Washington Square Park Administrator Departs; Search on for New WSP and Union Square Park Administrator

Updated — Scoopy’s Notebook in The Villager first reported on Thursday that Rebecca Ferguson, park administrator for Washington Square Park, has left the building, so to speak. Ms. Ferguson arrived about the time this blog began, sometime in early 2008 as Phase I of the park’s redesign first got underway. I’m sure it was not always an easy job maneuvering between the city’s Parks Department’s ‘wishes’ and the community’s. As time went on, she seemed a little less congenial but mostly cordial and efficient. It was clear she had a mixed response to this blog. The Villager says she’s gone off to a “plum job with the National Parks Service” (I have to wonder who the source was – “plum job?”). Ms. Ferguson began with just Washington Square under her purview. At some point in the last few years, she was also given oversight as administrator over Union Square Park.

The Village Voice is wondering who will replace Ms. Ferguson and therefore oversee Union Square and Washington Square. However, I’d say the Voice is stretching a bit in saying that Ferguson was somehow behind or at all instrumental in the “crackdowns” at Union Square (for artists) and Washington Square (for musicians). That was clearly coming from up ‘above’ in the ranks at the Parks Department. I do agree that it’s worth paying ‘attention’ to who is chosen as her replacement.

Victoria Bekiempis at The Voice writes:

However, there’s good reason to pay attention to this kind of development (as boringly administrative and bureaucratic as might seem) , even though it’s still unconfirmed.

As we have been reporting, Parks and Rec recently has seen its fair share of scandal and shakeups.

Aside from three lawsuits on the issue of artist vendors, longtime Commish Adrian Benepe quit in June, and will be replaced by Veronica M. White.

Because she has no related experience whatsoever, White has been billed as the “Cathie Black” of parks.

In addition to heat faced by these top honchos, it’s important to point out that Ferguson has also gotten flak.

Not only are Washington and Union Square Parks largely the epicenter of the artist-vendor controversy — some have criticized Ferguson’s management for failing to protect parkgoers’ safety.

This last bit was in relation to Union Square and some problems the park was experiencing although I’d never seen her name linked to that. With the presence of the Union Square Partnership, the BID “overseeing” the park, I’m not sure how the responsibilities were shared, what was brought to the attention of her bosses at the Parks Department, how they responded, etc., so I would be hesitant to criticize for that.

At the end of the day, it will be interesting to see how long it takes to find a replacement, will that person handle both parks at the onset, and who will it be. It is an important job and helps Washington Square Park run smoothly — that person oversees pretty much everything that goes on (whether on site or not), schedules events, handles maintenance and care of the park, etc. — and it’s often, it seems, done on close to a shoe string budget. (Note: I don’t really know this for sure but issues of maintenance have been mentioned before.)

The Parks Department’s budget has been cut by the Mayor(s) and the City Council by about 2/3rds over the last 20 years and needs to be increased so they are not endlessly privatizing our parks. If money was spent on maintenance and upkeep the way it has been, during Mayor Bloomberg’s tenure, on splashy redesigns and other schemes, our parks would be in much better shape overall.

That being said, I wish Rebecca Ferguson well and we’ll see what happens next!

(Links to be added.)

May Day Happenings in NYC Parks Today: Free University at Madison Sq, Rally Union Sq, Pop-Up Occupation Bryant Park, More

Union Square (1882?)

* NYU Occupy Wall Street 2 p.m. Washington Square (will add in link)

* Rally at Union Square for May Day at 4 p.m. The first Labor Day March was held there in 1882 and was huge. Today, there will be a rally and then march beginning at 5:30 p.m. heading to Zuccotti Park.

* Bryant Park (40-42nd St. bet. 5th & 6th Ave.) 8 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Fun and friendly “Pop-up Occupation” featuring free food, a free market, free services, skill-shares, workshops, teach-ins, speak-outs, meditation, public art, performances, discussions, and trainings. (ed. note: love this!)

GuitarArmy rehearsal with Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine) at noon.

March at 2 pm to Madison Sq. Park and on to Union Square.

* Free University in Madison Square Park from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The Free University is a collective educational experiment that will be held on May 1, 2012, from 10am-3pm. In solidarity with the general strike, the Free University offers a public space for the 99% to disengage from an unequal system and imagine a model for alternative education. Those gathered in Madison Square Park, and those meeting in other spaces in solidarity, will create a university that is open to all, without debt or tuition for students, without pre-requisites, age limits or any other disqualifying requirements. Learning can only happen through interaction, exchange, and dialogue. To create a living future together, all must be included and welcome.

The Free University is an open invitation to educators around New York City to participate in May Day 2012. During the day, lectures, workshops, skill-shares, and discussions will be held — all open to the public. …

No single day, park, or effort can contain our vision; instead, we propose and will struggle to make all our universities places of free education, inquiry, and access to knowledge for all. We demand that our society put forward the necessary resources to provide such an education for all.

Free U is a project made in partnership with educators and students from Brooklyn College/CUNY Grad Center/Eugene Lang College/New School for Social Research/Hunter College/ /Pratt Institute/New York University/Queensborough Community College/ Rutgers/Columbia University/Princeton.

There’s more!

99 Picket Lines (one at WSP at 8 p.m.)
Midtown Manhattan
Community groups, unions, affinity groups and OWS
more info
8am – Chase Building (NYCC) – 270 Park Ave (@48th St)
8am – New York Times Building (UAW) – 620 8th Ave (@41st St)
8am – Sotheby’s (Teamsters) – 1334 York Ave (@72nd St)
8am-10am – US Post Office (Community-Labor Alliance) – 421 8th Ave (@W31st St)
8:30am-9am – NYU Bobst Library (NYU for OWS) – 70 Washington Square South (@University Pl)
9am – Paulson & Co (Strong Economy for All) – 1251 6th Ave (@50th St)
10am – Chase Branch (NYCC) – 401 Madison Ave (@48th St)
11am – ABC Studios (NABET-CWA) – 66th Street (@Columbus)
12pm-1:30pm – Investment Banker Stephen Berger (CSEA AFSCME) – 46th St @ Park Ave
12pm-2pm – Immigration Court (NMASS) – 26 Federal Plaza (Worth & Lafeyette)
1:30pm – Capital Grille (ROC-NY) – 155 E 42nd St (@3rd Ave)
2pm – Chase and Citibank (Occupy Sunset Park) – 5th Ave & 54th St (BROOKLYN)
3pm – Strand Bookstore (Strand workers) – 828 Broadway (@12th St)
3pm – Beth Israel Hospital (Workers United) – 10 Union Square East (14th St & Park Ave)
8pm – Washington Square Park Arch (Musicians 802) – Washington Square North @ 5th Ave

Full Occupy Wall Street May Day Schedule Everywhere

Scene at Union Square Park

Near George Washington Statue

South of the Plaza

Eastern Perimeter -- NYPD "Command Post"

Last week — Union Square Park.

Photos: Cathryn

NY Post reports City soliciting of bids for “seasonal restaurant” in Union Square Park to Begin Shortly

All throughout the court case that Union Square community activists brought against the New York City Parks Department and Union Square Partnership, the local BID (Business Improvement District), in 2008 over plans to place a restaurant in Union Square Park’s historic Pavilion — claiming loss of a public space — the City and USP claimed that there were no such plans (despite it being in the official documents and on all the Parks Department’s signs surrounding Union Square North’s construction).  Because of this, the judge ruled the case was “unripe.”

Well, today’s New York Post reports that in the next two months the City will begin taking bids for just such a restaurant.  From the article:

The city plans to issue a request for proposals to operate a seasonal café in the [Union Square] park’s refurbished pavilion — despite objections that the 80-year-old gathering spot should be set aside as public space.

The city concession was outlined in an Aug. 24 letter to Borough President Scott Stringer informing him of the upcoming request for proposals.

The winning bidder would score a 15-year contract to run the private café six months out of the year and also have the option to operate a satellite cart or kiosk.

The restaurant has been a bone of contention during the $20 million overhaul of the Park.

In April 2008, park advocates sued the city and the Union Square Partnership, a business improvement district that which manages the park. The lawsuit halted the restaurant’s construction for nearly a year.

The restaurant would have table service and an outdoor seating area on a deck.

Critics argue that the pavilion, a historic landmark, should not become a privately run space.

Previous WSP Blog coverage on judge’s ruling on Union Square here.

The Union Square “Holiday Market” and Selling Off and Shutting Down Our Public Space

Union Square "Holiday Market"

Union Square "Holiday Market"

Fascinating reading this Sunday’s (December 21st) New York Times City section Cover Story on the Union Square “Holiday Market” which it proclaims “The Jewel Box of Union Square.” Comparing the Washington Square Park City section cover story “The Battle for Washington Square” and this Union Square piece, one starts to think maybe the City section has a great love for the New York City Parks Department despite so much evidence, if given a close look and taken seriously, that would cause that love affair to go real sour very quickly.

The New York City Parks Department sells off a large section of the public space at Union Square for four weeks, at the time of year when it might be nice, important even, for people to actually come together in that space. The space at Union Square Park is unique (like Washington Square Park) because it has a large plaza, people sit on the steps, they watch (and participate with) musicians, performances and political speak outs. And yet that all gets SHUT DOWN at this time of year for an entire month.

Then there is the issue of the harassment of street artists who have won their right to sell art in the parks based on First Amendment protection. During their legal battles with the city – primarily from 1998-2001 – according to A.R.T.I.S.T. President Robert Lederman, “the city claimed that artists were completely ruining the parks by selling art. They claimed that by, ‘commercializing the city’s parks,’ we were denying the entire public their right to use that same public space.” Funny how that doesn’t apply to “Holiday Market” vendors who – if you study the photo above – take up a huge amount of our public space. Though the street artists have prevailed in court, they are still harassed by the New York City Parks Department, and the NY City Council wants to limit their access – in order to open up access for further privatization of public space. Tricky, eh?

But you see, the issue is actually the right of the city to sell the public space, and, while the GreenMarket and the artist street vendors work within the public space, the “Holiday Market” takes over the space – which is much more offensive to those of us who like to utilize the public space.

More from Robert Lederman here. (more…)

Union Square Park Court Case Back in Court Monday, December 8th – City Trying to Put Restaurant back on the ‘Table’

Union Square Park Not for Sale

Union Square Not for Sale informs us: “In case you didn’t already know, the only thing currently standing in the way of the city turning our beloved Pavilion into a swank (private) restaurant is a court decision made by Judge Jane Solomon in April 2008. This Monday, December 8th, she will hear the city argue for the dismissal of the case.”

The issue here is further takeover of our public space by a private corporation. The pavilion at Union Square Park has a noteworthy history as a venue for protest and free speech including serving as the site of the first Labor Day Parade Rally. In addition, the interior was open to the public for years and included a children’s space and music area. It is not as if the Union Square area is lacking in restaurants but it is lacking in free, public, non-privatized open space.

Union Square Not for Sale is asking people to turn out to the court hearing.

Here are the details:

Union Sq. Park Court Date

Monday December 8, 2008 – 3:00pm
New York State Supreme Court
60 Centre Street, Room 432 (Part 55)
Justice Jane S. Solomon

Additional Background from Union Sq Not for Sale:
“Union Square Park Pavilion Litigation. In April 2008, the Union Square Community Coalition(USCC) filed a lawsuit (USCC v. NYC Parks, Index No. 08/105578) challenging the Parks Department and Union Square Partnership’s plans to install a restaurant in the historic pavilion.

The court issued a preliminary injunction, which prevents the operation of a restaurant, or the installation of fixtures for a restaurant, pending further order of the Court. In so doing, the court found that USCC is likely to prevail on its central claim – that without state legislative approval, the restaurant would be an unlawful alienation of parkland – once that claim is ripe. The City has moved to dismiss the case, claiming it is both unripe (because, allegedly, several steps remain in the process before a restaurant concession could be offered) and non-meritorious.”

Union Square Partnership’s Harvest Gala v. Citizen Chefs – Union Square Park 9/18

The people come marchin' to defend their Park

The people come marchin'

Thursday night. Union Square. The setting of Union Square Partnership’s Harvest in the Square, an annual gala held by the ubiquitous BID (Business Improvement District). Although their promotional materials stated the gala would inhabit the “west plaza” of Union Square Park, in reality, they took over half of the south plaza as well, including the area surrounding the George Washington Statue. Billed as the “premiere food and wine tasting event,” tickets ranged from $125 to $400 for VIP early bird event.

The BID — the ones who want to put a private exclusive restaurant in the historic Union Square Pavilion, thereby shutting off more public space — is led by Jennifer Falk. Falk previously worked for Mayor Bloomberg. (Funny how it’s just a game of musical chairs at times.) Co-chair of the BID is restauranteur Danny Meyer.

I don’t think they were prepared for the festive arrival of Reverend Billy and assorted citizen chef/passionate public space advocates who came out to chant their message and bang some pots and pans saying ‘no giveaway of our public space’ – as we watched our public space taken over by the BID for their harvest gala.

Police And Onlookers

Police And Onlookers

Reverend Billy was arrested as was another activist – I believe both charges were “disorderly conduct.” Reverend Billy was addressing the attendees of the gala through a megaphone about the takeover of our public space when he was escorted away. The other activist had the audacity? to crumple up a flyer and throw it over the fence. A random act of (at the most) littering somehow becomes “disorderly conduct.”

People sitting around Union Square all curiously watched and eagerly took flyers which stated “Parks for People – Not for Profit.” We’ve all gotten so buttoned-down in New York. How often do you see such a creative action? All too infrequently.

Oh, and yes, our NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, was there and addressed the crowd at the gala event. I think his speech may have been, um, overshadowed by the sound of the citizen chefs (and their pots, pans, and chants) however. All too fitting.

The BIDs in more recent years have gotten more sophisticated and yet wish to appear ‘just like us.’ A part of the community. The Union Square BID is a 501(c)3 non-profit — something we link with advocacy groups, not organizations trying to promote more shopping. Around Washington Square Park, the BID – previously known as The 8th Street BID – changed its name to the Village Alliance. Doesn’t that sound neighborly?

Rev Billy addresses Gala

Rev Billy addresses Gala

Photos: #1 and 2: Quilty; #3 and 4: Cathryn

Tonite Thursday, September 18th, 6 p.m. At Union Square Park: “Citizen Chefs Cookin’ Up Change” and Harvest Gala : 2 divergent messages

CITIZEN CHEFS COOKING UP CHANGE!
to Keep Parks for People NOT for Profit

Thurs Sept 18, 6 pm * Union Square Park, NYC
Meet near George Washington Statue On Plaza, South end of the park (14th Street)

Union Square Not for Sale will provide chefs hats –
Bring your own pots & pans and something to bang with!
Come in costume if you like – black pants, white shirts, bow ties…
Bring a bike if you’d like to join the ChefBlock Bike Brigade

* KEEP UNION SQUARE PARK PUBLIC *
Info below from Union Square Not for Sale:

Context:
The Union Square Partnership is selling out one of our most important public spaces, the pavilion on the north side of Union Square, site of seminal speeches from Emma Goldman, Paul Robeson, Cesar Chavez, Dorothy Day and many many more AND one of the last remaining public assembly areas in the city. Tonight, they hold their yearly Harvest In the Square private gala in the park. Gather to say:

NO the Union Square Pavilion can not be an upscale restaurant
NO our precious public resources cannot be auctioned off to the highest bidder
NO to conditional anonymous donations and for-profit enterprise in our public parks
NO to Danny Meyer, Jennifer Falk and the Union Square Partnership takeover of this park

YES to transparency and full disclosure
YES to public spaces in public spaces
YES to community use in public parks

YES to public space, community, and democracy.

Without community space, there can be no democracy.

******************************************************
My previous post 9/15 here elaborated on this event.

Danny Meyer chairing gala event in Union Square Park Thursday 9/18 – and Citizen Chefs Cooking Up Change will be there too.

The USP BID chair, Danny Meyer

The USP BID chair, Danny Meyer

Updated 9/16!

Union Square Not for Sale moves into the fall season with a bang! (literally) when Citizen Chefs Cooking Up Change meets up Thursday night, September 18th, as restauranteur Danny Meyer co-chairs Harvest in the Square in Union Square Park.

Billed as “a festive celebration of community and cuisine,” Harvest in the Square is presented by the Union Square Partnership — the local BID, business improvement district (which Meyer also co-chairs). Described as “Manhattan’s premier food and wine tasting event,” tickets are $115; $125 at the door. VIP pre-event starts at 6 p.m. Tickets are $400.

The BID states: “Great Food. Great Fun. Great Fundraiser. Everyone leaves feeling Great.

Well, isn’t that … um, GREAT?

Except… they are taking over our public space (already threatened) for a private event.

Except… Our public parks should be funded by our City budget and not a private organization which then retains incredible control over the public space. The New York City budget allocate less than 1/2 of 1 percent of the entire budget to Parks and public spaces. Yet these areas comprise 14% of City land.

Except… Union Square Partnership is interested in “beautification efforts” to help improve businessaround Union Square. We are interested in public space, interactions, people, community, art, conversation, politics in Union Square.

Except… Union Square Partnership wants to place a private restaurant in the historic Union Square Pavilion thereby closing off the public space and catering to an “exclusive” clientele, off-limits to many New Yorkers. (At the moment, a judge has ordered a “no-restaurant” decree on the space.)

Except… Union Square is a PUBLIC SPACE, and like Washington Square Park, it is important that it be regarded AS an important public space. It’s not just about beautification as these architects and realtors and business people would have us believe. Once you gloss everything over, you lose the gritty, you lose the bohemianism, you lose the unique indescribable interactions that can occur in these places when you gear the space for one type of person (which is happening at both these parks).

Except… Everyone becomes a bit more Stepford. No offense to Mayor Bloomberg (although regular readers know I am not a fan) but our CEO Mayor needs to stay out of our public spaces. Our Boston-raised Mayor is not the model for how to keep New York New York. How to keep Wall Street Wall Street and keep us believing that the Financial District is the most important thing for our city? That he does quite well.

So, come on out ! ******************************

EVERYONE IS INVITED to one of our premier public spaces, UNION SQUARE! (it’s free!)

CITIZEN CHEFS COOKING UP CHANGE * Keep Parks for People NOT for Profit

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 18TH, 6 P.M.

UNION SQUARE SOUTH – GEORGE WASHINGTON STATUE (SOUTH END, AT 14TH STREET, ON PLAZA)

Bring some pots and pans (and something to bang on them with) and your spirit (or just bring yourself).

Attire: Festive — &/or Come in costume – black pants, white shirts, bow ties… Union Square Not for Sale will provide chef’s hats.

Context:
The Union Square Partnership is selling out one of our most important public spaces, the pavilion on the north side of Union Square, site of seminal speeches from Emma Goldman, Paul Robeson, Cesar Chavez, Dorothy Day and many many more, rally site of the first Labor Day Parade, AND one of the last remaining public assembly areas in the city.

More Info: Union Square Not for Sale.

Union Square * Late September 2001

Union Sq Park, Sept. 2001

Union Sq Park, Sept. 2001

The evening of Tuesday, September 11th, 2001, as well as every evening that week, and then subsequent Fridays, Union Square’s Plaza became the place people gathered to come together, to speak out, to mourn, to call for peace.

The George Washington Statue at Union Square Park was filled with anti-war chalking and at the bottom of the statue were flowers and candles and photos of – and messages to – the people who had died on September 11th. It was solemn and gentle and yet quite beautiful.

Messages: “Stop the Cycle of Violence,” “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,” and more…

Union Square on the southern end at 14th Street became the public space where people gathered. It was a very special place at that time right after September 11th, 2001.

Photo: Flatbush Gardener