The ‘New’ Times Square: Public Space as Suburban Mall and Now Also For Rent

New Times Square 1New Times Square 2Seriously, I think I felt more comfortable with how Times Square was before with all the traffic (and even before that when it was really, uh, gritty…) … this is totally geared to tourists. It feels antithetical to what New York is (and can be). Now it is reported that the Bloomberg Administration is selling off the rights to use this “public space,” a definite pattern, according to an article in yesterday’s New York Times:

When Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced plans in February to close stretches of Broadway to traffic to create pedestrian plazas, it was billed as a way to ease congestion and create oases for walkers, people watchers, idlers (chairs and tables were provided) and cyclists. Since the car-free zones were opened in May, they have been home to predictable urban vignettes: tourists resting with their shopping bags, New Yorkers pausing with their cellphones as buses go by a few feet away.

But the plazas can also make money for the city.

Fred Kent, founder and president of Project for Public Spaces, is quoted about the risks involved:  

“If it’s a public event, then that’s O.K., but what can happen very quickly is they can be privatized and limit public use and public access,” Mr. Kent said. He cited the Bryant Park fashion shows as an example of the latter, calling them “the most egregious private use of public space anywhere in the world.”

These “pedestrian plazas” are located: “on Broadway at Times Square from 47th to 42nd Street, at Herald Square from 35th to 33rd Street, and where Broadway and Fifth Avenue meet between 22nd and 25th Streets. Smaller plazas, called Broadway Boulevard, take up one lane of Broadway between 42nd Street and Herald Square.”

Photos:  Cat

What Makes a Great Public Space?


A study of Washington Square Park in 2005 by the Project for Public Spaces concluded:

“Washington Square Park is one of the best known and best-loved destinations in New York City. And as a neighborhood park and civic gathering place, it may be one of the great public spaces in the world. Anyone who visits the park and who looks at how people use it can confirm in just a few minutes that it has nearly all of the key attributes of a great public space. … Its success can also be measured by other indicators such as the amount of affection that is being displayed, its overall comfort and feeling of being safe, the level of stewardship, and the way that people engage in different activities at very close range and interact with each other easily.”

In addition, Jane Jacobs in The Death and Life of Great American Cities wrote of the park’s famous fountain, “In effect, this [fountain] is a circular arena, a theater in the round, and that is how it is used, with complete confusion as to who are spectators and who are the show.”

About Washington Square Park overall, she stated, “The city officials regularly concoct improvement schemes by which this center within the park would be sown to grass and flowers and surrounded by a fence. The invariable phrase is ‘restoring the land to park use.’ That is a different form of park use, legitimate in places. But for neighborhood parks, the finest centers are stage settings for people.”

This leads to one question : Why is New York City putting forth a radical redesign of Washington Square Park, a great public space?

Contact NYC elected officials re: Washington Sq Park

Now is a good time to contact the New York City Council as they prepare for hearings next week on the Parks Department Preliminary Budget!

The Parks Department needs further oversight by the New York City Council. The Washington Square Park “renovation” alone has skyrocketed from $16 million to $25-30 million, an outrageous figure. We’re alarmed that the city is using this radical and unnecessary overhaul (and the rising cost) as a backdoor method to privatization of the Park. Everyone agrees that the Parks Department let Washington Square Park fall into disrepair and that the Park needs some repair. It does NOT need a redesign which reduces the public gathering space, relocates and gives naming rights of the historic fountain (to the Tisch Family after they contributed $2.5 million to the Mayor’s Fund), and moves virtually every piece of this successful Park into a new location. 11 trees have been cut down thus far for this folly. As a great public space (see Project for Public Spaces study of Washington Square Park), what is the reason for this outrageous redesign?

A responsible budget by the Parks Department would allow for Washington Square Park to be modestly repaired while allocating funds to Parks throughout the five boroughs in communities that desperately need the attention.

For other problems with the Parks Department, refer to this previous entry.

Contact: Helen Foster (Chair of the Parks Committee of the City Council) #718/588-7500; fax# 718/588-7790; email: foster@council.nyc.ny.us; Alan Gerson (City Council representative for Greenwich Village, member Parks Committee) #212/788-7722; fax #212/788-7727; email: gerson@council.nyc.ny.us; Christine Quinn(City Council Speaker): #212/564-7757; fax #212/564-7347; email: cquinn@council.nyc.ny.us

** Pictures coming from 3/13 Balloon Protest! **

note: CLICK on the photo above for more detail. It shows the Arch minus the Fountain (the two had been standing together OVER one hundred years). The fountain area is all torn up.

What makes a great public space?

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A study of Washington Square Park in 2005 by the Project for Public Spaces concluded:

“Washington Square Park is one of the best known and best-loved destinations in New York City. And as a neighborhood park and civic gathering place, it may be one of the great public spaces in the world. Anyone who visits the park and who looks at how people use it can confirm in just a few minutes that it has nearly all of the key attributes of a great public space. … Its success can also be measured by other indicators such as the amount of affection that is being displayed, its overall comfort and feeling of being safe, the level of stewardship, and the way that people engage in different activities at very close range and interact with each other easily.”

This leads to only one question : Why is the city putting forth a radical redesign of Washington Square Park, a great public space?

More on this to follow.