides, and people seemed to want a sexier, chemical-based fix.

Seems they still do.

Photos: Cathryn

Yesterday’s WSP Blog Post: Violet and Bobby Nest-Watch: Baby Hawk Spotted! On Heels of Riverside Park Hawk’s Death, Can We Rid Washington Square of Hazardous Rodenticide?

Update: In a tense turn of events, not poison-related, Violet’s foot is entwined in plastic netting leg is being constricted by a wildlife identification band placed there by a researcher. Wildlife rehabilitators and hawk experts Bobby and Cathy Horvath are coming today to see if they can help and somehow spring her from it! [5/9: They will be attempting a rescue mission from the window ledge to remove the band in the next few days. The bands don’t usually cause this to happen but it does make you wonder in general about placing bands on birds and other animals. ]

Violet & Bobby Nest-Watch: Baby Hawk Spotted! On Heels of “Riverside Dad” Hawk Death, Can We Rid Washington Square of Hazardous Rodenticide?

Defying the “experts” who stated last week that it was not going to happen for hawk couple Violet and Bobby, according to the New York Times, a baby hawk has hatched from one of the three eggs in their nest above Washington Square!

This news comes on the heels of the death of “Riverside Dad” hawk at Riverside Park in late April who likely ate a poisoned rat, despite pleas to the Parks Department to stop placing rodenticide there. This new birth brings up a pertinent issue that has been addressed before on this blog and elsewhere: what about that rodenticide in our city parks?

"Riverside Dad" (standing) when last seen alive

At the New York Times City Room blog, a commenter, an NYU professor, addressed rodenticide in Washington Square Park with the goal of avoiding the same fate for the new parents there:

mp, ny, May 2nd, 2011, 10:46 am

I am writing to you about NYU’s redtailed Hawks, Bobby and Violet, and the danger to them posed by the rat poison currently stashed all around Washington Square Park. I am an assistant professor at NYU, but I write you now as one of the many city birders.

Rat poisons, even “the second generation” poisons currently in use by the city, are fatal to Red Tails and their nestlings. There have been many instances of Red Tails killed by these poisons.

In 2008 it was documented that the entire hatch of 3 nestlings died because they were fed just such poisoned flesh by their by unknowing parents.

Just this week the NYC birding community witnessed the death of the male of the beloved pair at Riverside park; he died because he ate a poisoned rat, leaving behind a mate and at least two nestlings, who are now in eminent peril, as she cannot feed the fledglings and herself for the months it will take them to reach adulthood. You can read about it here at the noted website, http://www.palemale.com.

I am asking if we– the NYU community, the Parks Department, the NYTimes Cityblogs– can come together to take steps to protect Bobby and Violet from a similar tragedy. The territory in which they hunt and feed is so small that it is only a matter of time before one of them ingests the flesh of a poisoned rat and is killed or inadvertently kills their offspring.

For the hawks’ sake we should take measures to protect them. We should be unequivocally diligent in our stewardship of our local, wild neighbors and our shared environment.

With the hawks now visible on a broader stage through the webcam, this concern is magnified many times, as the hawk watchers who have grown to love them will be brokenhearted to lose them, let alone find that they were lost even though their deaths were preventable.

There are many things that can be done to protect the adult hawks and the nestlings from rat poisoning. The first is removal of the poison from the area during nesting season. The Parks department has done this before for Central Park Hawks, so the possibility is there. Better sanitation practices around the park is an important longterm solution. This would mean that the businesses and buildings in the area use rat proof garbage containers with lids.

I understand that last night a nestling was finally sighted in the nest bowl, and that it looks like we are going to be able to watch our first hawk family grow in Washington Square Park over the summer. Right now we have a real chance to avert tragedy by rallying in support of this wondrous, wild happening unfolding before our eyes.

Sincerely,
Myisha Priest

On April 26th, at the Pale Male Blog, hawk expert Bobby Horvath confirmed Riverside Dad’s death and the problems that awaited mom on her own:

It [he] is confirmed dead since Sunday. [He] has been sent for testing already. It will be difficult for the mother to do everything, keeping babies warm and dry and getting enough food but we will see. I will assist if asked to.

At the Urban Hawks Blog, they are furious at the city’s Parks Department for negligence which led to the killing of “Riverside Dad:”

On April 11th, I had warned John Herrold that his staff was negligent by putting out poisons at the Boat Basin Dumpsters in late March. He took no action until he was contacted by Commissioner Benepe days later. His failure to acknowledge that he ignored my email and then his stating “We in Riverside Park are especially proud to have these beautiful creatures living in the park, and take great care to protect them.” infuriated me.

Absolute B.S., when you’ve most likely just killed one of them.

Let’s get the rodenticide removed in Washington Square, now.

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WSP Blog post from May 13th, 2008: Riverside Park’s 3 Baby Hawks Believed Dead; Pesticides in Parks the Cause?