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

Happy, Merry, Enjoy — “Merry Mounds” Video Showcases Winter Frolic at Washington Sq Park

Merry Christmas Eve! I’m taking a blogging break until Monday, December 29th but there’s so much more in store for the New Year!

And, since you can never get enough of the Mounds, I know, this is a delightful video clip of kids at Washington Square Park using the Mounds for sledding and frolicking in the snow produced by Matt Davis (“SQUARE: Straightening out Washington Square Park“).  The song features Karen Carpenter’s irresistible version of the  song “Sleigh Ride” and illustrates how the children gravitate towards the Mounds as places of spontaneous play. The music fits in perfectly and it is worth your time watching especially if you are in need of a bit of holiday spirit.

* Be sure to check out the archives; there are 290 posts which cover many topics – see the Categories to search for a few.

What’s Up with the Mounds? Why People Like Them.

I admit to at first being a little confused by the Mounds, the “three hills” located in the southwestern part of Washington Square Park. After doing some research on them, I can see their value. The Mounds were created during the 1970’s design of the Park and were part of an “adventure playground” for older children. Ten years after they were installed, the Parks Department paved them over with asphalt, a substance, according to Mounds advocates, they were not meant to be covered in, and it led to a decline in their appearance as it broke down.

The linked footage is from the documentary, Square: Straightening Out Washington Square Park. The first person speaking is the Parks Department’s (controversial) landscape designer George Vellonakis. Later in the piece, sitting at a table with advocates for the Mounds, you’ll encounter City Council Member Alan Gerson informing people – at a point when it did not look like the Mounds would be saved – that temporary sledding structures would be brought to the Park in the winter to counteract the loss of the Mounds for that usage.

Thus far, the Mounds have been saved and are scheduled to be recreated. The most controversial part in that plan at this point is the use of artificial turf around the Mounds (see previous entries on the plans and on artificial turf).

You’ll see in this video (at the link) children actually using the Mounds (they have been closed off for use for awhile). As one advocates states: “They are places of spontaneous play which is different from play equipment which sort of mandates play. The Mounds allow spontaneous play, discovery, risk taking, all the things that are part of growing up.”

Watch video “The Three Hills” here.

“Places of spontaneous play…” Isn’t that part of Washington Square Park‘s charm overall and what makes it so unique … part of its renown? It offers places of spontaneous play — in the form of music, art, protest, conversation. Yet the New York City Parks Department insists on attempting to pacify this public space by … reducing the areas in which these activities occur, adding more and more LAWN and little plazas (has anyone been to a suburban town square lately?), removing the unique and widely used seating alcoves, reducing the area around the chess tables, heightening the fence, and more.

The Truth About Washington Square Park (Video)

This 4 minute video gives an overview of New York City’s redesign of Washington Square Park, the lack of transparency and community involvement, what’s in store and what (still) needs to be challenged. It outlines a fact that was never revealed to the Community Board or City Council – the loss of public space to the Fountain Plaza – a reduction of 23%.

It was completed close to two years ago so the information about the lawsuit at the very end is off (the lawsuit ultimately failed to stop New York City’s redesign plans from moving forward); the rest is accurate.

The City unfortunately did not choose to go the transparent route and go back to Community Board 2 and Landmarks Preservation Commission with accurate information (as Judge Goodman stipulated). Instead, they appealed the decision and won (with a different judge) on appeal.

Community Board 2 ultimately rescinded their approval of the Parks Department’s redesign plans tho’ in a somewhat oblique manner.

“The Truth About Washington Square Park”
Produced by Progressive Source Communications and Matt Davis
Narration Written by Jonathan Greenberg
Narrated by Kaveri Marathe
Music by Ariel Zambenedetti
Video Footage © 2005-2006 Matt Davis
From the documentary “Square: Straightening Out Washington Square Park”

Film Premiere: “SQUARE: Straightening Out Washington Square Park” Sunday, June 1st in Manhattan

Deserted Washington Square Plaza - fountain & Arch“SQUARE: Straightening Out Washington Square Park” is a one hour documentary which focuses on the redesign of Washington Square Park and what’s taken place over the last four years: how the Bloomberg Administration pushed through its agenda to get this famous park in ‘line’ – literally.

The film gets its premiere screening on Sunday, June 1st at the Bowery Poetry Club. In the meantime, you can get a preview of director Matt Davis’s work by watching this 5 minute video clip with up & coming performer, Farbeon, which places the Washington Square Park issue in the midst of an engaging music video. (And there’s some extraordinary footage of NYC Parks Department designer George Vellonakis in action.)

“SQUARE: Straightening Out Washington Square Park” Screening / Film Premiere

It begins with the fountain, that famous theatre-in-the-round, home to political protest, art and musical freewheeling. The new design calls for this structure to “align” with the historic Arch (after over a century unaligned), more “picture perfect” for tourists traveling down Fifth Avenue, and reduction of the voluminous public space that surrounds it transformed into quaint areas with landscaped lawns.

The film shows the government’s bait-and-switch games with the outraged community, whose members watch the City attempt to transform the Washington Square Park that they know and love into one that is pretty and pacified and far from its artistic, bohemian roots.

If you’ve been wondering how it got to this – with much of Washington Square Park behind gates and bulldozed – “SQUARE: Straightening Out Washington Square Park” will bring into sharp focus what’s happened thus far and what’s in store.

This is the premiere screening of this documentary. Directed by Matt Davis.

With Musical Guests: The Fools, A Brief View of The Hudson, Jeff Dickinson

This SUNDAY, JUNE 1st, 7 p.m.

BOWERY POETRY CLUB

308 Bowery between Houston & Bleecker

F train to 2nd Avenue; 6 train to Bleecker

Four Dollars

Film site: square-movie.com

Film Premiere Sunday June 1st: “SQUARE: Straightening Out Washington Square Park” in Manhattan

“SQUARE: Straightening Out Washington Square Park” is a one hour documentary which focuses on thewashington sq arch and fountain in full swing redesign of Washington Square Park and what’s taken place over the last four years: how the Bloomberg Administration pushed through its agenda to get this famous park in ‘line’ – literally.

It begins with the fountain, that famous theatre-in-the-round, home to political protest, art and musical freewheeling. The new design calls for this structure to “align” with the historic Arch (after over a century unaligned), more “picture perfect” for tourists traveling down Fifth Avenue, and reduction of the voluminous public space that surrounds it transformed into quaint areas with landscaped lawns.

The footage shows the government’s bait-and-switch games with the outraged community, whose members watch the City attempt to transform the Washington Square Park that they know and love into one that is pretty and pacified and far from its artistic, bohemian roots.

If you’ve been wondering how it got to this – with much of Washington Square Park behind gates and bulldozed – SQUARE: Straightening Out Washington Square Park will bring into sharp focus what’s happened thus far and what’s in store.

This is the premiere screening of this documentary.

Directed by Matt Davis

With Musical Guests: The Fools, A Brief View of The Hudson, Jeff Dickinson

This SUNDAY, JUNE 1st, 7 p.m.

BOWERY POETRY CLUB

308 Bowery between Houston & Bleecker

F train to 2nd Avenue; 6 train to Bleecker

Four Dollars

More information: square-movie.com

Three More Trees Felled at Washington Sq Park This Morning; NYC Parks Department Budget Hearing Thursday; Upcoming Film Screening

Washington Sq Park trees chopped down 05-21-08

Mark Your Calendars: On Sunday, June 1st at 7 p.m., Matt Davis, who supplied this photo of the trees in the process of being destroyed and has shared much of his knowledge, will screen his documentary “SQUARE: Straightening Out Washington Square Park.” In it, he chronicles the City’s redesign plans over a four year period — how the dramatic “renovation” of Washington Square Park got pushed through, and past, an outraged community. The film, with musical guests, will be shown at the Bowery Poetry Club, 308 Bowery at Bleecker. More details to follow.

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

Three more stately old trees were felled at Washington Square Park this morning. When will it end?

The total number of trees at Washington Square Park which have met the fate of the men with the chain saws is now fourteen.

I highly doubt – despite what NYC Parks Commissioner Benepe would say – that these trees were “dying” or “dead.” They were likely in the way of the City’s redesign plan.

Beautiful mature 80 year old trees are chopped down one morning by a man with an ax directed by the misguided whimsy of a city government to redesign a highly functioning public space to better fit in with our CEO Mayor’s “vision” for our city. There’s something criminal and outrageous about that.

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

The New York City Parks Department Budget Hearing is coming up before New York City Council tomorrow Thursday, May 22nd. If you can swing by, please come to City Hall and advocate for our Parks/public spaces. Perhaps if the Parks Department was better funded, we wouldn’t be seeing so many of their privatization games (for example, Washington Square Park Fountain sold off to the Tisch Family with naming rights for $2.5 million).

Important data: City Parks take up 14% of City land and yet the Parks Department receives less than 1/2 of 1 percent of the City budget. Parks workers have been cut by 66% over the last twenty years.

Come to City Hall Council Chambers — 1:30-3 p.m. Parks Department Presentation (a chance to see Commissioner Benepe in action); 3 p.m. Public Comment.