Musings: On Washington Square, The Villager and the Village Alliance BID

This week’s Villager features an article on the Washington Square Park ribbon cutting last week (May 28th). The writer is Albert Amateau who I met at the park’s opening the week prior. I’m a little stunned at this piece which glosses over anything that might have been problematic over the Park’s redesign. It’s not as if The Villager hasn’t reported it over the years, and in detail. There’s reference to some discord but little context. The little there is is allotted to one person who is quoted stating that “20 people” were against changes being made to the park. ??

It’s amazing how quickly the arguments can get lost or forgotten amidst the … pretty. This piece seems to rewrite history and ignore what was a truly problematic, non-transparent and unnecessarily hostile process put into place by the New York City government in the redesign of Washington Square Park.

On this blog, although I’ve certainly had people write in saying they love the new park, I’ve also had people write in with substantive and thoughtful explanations as to what they take issue with. Perhaps Mr. Amateau didn’t encounter many people who were able to give him concrete thoughts on-the-spot. Many people stayed away that day who felt uncomfortable with the “celebration.” Long time activist Mitchel Cohen, who was out of town, wrote in commenting and asked … why wasn’t anyone handing out flyers critiquing the Parks Department and informing people about what went on?

It’s a valid point and, as much as no one wants to be “the negative person” forever, it’s also important for other communities and other battles – and Washington Square Park’s history – that people know what went on here during the Bloomberg Administration.

On the Business Improvement District and their “significant” contribution?

Then there’s the question of the Village Alliance Business Improvement District (formerly the 8th Street BID) which is, it seems to me, gearing up to play a key role in any private conservancy. A conservancy is greatly opposed by the vast number of community members (and the Parks Department is well aware of this).

The Villager article states: “Honi Klein, president of the Village Alliance business improvement district, who raised significant funds for the Washington Square Park renovation, declared the phase-one completion a resounding success.”

From what I know, the Village Alliance raised $125,000 thus far with plans to raise another $125,000. Now, I’m not saying that’s a small amount of money but for a project (Phases I-III Washington Square Park Redesign) with a price tag of over $32 million, that’s really not a “significant” amount, is it?

****************************************************************

** For an up-to-date refresher on what the issues were and are, go here. **

Part II: Ribbon Cutting Ceremony at Washington Sq Park May 28, 2009: ReportBack

Updated

It’s hard to know where to begin to describe last Thursday’s (May 28th) Ribbon Cutting Ceremony at Washington Square Park which marked the “official” ceremony celebrating the reopening of the long-under-construction NW Quadrant and Fountain Plaza. It was a well planned event with food and drinks and music and speeches by elected officials and other community and business association members. But … who knew there were Parks Department flags, trucks, suitcases, tents? Parks Department flags lined the entire Plaza around the Fountain. Clearly, NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe wanted to make certain without a doubt that, at the end of the day, they were happy with what they accomplished – despite a muddled and often questionable “process” along the way.

I almost titled this blog entry: “Spin. Spin. Spin.” Because the overarching theme of each person’s speech was that everyone in the end worked together and the Fountain Plaza has been consistently packed since the Opening Day the week prior therefore the whole project is … a success! And not that it isn’t … (I think there are good things with the redesign and questionable things..) but there’s so much more to the story that the fact that there was such an intentional emphasis on this one repeated theme felt unnecessary and uncomfortable to me.

Let’s just be honest. At this point, can’t the Parks Department concede a point or two? But that that was not to be was apparent with my reading pre-ceremony of the Parks Department press release titled, “Community Celebrates Re-Opening of Washington Square Park.” Yes, there were community members there but it was really more about the elected officials citing how they and “the community” worked together to help smooth over any disgruntlement (apparently, according to one speaker, to reach “consensus”) and … basically… we were all the better for it.

But back to this notion that a packed Fountain Plaza equates that the “renovation” (i.e., redesign) of Washington Square Park is a success. Other than the gray day that appeared on the day of the ribbon cutting, the previous week had been quite been stunning weather-wiseWhy wouldn’t people want to be gathering on a plaza in Greenwich Village around a (famous) Fountain…? Is that so unusual? (We live in a city with 8 million people and who knows how many tourists coming through at one time…)

I sat there one day the week the Park opened with my computer (no WiFi … but I actually don’t think there should be WiFi in Parks although it would be nice at times and it certainly would make my life easier…) around the Fountain and I really enjoyed sitting there. Do I still have concerns about the design…? Yes.

Some comments made at the ceremony:

Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe:

This is a special park and a special celebration today.

George Vellonakis spent a lot of time in the park. The project had to be explained again and again.

Along the way, there were some lawsuits. You don’t do anything in New York without a lawsuit.

The park is 20% greener now… we took a lot of the paving out.

Most of the mail we get isn’t positive. [then reads two positive letters received about the park]

NY City Council Speaker Christine Quinn

All the yelling was worthwhile… made the park more beautiful, more usable.

Always designed with the community in mind.

We have to thank NYU who has been a great partner in this.

NY City Council Member Alan Gerson

In my lifetime this is the third renovation I’ve lived through. Striking the right balance is essential. Everyone who argued, everyone who screamed, everyone who took part… [all led to this moment].

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer

Adrian Benepe is a piece of work. … He’s done an amazing job as Parks Commissioner. With community collaboration, great things can happen.

Pennies In The Fountain

Pennies In The Fountain

Village Alliance (local Business Improvement District) President Honi Klein

7 1/2 years ago started planning for the [renovation of the] park.

I was here Tuesday – Opening day. Washington Square Park is iconic … known for everything and anything goes. On Tuesday, there were more people here than you could possibly imagine.

Washington Square Association President Anne-Marie Sumner

There are natural tensions between the Parks Department and the Community [but we have a] magnificent result. A painters’ paradise.

Community Board 2 Chairperson Brad Hoylman

I think we reached the best conclusion for the space.

***************************************************
* Part I: Ribbon Cutting Ceremony for Phase I Opening in Photos June 1, 2009

Since Parks are being scaled back left and right (according to a story last week in the New York Post) due to budgetary concerns, will Washington Square Park be next?

Photos: Cat

Part I: Ribbon Cutting Ceremony at Washington Sq Park May 28, 2009: Photos

ThePlazaFromAfar052809

Part II: Report-Back on the May 28th Washington Square Park Ribbon Cutting Event

Photos: Cat
Except Davis/Vellonakis: Tim Newman