Saturday — Park Closed; Washington Square Prepares for Hurricane Irene

Updated 3 p.m. —

Saturday, August 27th. Hurricane Irene.

Today, Sunday, Park open back to normal.

Photos: Teri Tynes

Seen at the Park

Fourth of July at Washington Square

Black Squirrel Strikes a Pose

More coming…

NYC Parks Commissioner Benepe responds to NY Times’ Op-Ed on Ridgewood Reservoir

You really have to read between the lines when New York City Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe speaks about plans he wishes to implement in our city parks.

Last week, the New York Times printed Commissioner Benepe’s letter in response to the excellent Op-Ed that Robert Kennedy Jr. and NYC Comptroller William Thompson Jr. wrote defending the natural beauty of Ridgewood Reservoir which lies on the Queens-Brooklyn border.

Ridgewood Reservoir, at one time the source of the water supply for the City of Brooklyn, had been abandoned. Natural vegetation arose in the spot and it has become a wildlife habitat. It abuts Highland Park and the two are considered aligned. Commissioner Benepe wishes to destroy the natural habitat that has come to life there, tear down and pave over a large swath, and replace it with landscaped areas and artificial turf fields.

Printed below is Commissioner Benepe’s letter and some points in response. Note: Commissioner Benepe’s method is typically not to respond to the main criticisms but to reiterate his selling points. Save Ridgewood Reservoir had some good counterpoints to his letter also which I’ve interspersed below.

  • To the Editor:
  • One of the key goals of PlaNYC, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s far-reaching plan to fight global warming and create a more livable city, is to ensure that every New Yorker lives within a 10-minute walk of a park or open space.

Counterpoint: Parks Department cuts down thousands of City’s Mature Trees, Vegetation

If this was accurate, then why has the New York City Parks Department, under Commissioner Benepe and Mayor Bloomberg, not preserved the mature trees in city parks? Instead, as they plan with Ridgewood Reservoir, they have been cutting down significant numbers (thousands) of mature trees in parks in the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens solely because they are in the way of their redesign plans.

Save Ridgewood Reservoir commented: A study showed the cooling effect of trees and other vegetation, an effect that would be severely diminished if Commissioner Benepe cut down the trees and other plants within any of the reservoir’s basins. In fact, an association of manufacturers of artificial recreational surfaces acknowledges that artificial turf surface temperatures can be as much as 30 degrees hotter than natural turf. In his haste to replace the city park’s natural surface fields with artificial material, Commissioner Benepe is clearly working against his boss’s stated goal.

  • Highland Park in Queens is one of eight large underdeveloped parks where we are expanding access to help achieve this goal.

Counterpoint: Parks are not “underdeveloped” but are undermaintained

The New York City Parks Department’s has a pattern: Forego necessary repairs and maintenance within a city park for a long period of time. The community inevitably becomes desperate for something to be done. At that point, the Parks Department swoops in with a plan for a total (typically unwelcome) redesign of that park. (See: Washington Square Park.)

For an underfunded City Agency, the Parks Department ought to focus on maintenance and repair instead of elaborate reconstructions. However, that’s not quite as splashy.

As Save Ridgewood Reservoir stated, “Highland Park is not underdeveloped, it’s under maintained. … Instead of fixing the obvious problems and improving an existing park, the city would rather spend $40 million on creating another park.

  • As with all of these projects, the city holds listening sessions with community residents to incorporate their input into the design.

Counterpoint: City’s “listening sessions” do not result in “input” from community being incorporated into design

Anyone who has experienced a Parks Department “listening session” soon realizes that the Parks Department “listening sessions” are held at the point that the Parks Department has already conjured up and blueprinted their plans.

  • Many options have been discussed, including one with athletic fields in a small area of the 50-acre Ridgewood Reservoir, an area that is composed primarily of invasive trees and vines that threaten the park’s ecological balance.

Counterpoint: Parks’ “ecological balances” threatened by NYC Parks Department

Save Ridgewood Reservoir rebuts this: “Invasive species are in every park in NYC and, in some parks, are controlled by long-term management plans. I guess that concept hasn’t occurred to the commissioner. The only thing that threatens this ‘park’s ecological balance’ is the removal of trees so that artificial turf fields can be installed.”

  • As we begin the design process, we look forward to continued collaboration with the community and with all interested New Yorkers in order to build the best possible park.
  • Adrian Benepe, Commissioner, Department of Parks and Recreation
    New York

Counterpoint: Parks Department’s “Collaboration” with communities non-existent

At Washington Square Park, Manhattan Community Board 2 ultimately – but quietly – rescinded its approval of the Parks Department’s plans (after approving them twice). Unfortunately, Commissioner Benepe still uses the initial “approval” as a selling point for his and Mayor Bloomberg’s “plans” for the park. At the heart of it, the community at large never approved of the redesign plans for this park. Their ideas and input were not implemented into the design except in ways that were minimal at best.

Save Ridgewood Reservoir states: “Highland Park and the Ridgewood Reservoir fall within Queens Community Board 5 and Brooklyn Community Board 5. Both boards recently voted to oppose development within the basins and support the mission of the Highland Park/Ridgewood Reservoir Alliance.”

Event: Union Square: Not for Sale – Rally Thursday, June 5th 5 P.M.


Announcement for June 5th Rally from Save Union Square:

Bloomberg and his cronies have a vision of New York City where parks are for-profit, people are squeezed out of public spaces, and free assembly is made impossible. Their plans to privatize Union Square Park were “approved” through a rigged process that steam-rolled widespread opposition. But the privatizers have over-reached. They tried to sidestep the law and a judge said “Wait a Second!” Now it is OUR time to BLOW THE LID OFF this scam and PUSH BACK THE PRIVATIZERS!

On June 5th, at 5:00 p.m., the Union Square Partnership (the schemers behind the scam) will hold their annual back-slapping, self-congratulation dinner, just a block or two off the park. We will gather at the Northwest corner for a raucous rally and celebration of FREELY ASSEMBLED PEOPLE IN PUBLIC SPACE!

Expect marching bands, a “Heroes of Union Square Walking Tour,” community visioning sessions, and soapbox preaching. Expect surprises and spectacles and a glimpse of what the city CAN be! Come out and meet your neighbors in the square and defend the public’s right to public space!

What you can DO:

*Sign the petition.

*Contact City Council Member Rosie Mendez and tell her NO RESTAURANT: #212/677-1077 email: rosie. mendez -at-

*Contact the Union Square Partnership and tell them NO RESTAURANT #212/460-1200 email: jfalk -at-

*Come to the Rally June 5th, 5:00 p.m., NW Corner of Union Square

*Want to get involved? email: saveunionsquare2008 -at-

Arbor Day Protest at Union Square: Stop the Privatization of Public Space Event Report Back

An Arbor Day protest on Friday, April 25th in Union Square Park united artist/vendors with tree-savers and bike riders around the theme: Stop Privatization of Public Space / Protect Our Trees.

Artists, performers, eco-activists and community members leafleted the thousands of people streaming through Union Square Park with information about what’s happening in our city – the mass cutting down of trees in our parks, the privatization of public space, and reduction of public space – under the auspices of Mayor Bloomberg.

Many of the Washington Square Park activists who have worked so hard and for so long to help that Park came out in support of protecting the trees and stopping the privatization at Union Square and in our City overall. I met some WSP blog-readers too!

Members of the Bronx Treekeepers arrived with a new petition and collected many signatures as we circled the Square. We approached – and were approached by – numerous people (including people playing Twister on the plaza who held the flyer in their mouths so as not to lose their positions!). They all wanted information on how Mayor Bloomberg is encroaching on our public space and his tree destruction (despite his MillionTreesNYC p.r.). The information that 14 trees were going to be chopped down to make way for a private restaurant left people aghast.

There were other protests going on that evening — notably the Sean Bell verdict protest in Queens had been called for the same time — so we knew that many activists who would have attended had headed over there, understandably.

The protest was to begin at the Gandhi statue, and a number of folks gathered there. I started out near the statue of George Washington on his horse and the Main Plaza, and met up with a few others there. Chalking messages on the voluminous plaza seemed to garner the crowd’s attention (wondering perhaps what is this chalk-wielding woman doing?). One message: “Stop Mayor Bloomberg from Privatizing our Parks – Union Square is Next!” In the days immediately following September 11th, 2001, Union Square had become the main gathering point for “peace” speak-outs, and the Park back then was filled with chalked messages of New Yorkers searching for loved ones and expressing their desire for “No War” and for peace. (If only they’d listened to the Voices of Union Square Park back then…)

When I finally got to the Gandhi statue, a spirited group was flyering the crowd. Artists had painted and set up signs on every table. Official-looking posters, signed by the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, adorned nearby trees as well as the Park’s four prominent statues. These posters, with UPC-bar codes (see the photo above); were each sponsored by a different corporation, and cited the kind of tree that would be cut down, signifying the privatization of our public space. (The sign in the above photo states: Property of Bank of America, Tree # USP6 Bloomberg Gingko, To be cut down and its plot privatized.)

Later, we met up with the folks from Critical Mass who were about to embark on their monthly bike ride, which gathers at Union Square. Street artists were everywhere! Once they’d closed up their tables, many helped hand out flyers and carried signs such as: “Stop Park Privatization,” “Stop Harassing Artists” “Green Market – Yes, Artists – Yes, Privatization – No.”

The Park itself was abuzz that night with all sorts of political and artistic projects. “Free Tibet” protesters set up one hundred white candles encased in glass containers all along the Main Plaza. 9/11 Truth activists collected signatures. Musicians, dancers, tourists, pounded out the cadences of a new counterculture emerging. Union Square on Arbor Day: It was an amazing tribute and example of a great use of public space.


Thank you to Rebecca, Mitchel, Robert L., Elizabeth, Gloria, Joel K., Tony, Miriam, Ned, Alex, Ernie, Jessie, Sharon, Linda, Carl, Kevin, Suzannah, Susan (and partner), Ben, ALL the street artists, and anyone else I inadvertently left out for your help, support, and great activism around this event.