Washington Square News, NYU’s Daily Newspaper, on Chess Plaza Opening

For readers of this blog who are looking for more “positivity” here, here you go.

Washington Square News, NYU’s daily newspaper, reports on the opening of the SouthWest Quadrant,”Fences Come Down at Washington Square Park,” online today. The writer, Emily Yang, interviewed me — she wrote a well done, comprehensive piece and my viewpoint sounds quite positive. (Tho’, I must admit, my more in-depth comments on the project taking so long or about reduction in size of chess plaza were pretty much left out — another park user fills some of that in.)

I’d never really thought about the difference in dynamic the SW entrance to the park offers until I sat down at a chess table the day the plaza opened at last. The writer asked me what I thought this section opening meant to people who visit the park. Here is an excerpt of the piece:

Our goal was to create a renewed sense of space, with a design that restored and upgraded the significant features that make Washington Square Park an iconic destination for New Yorkers and visitors alike,” [Parks Department spokesperson Phil] Abramson said.

Phase III was expected to be completed by winter 2011. But Abramson said the next phase will begin this spring and last for one year. When completed, it will include a large, renovated dog run and park house with a public restroom and space for the maintenance staff.

Cathryn Swan, creator of the Washington Square Park Blog, said the opening of the new area will bring positive results to the community. But she said this phase is long overdue.

Even though the central plaza where the chess tables are has been reduced a lot in size, this section is an important part of the park,” Swan said.

“The southern end has a different feeling, maybe because people are coming from Bleecker and MacDougal where there is a lot going on,” she added. “So it’ll be nice to have a flow again through the park from there.”

Long-time WSP visitor Vince Marchese, 70, said the fences took away from the beauty of the park for too long.

“I would say it looks like an improvement of about 50 percent,” Marchese said. “It’s a nice place to go to, where things happen all the time.”

He said other aspects of the park, including the cleanliness of the existing public restrooms and how often the fountain is turned on, have room for improvement.

Full story at Washington Square News: Fences Come Down at Washington Square Park

Chess Plaza – SW Quadrant – So Close & Yet Will It Be Completed This Year?

Off Limits for Oh So Long

So Close... And Yet?

Part of Phase III Now Fenced Off

Even I get a bit tired writing about the status of Washington Square Park Redesign: Phase II… When I wrote my last post on what-seemed-like-its-imminent-completion on November 10th, I really thought this section of the park – Phase II-B – long-under-construction (amidst prolonged stops and starts) would be open by the end of that month. Now it’s mid-December and it appears just some landscaping and fencing is left to be completed. Work that should not take very long. Certainly the whole job should have been completed soon after Phase II-A opened on June 2nd. And yet, something is very wrong with this taking so long, and, again, no elected official or governing body pays it any attention.

I wonder when Phase III (which also now includes parts of Phase II) will begin. The budget for all three phases is at least $35 Million at this point (initially budgeted and approved by the City Council for $16 Million).

To catch up on Phase II A and B, see this WSP Blog post: Washington Square Park Redesign Phase II-B/Chess Plaza Finally Sees Some Action * Completion by Month’s End? November 10, 2011

An overview of Phase II, the cost and delays here.

Yesterday at the Park (Photos)

Two Squirrels enjoy the "Hanging Elm" NW Quadrant

Cleaning Up Chess Plaza - Work Resumed ?

Plants Arrive SW Quadrant

Arch Still Barricaded Off

??

Chalked Plaza -- Occupy Washington Square Park

Fall Colors or Another Fountain Tree Dying?

The squirrels in the park were in fine form yesterday … enjoying visitors and regulars, and, of course, the park’s trees — pictured at top is the famous and very old “Hanging Elm” in the North West Quadrant. …

Work appears to have resumed somewhat on construction on Phase II-B – South West Quadrant/Chess Plaza  – signs that someone was there appeared in the form of potted plants and a wheel barrow. …

The Arch is still mysteriously barricaded off. It’s hard to know what to make of that. (Think of the “poor tourists” and visitors wanting to get their pictures taken in front of the Arch! Kidding, sort of.) …

Occupy Washington Square chalked the plaza to announce the location of their meeting the other night. Next meeting is on Wednesday (tomorrow), October 26th at 7 p.m. and the community is invited! …

It’s hard to say if the remaining 3 – living – trees around the fountain — the ones that remain — are now exhibiting fall colors or are dying.

Photos: Cathryn

Part I: Community Board 2 and NY City Council Disavow Oversight of Washington Square Park Redesign Project As Phase II Construction Stalled for Five Weeks

Amended sign- Completion Date: "Or whenever... zzz"

On September 29th, I wrote about how construction on the SouthWest Quadrant/Chess Plaza at Washington Square Park had been stopped for about 3 weeks. 5 weeks passed with no movement or signs of life on this last piece of long overdue Redesign: Phase II work. At this point, delays in the project do not surprise me. Why this is happening is due to a dispute between the Parks Department and the contractor (more on that later).

What does surprise me is the lack of oversight by just about everyone you’d expect to be monitoring this project.

Let’s review the players —

Washington Square Park Task Force

There IS a Washington Square Park Task Force – although you’d never know it – this body seemed to dissolve once City Council Member Alan Gerson left office – replacement Margaret Chin has been totally MIA on the project. Community Board 2 has pretended that the Task Force doesn’t exist and Council Speaker Christine Quinn has not prompted it to keep going. The body was part of the “Gerson-Quinn Agreement,” created for the express purpose of giving the community an opportunity to provide oversight on the project and monitor work on the park’s redesign. In March of 2010, I wrote a piece about how the only way the Task Force would function properly is if it was separated from Community Board 2. Clearly, that remains accurate.

Community Board 2

Trees are dying, work is stopped, project is months behind schedule, budget continues ballooning, something is wrong with the Fountain … and yet Community Board 2 has only chimed in – with regards to WSP in the last year – when they sent out Bob Gormley to talk to the media about the bathroom hours being cut.

Brad Hoylman is back after a 2 year hiatus as Chair of the Board (CB2 chairs only serve 2 year terms). Some may have mixed feelings on his role in the negotiations for the park’s redesign years prior, and he does, after all, work for pro-Bloomberg entity, Partnership for New York City. My experience was that he was pretty decent at moving things along and bringing up and addressing issues during the period I first became involved (2008).

However, since Hoylman returned in June of this year, there’s been no progress or spotlight on the park by the board. He’s left Parks Committee chair Tobi Bergman in charge. As I’ve mentioned, Bergman is a former Parks Department employee who doesn’t take a very hard look at anything related to the Parks Department (in fact, his current job is somewhat dependent on the city agency).

NY City Council

No involvement at all. Council Member Margaret Chin’s office completely unresponsive. Council Speaker Christine Quinn – who was a huge part of the “Gerson-Quinn Agreement” – is hands off at this point but, then, she’s not being pushed to be involved by the bodies that ought to be doing so – the Community Board and Task Force.

We know that the Parks Department is a dysfunctional agency, and so, at this point, this is a project run amok.

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An Overview:

Phase II Original completion date: Fall 2010. Work was split into two parts earlier this year — Phase II-A (eastern end) opened June 2nd. Budget for all three phases of the park’s elaborate redesign was $16 Million – that figure has now doubled.

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Previously on WSP Blog: Has Phase II just stopped? September 29, 2011

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

Washington Square Music Festival 2011 Premieres Tuesday, July 12th; Four Free Concerts Tuesdays in the Park on New Garibaldi Stage

Updated 5:30 p.m. – The Washington Square Music Festival’s new season begins at the Park on Tuesday, July 12th with four free performances. It’ll be the festival’s first season performing on the new Garibaldi Stage and we’ll see how that goes.

History of the new Stage in Washington Square Park Redesign: Phase II

Phase II’s Garibaldi Stage takes the place of the stage that existed on the popular and now demolished “Teen Plaza.” Executives from the Washington Square Music Festival told the Landmarks Preservation Commission at a public hearing in March of 2009 that the newly designed stage is ” too small, too low, and without a backstage preparation area” and that the stage height “creates sight line problems for viewers beyond the first few rows.” Still, “with reluctance,” the organization supported the redesigned stage.

The Washington Square Music Festival is presented under the “auspices” of the Washington Square Association (the organization presents two annual events at the Park – the Music Festival and the Christmas Tree Lighting) which was in favor of the park’s redesign plan. Due to that, festival executives likely felt they could not speak out too strongly; however, it would have made a difference if they had.

For the stage’s new design and configuration, it was mandated that community input be taken into account but the Parks Department, as is often their way, went ahead with their plans without consulting anyone. The agency felt the Teen Plaza area was “too isolated.” Instead of finding another way to recreate that space, they destroyed it (moving the Petanque Court also – that doesn’t seem to be working out too well either; more on that to come).

The stage previously was 36″ tall; it is now somewhere around 28″ tall. It has been used for a few performances and exhibits since the Eastern end of the Park opened on June 2nd but this round of performances will be a true test.

A note: It would appear to me that the stage could be reconstructed and made higher if deemed necessary in the future. 

This year’s Festival:

The Washington Square Music Festival will perform for four Tuesdays beginning July 12th through August 2nd. All concerts are free and begin at 8 p.m. It’s the festival’s 53rd season; only one did not take place within Washington Square Park (2009).

Tuesday, July 12th: Opera in the Park Bronx Opera’s debut appearance in Washington Square. Michael Spierman conducting Festival Chamber Orchestra in W.A. Mozart’s The Impresario with soloists from The Bronx Opera Company and Schubert’s Fifth Symphony.

Tuesday, July 19th:  The Joy of Unfamiliar Music — Festival Chamber Ensemble with soloists perform Emmanuel Séjourné’s Concerto for Marimba and strings; Luciano Berio’s Opus Number Zoo, for speaker and wind quintet; Corrado Maria Saglietti’s Suite for Alto Trombone and String Quartet.

Tuesday, July 26th: Music Making by the Master — Stanley Drucker (formerly first clarinet for 30 years for the New York Philharmonic) and the Festival Chamber Ensemble performing W.A. Mozart’s Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in A major, K.581; Astor Piazzolla’s Four for Tango; Anton Arensky’s String Quartet op 35 in a minor.

Tuesday, August 2nd: The Charles Mingus Orchestra Plays Jazz — Featuring the 10 piece band performing works by the late Charles Mingus.

Rainspace: St. Joseph’s Church, 371 Sixth Avenue
Website here; Contact phone #212-252-3621

** There’s a nice piece this week in the Downtown Express on the direction of the Washington Square Music Festival and this year’s season under Music Director Luiz Rath which you can read here.

WikiCity – How Citizens Can Improve Their Cities & On Washington Square

Mexico City

Buckminster Fuller said: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

Following in that spirit is the WikiCity movement, which I just learned of, happening in cities across the world. At the end of this post, I address how this relates back to Washington Square Park and its redesign.

From the Sustainable Cities Collective:

When governments don’t build infrastructure, citizens usually complain, but can’t do much about it. They pressure public officials and protest against proposed projects, but that’s as far as citizen participation in city building usually goes. It’s reactive, not proactive.

However, this model of citizen participation is being rethought by citizens around the world. They are taking control over what happens in their cities. … Local groups all around the world are taking the initiative and are building the infrastructure that governments refuse or are slow to do. …

In Los Angeles, several different groups have tried to address the lack of seating in the streets. They designed the SignBench and the SignChair that can be attached to existing street furniture to provide a place to sit. Another group designed a whole set of wood benches and planters for a bus stop that lacked any kind of street furniture. …

However, what is most important about this actions is that they open a discussion that hadn’t existed previously about who owns the city and who can improve it. This actions empower citizens to think about their environment and act on it, and that is ultimately more meaningful than the mere creation of infrastructure.

And this can go beyond infrastructure, as this piece, “Welcome to the City of Voice” by Tekijä Roope Mokka illustrates:

UN estimates that by 2050 half of the world’s population will live in “self-built cities” – informal settlements, slums. I hope they’re wrong. I hope we all live in cities that we design and create ourselves. If slums can be built by people with access to almost no resources, imagine what we in the developed world could do.

There is tons of research into why some people feel happier than others. In the all the answers one thing keeps coming up: the ability to guide your own life. We are happy if we feel that we have power over our lives, if we have a voice. Our greatest urban problem is not spiraling property prices, nor the ageing population nor safety. It is not zero tolerance, queues for clubs and bars, it’s not chain restaurants nor is it ugly buildings or clone towns. These are merely symptoms.

The core issue is that cities no longer enable us to live out our dreams. We have changed, but the cities haven’t. They remain the final bastions of modernistic design where users are seen as the masses and individuals are an obstacle. Even suburbia (on the surface a tasteless, mundane, hypermarket-bound high-carbon lifestyle) offers more potential for self-expression. That is why we fleeing cities.

To lure us back we need cities that give us a voice. We need to take democracy to the next level, where it recognises our individual needs and dreams.

How this relates to Washington Square Park:

The problem with Washington Square Park’s redesign is that it’s an example of a city that had a concept that totally negated the value of park users’ and community input. There was a Parks Commissioner, as directed by the city’s Mayor, who pretended that having “listening sessions” was the same thing AS listening.

The problem with Washington Square Park Redesign Phase II isn’t that it doesn’t look nice. As commenter Angela wrote: “the park looks pretty and all but rather generic and bland.”

The problem is that everything about the previous design that the community very much liked was obliterated. It was the ultimate in a slap in the face, a statement: ‘we don’t care what you think,’ we want this park to represent the Bloomberg model, to be homogenized, and to reflect the city WE envision, not the one you want, not the one you loved.’ By their actions, city officials were blatantly saying, ‘this isn’t the ’60s or even the ’70s and we WILL prevail.’ Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t. The park will always be special. It’s just a bit tainted now. Unfortunately, there’s no way to get around that fact.

I think that there will be a way, one day in the future, for people to reclaim what was lost at Washington Square or create something new within the design, as people are doing in WikiCity movements, which will provide the lost “voice” in the process. That there will be a way to somehow right what was done and build a new model of governance for the future; a future where the Bloomberg model, in which real estate, Wall Street and corporate interests reign, will be looked upon with disdain, and people will say “This is ours. Don’t mess with this.”

Washington Square Park Eastern Side Opens Today!

Updated

Looking West Towards the Fountain

Pathway headed East from the Fountain

Garibaldi!

Garibaldi Plaza Stage

Costa Nicholas, first musician to grace Garibaldi Stage !

Playground Opens

Little Girl in the Playground

Some Tiles Salvaged from "Teen Plaza" in Playground

Two Men Chatting on the NorthEast Side

North East Quadrant

Small Dog Run on Wash Square South

Strange little alcove along Washington Square South

And, of course, The Arch (not part of Phase II)

The Eastern Side of Park – under construction for oh so long – opened today and people seem ecstatic to reclaim this large swatch (swath?) of New York City public space. I realized how much I missed the East Side. It was the end of the park I knew better than the Western end. No commentary today – just pictures! And the fountainout from under repair, is on!

Post from earlier today has more details on Phase II specifics and what’s taken so long, how much it cost, what some of the issues have been around the 20 months of construction and park’s redesign.

Commentary and thoughts on Washington Square Park Redesign: Phase II-A’s unveiling coming Monday, June 6thTuesday, June 7th!

Photos: Cathryn

Garibaldi Uncloaked, Unscaffolded and Restored! Barring Last Minute Setbacks, Eastern End of Park to Open Soon

Garibaldi Now

Updated 5/26 – Poor Garibaldi Statue… he’s had a rough time — first moved from his original location, looking worn down, exposed to the elements, then covered in a gawdy blue cloak (for a long stretch) and, more recently, encased in scaffolding.

But now Garibaldi’s been uncloaked, cleaned, restored, re-patinized and unscaffolded and is looking quite dapper!

Which also signals that the eastern side of the park – Phase IIA – is set to open soon. Likely not “by Memorial Day” (which is Monday the 30th) as the Parks Department told Community Board 2 in early April but pretty close! I’m going with Tuesday or Wednesday next week at this moment. (Update 5/26: I’d be surprised if it is next week but we’ll see.) There could be setbacks and the city will want the fountain out from under repair at that point too (not certain how that’s going).

Just what was done to Garibaldi? Got the word in late March from the NYC Parks Department on what would be done to the 123 year old statue as he waited cloaked in blue; that entailed the Public Design Commission approving the “cleaning, patination, coating and restoration methodologies and procedures.”

cloaked in blue...

Who was Garibaldi? At the time the statue was moved from its previous location in April 2010, I reported on some history of Giuseppe Garibaldi:

The Giuseppe Garibaldi Statue at Washington Square Park was moved last week from its position facing west (looking toward the fountain, his back was to Washington Square East).

The Garibaldi Statue was designed by Giovanni Turini and erected in 1888. It was refurbished once but not moved (hard to find info on that but there was a plaque outlining it at the Park – American Express financed it at the time).

under scaffolding

Some background on the Garibaldi statue from Emily Kies Folpe in her book, It Happened on Washington Square. Interesting note that Garibaldi was approached by Abraham Lincoln at the start of the Civil War to command a Union army corps. In response, one of Garibaldi’s stipulations was that Lincoln commit to abolishing slavery. This was not agreed to. Garibaldi declined.

Previous Location During Construction

There was something nice about the previous location, coming from the fountain and encountering Garibaldi regally standing there, welcoming you into the eastern end of the park (admittedly, while also ready to draw his sword!). I imagine the designer wanted to open up the vista (as was done – and works – on the western side). I asked designer George Vellonakis to take me for a tour of the park before it opens so he could tell me in person what he had in mind but he declined.

We’ll know soon enough how the new design fits the newly refurbished park when Washington Square Park Redesign: Phase II opens on the eastern end after 20 months of construction. Stay tuned!

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For more interesting background on Garibaldi, visit New York City Statues.

WSP Phase II Construction Still At least 2 Weeks Away from Opening Yet Fences Come Down Along Washington Square North. More to this than meets the eye?

Then...

After more than 19 months guarding construction along the Eastern end of Washington Square Park, the fences are down along Washington Square North!

Don’t get too excited — it ends there for now. Phase II’s Eastern end construction is still at least two weeks away from its public unveiling. The decision to begin taking the fences down along Washington Square North was apparently a rush to judgment.

Or was it?

Now... No Fences along Wash Square North

View on Washington Square North

It’s evident that the re-designer of Washington Square has a strong desire to please those living and working along tony Washington Square North. This segment of the block has a heavy NYU presence (many of the university deans inhabit these buildings) and is also the location of the Washington Square Association, an organization which supported designer’s George Vellonakis’s plans for the park, while many did not.

So, it’s impossible not to link the fervor to please the inhabitants of this block and the fence being removed in that location, and only that location, first. Now, those folks have a picture perfect, unfettered view into the park  – after 19 months of construction – before everyone else, except where their view becomes a hilly tree-topped terrain at the far eastern end.

The Hills Are Alive...(fence since removed)

Have you noticed this yet? These newly placed hills and evergreen trees (photo at left — taken before fence was removed) are all new to the park. No one was aware that this re-visioning of the park’s landscape was in store.

(This might have something to do with the fact that efforts to learn exact details of Phase II’s plans were continually stymied by the Parks Department and Community Board 2.)

Previously, you could walk along the perimeter here and look into the park and see what was happening in that Northeast corner. Now, you can’t. A community activist told me that this is to allow the NYU Deans and so forth to “look out on the rolling hills in WSP” and think they are in “Princeton.” It also makes that area of the park dangerous as it creates a true blind spot when you are inside that corner.

It’s hard not to surmise – Is money involved here? Is this an expression of extreme gratitude for support of the controversial redesign plan (strings pulled perhaps?) that these people are being so looked out for and prioritized above all others?

Washington Square Park’s Phase II Construction began in the Fall of 2009. The scheduled completion date was Fall 2010. It is nice to be able to finally look in unimpeded (albeit one section) and know that the remainder of Phase II, after many delays, is at last almost complete (except, of course, for the pieces that were moved into Phase III) for everyone to utilize.

Note: Park’s Phase II Eastern end opened June 2nd and it remained this way for one month.