Should Downtown Sixth Avenue’s Bluestone be Replaced with “Tinted Concrete?”

On the agenda tonight, Tuesday, September 11th, for Community Board 2’s Traffic and Transportation Committee meeting is the following: “Proposal by Village Alliance for capital replacement of bluestone on Ave. of the Americas from West 4th to W. 14th St. (excluding the Jefferson Market Library & Ruth Wittenberg Triangle blocks) with tinted concrete.”

Interesting, right? First of all, do I think a Business Improvement District should be in charge of decisions relating to our city streets and sidewalks and be paying for that? Uh, no. I think that should be a governmental expense. The lines get too blurred otherwise.

I did a quick search and found some more information on bluestone and the push to preserve streets made of it at a New York Times’ article from 1994, Preserving the History That Lies Underfoot; Bluestone Sidewalks on Comeback Trail. Not sure what’s been happening in the last 18 years but apparently the preservation of bluestone has been big in Park Slope. I’d love to hear more of the argument for replacing it (surely it’s cost-motivated). More from the article:

The path toward extinction has been the same for other old-time paving materials — the granite sidewalks of SoHo and TriBeCa; the red brick streets of Queens; the Belgian block, commonly called cobblestone, of lower Manhattan and dockside neighborhoods in Brooklyn, all inexorably fading away.

But bluestone, indigenous to neighborhoods like Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope, seems to be making a comeback. Prompted by pressure from the city to fix decrepit sidewalks of all types, and after years of campaigning by preservationists, many more property owners are making the historically correct choice and creating a bluestone boomlet.

And —

Preservationists estimate that bluestone made up half the city’s sidewalks at one time, chiefly areas near the harbor that were developed first, while today it accounts for just 5 percent. But they say hundreds of sidewalk strips have been renovated in the last two years, and that bluestone has been used in major new restoration projects like Bryant Park.

Lurching progress is also being made in setting up new city contracting procedures that would lower prices and make installation easier. Cost is still a stumbling block, and many home owners in historic districts, where sidewalks must be replaced with bluestone or concrete tinted to look like it, have complained about having to pay almost four times the cost of poured concrete. …

Though the movement to save the material began in Brooklyn Heights, Park Slope and other neighborhoods in brownstone Brooklyn, proponents say interest has spread to areas with a bluestone heritage in Harlem; Long Island City, Queens; Yorkville on the Upper East Side, and Staten Island.

The revival is being catalyzed by stick and carrot. The stick is violations issued by the Department of Transportation to property owners whose walks have been heaved about by tree roots or erosion. Owners have 45 days to fix them or the city sends contractors in to do the job and sends owners the bill. Though the city offers bluestone replacement, the cost is four times the $4.81 per square foot it charges for pouring concrete. (Note: this is in 1994.)

Some background also from the Times:

Concrete has been the preference for New York sidewalks and streets since the turn of the century. But glimpses of the stones of the past are still to be found.

BLUESTONE Often confused with slate, the dark stone is quarried in the Catskills and Poconos. It can still be seen in Brooklyn’s brownstone neighborhoods, lower Manhattan, Harlem, Long Island City in Queens and the northern part of Staten Island.

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WSP connection: I’m fairly certain the fountain is made of bluestone if I recall correctly. And also maybe the Fountain Plaza is bluestone pavers ? Happy to be corrected if this is inaccurate!

To attend tonight’s meeting, it’s at 6:30 PM at Church of Our Lady of Pompei, 25 Carmine St. Father Demo Hall.

Taste of the Village at the Park – Recap

Updated 10/30 — So, “Taste of the Village,” happened in mid-September at the Park, hosted by the Village Alliance, the 8th Street BID. This post about the event got delayed due to dying trees, stalled construction and the occupying of Washington Square Park. Since I try to mix it up a bit here, even a bit late, I wanted to report back on the event.

Readers of WSP Blog know that I am not in favor of the trend of privatization of public space — which has increased greatly under the Bloomberg Administration — that includes endless reliance on the model of park conservancies and BIDs – business improvement districts – to either oversee or be entrusted with funding and programming at parks.

We could certainly tie the Village Alliance (the BID from nearby 8th Street) among those pushing at the onset to dramatically redesign the park, particularly under former director Honi Klein. (Klein, inexplicably, also held a position on Community Board 2). There’s a new executive director at the Alliance now, William Kelley, who seems a little more of the times.

This was the first “Taste of the Village” — which is considered a “benefit” to raise funds forthe park and has taken place for the last 9 years — under his watch. I thought it might be nice to experience the event. Kelley accommodated my request to attend and here are some photos and commentary.

8th Street Stalwart Eva's

The Lion on University Place

Mario Batali's GelOtto

Band at the Event

The Fountain in the background

wine tasting

Caviar Pie from Knickerbocker Bar & Grill

George Washington looks on

Set between the Arch and taking over part of the Fountain Plaza with the Fountain in the background, the evening focused on tables laid out with sampling – tastings – from local or nearby restaurants. There was a strong emphasis on meat dishes with only two vegetarian and onetwo fish options. The fish, fluke I believe, from Perilla on Jones Street was quite good. (I don’t eat meat so, in my opinion, Taste of the Village could nix a few meat dishes and add some other more vegetarian-friendly options.) There were vendors offering wine – red, white and rose – as a band played against the backdrop of the fountain.

Tastings included offerings from local restaurants and businesses such as Alma, Eva’s, La Palapa, 8th Street Wine Cellar, Gusto, Knickerbocker Bar & Grill, BLT Burger, The Lion, Otto and Argo and Rob’s Really Good Teas (which I really like).

The ticket price was $50 and director William Kelley says that about 400 people attended (did it seem that high? I’m not sure). He said that typically the organization raises about $50,000 for the park (includes money from sponsors).

People I noted by sight were members of Community Board 2 and also the city’s Parks Department. I was surprised that there was no talk or introduction as to why people were there — but maybe that was for the best. Overall, it was a festive soiree and those attending seemed to enjoy it.

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Still, it raises questions – We have a city public space undergoing a redesign that started out with a budget of $16 millionwhich many felt was already unnecessarily high. Now, we see that the projected costs have skyrocketed to double that. If money had been properly allocated and monitored to begin with, would we really need private forces to be raising money to upkeep the park?

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Photos #4, 5, 7, 8: David Sigal

Photos #1, 2, 3, 6, 9: Cathryn

For Earth Day, Banner Launched Via Balloons At Washington Square Arch to Protest Use of Rainforest Wood In New Park Benches


Environmental activists took to Washington Square Park on Friday, Earth Day, with a flamboyant action in which large, colorful, helium-filled balloons ascended to the top of the Arch with a banner proclaiming, “Mayor Bloomberg: Why was the Amazon logged for Wash. Square Park Benches?” The new benches at Washington Square, installed as part of the Park’s “multi-million renovation,” are harvested from Ipe wood, a tropical hardwood logged from the Amazon rainforest. This usage goes against pledges made, according to organizer of the event, Rainforest Relief, over 3 years ago by the NYC Parks Department and Mayor Michael Bloomberg to stop its use in city construction.

From Rainforest Relief and NY Climate Action Group:

This ongoing use of ipê contradicts the pledge that Mayor Bloomberg made to United Nations General Assembly on February 11, 2008: “Our City’s agencies will immediately reduce their use of tropical hardwoods by 20%. They will do that by specifying domestic wood, recycled plastic lumber, and other materials in the design of park benches and other construction projects.” He was following the lead of the Parks Department, which had declared an end to the use of tropical hardwoods for bench construction in late 2007.

The ipê wood can be found in new construction at the High Line Park, Union Square, Hudson River Park, & Brooklyn Bridge Park.

The organizations made a statement about the impacts of privatization of our public space:

[These parks] are also part of a larger trend occurring throughout the city: duties and responsibilities concerning public space are largely being transferred from public agencies to private entities such as business improvement districts and public benefit corporations. These entities are assemblages of private investors and stakeholders who operate without public oversight.

The Village Alliance, a business improvement district, had substantial sway concerning both the redesign of Washington Square Park as well as its maintenance.

“The privatization of NYC’s public space is allowing the city’s destruction of the Amazon to continue unchallenged,” stated Tim Doody, the New York City campaign coordinator for Rainforest Relief.

Photo of old Washington Square benches here.

Stacy Walsh Rosenstock commented at the time of that post: Isn’t the 1934 World’s Fair Bench, designed by Robert Moses and Kenneth Lynch, a New York City classic? Why would we ever choose to use some earth-hostile imitation?

As for the new benches, I hear repeatedly from people that the new benches are uncomfortable and they liked the old ones just fine. Perhaps promises could have been kept and that rainforest could have been left alone after all?

** More on the action which took place yesterday (Friday, April 22nd) around noon here. **

Photos: http://rfny.net

On West 8th Street; Spotted in Shop Window on Troubled Strip: “Support Small Business”

Sign spotted in the window of Andy's Chee-Pees in business since 1977

More and more for Rent signs on West 8th Street

West 8th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues has been in trouble for awhile now despite the local BID’s efforts to make the strip less about shoe stores and more about high end establishments. A few new spots have opened recently but so many have closed; three in a row on the south side of the street right off MacDougal, including Is-Wine and 8th Street Kitchen, both relatively new. There was another newcomer, Patty & Bun right off 6th Avenue, on the northern side. I always meant to go in. That’s now closed.

This sign, “Support Small Business,” is in the window of Andy’s Chee-Pees Vintage Clothing. This is their “flagship store,” in business since 1977. My first memory of this Village strip is from going to Postermat in the ’80’s when the block was a destination.

The status of West 8th Street has been an ongoing discussion for years now. Is there hope for it to revitalize? It is one block from Washington Square Park. What would it take?

2006: West 8th Street will be new ‘Culinary Alley’, Village Alliance says, The Villager

2008: 8th Street Ghost Town, Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York

2011: More Closings on West 8th Street, Flaming Pablum

Local Business Improvement District hosts “Taste of the Village” at Washington Square Park Wednesday, September 16th, 6-8 p.m.

Updated (See my question at the end)

Well, I’m not the biggest fan of the Village Alliance, the Business Improvement District, formerly named the 8th Street BID that at some point changed its name to the much more benign Village Alliance.  As the BID that promotes business in the Village down along 8th Street, they have worked to change the character of that strip to more high end (think Marc Jacobs/Magnolia Bakery end of Bleecker Street) – maybe some for the better, and some not (they’ve prompted the booting out of stores they don’t consider up to the proper caliber).  They have an interest in Washington Square Park being as un-counter culture and spruced up and non-controversial as possible.  And there is a concern that they are in line to be part of a private conservancy at Washington Square Park.

But, who’s to say this isn’t a nice event nonetheless? They will present a benefit, “Taste of the Village,” to raise money for Washington Square Park at Washington Square Park on Wednesday, September 16th, 6-8 p.m.  Tickets are $40 and part of the park will be closed off for the event.

Here’s what they say about it:

Celebrate the best tasting and wine festival of the year with a benefit for Washington Square Park. Mark the seventh anniversary of this event by inviting friends who love extraordinary food from award-winning chefs such as Dan Barber, named the nation’s top chef in 2009 by the James Beard Foundation; Mario Batali of International Acclaim and Chef Akhtar Nawab of Eletteria. With the purchase of a $40 ticket, you’ll enjoy more restaurants, more wines, and more pleasure gathered under one big tent.

Location: Washington Square Park

More Information:
(212) 777-2173
Village Alliance

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Oh, does anyone have any opinions on this event?

“Bidding adieu to BIDS” — on the Business Improvement Districts in New York City

The Brooklyn Paper takes a look this week in an editorial, “Bidding Adieu to BIDS,” at the formation in the ’70’s of the Business Improvement District, an entity which has become increasingly popular in Mayor Bloomberg’s New York. According to the weekly, there are 60 “quasi public” BIDS, as they are called, throughout the five boroughs.

As I’ve written here before, these organizations play a complex role in neighborhoods, taking over services the City itself should be providing, while spreading their tentacles outward in ways that are never quite as harmless as they may seem.

One newly formed BID — which is experiencing a mini-revolt amidst local business owners — is along Fulton Street in Fort Greene and Clinton Hill in Brooklyn. The businesses are being asked to pay a second “new city tax that would fund enhanced sanitation, policing and other basic services.” From the Brooklyn Paper editorial:

Taxes on business owners within the so-called “BIDs” raise $80 million — on top of the taxes already taking a bite out of Mom and Pop.

We’re not naive as to why BIDs were created two decades ago. The city was not — and, indeed, is still not — doing a good enough job providing sanitation and security along some of our busiest commercial strips. With the city abrogating these most basic of services, business owners jumped into the breach, taxing themselves to make up for the failure of our elected leaders to ensure clean and safe streets.

In the case of Fulton Street, another issue is arising in the debate. The anti-BID merchants argue that a BID’s cleaner and safer streets actually speed the gentrification process. … In a sense, the business owners forming a BID would actually be paying to speed their own demise.

… We agree with the BID renegades on the issue of who should pay to keep our neighborhoods clean, safe and vibrant. To us, this is solely a city responsibility.

Although the Brooklyn Paper almost comes out in favor of gentrification in their Editorial, claiming it’s all about “change,” the rest of the information is on point.

For more on the Business Improvement Districts and their negative consequences, see previous WSP blog post: Parks for Sale and the Privatization of our Public Spaces by Robert Lederman which looks at the Business Improvement District, the (purposefully) mildly named Union Square Partnership, which oversees – and has total control over – Union Square Park.

For more on the Business Improvement District around Washington Square, the also benignly named Village Alliance (formerly the 8th Street BID), see recent WSP Blog post here.

What we need are COMMUNITY Improvement Districts!

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?

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

Now about that redesign of Washington Square Park…

The photo above was taken by the New York City Parks Department and provided to the local media. It appears in this week’s Villager along with the information that the local Greenwich “Village Alliance”/8th Street BID(Business Improvement District) gave some money towards the “renovation” of Washington Square Park ($125,000 now; $125,000 later), thereby expressing its approval of the Parks Department’s controversial plan to redesign the historic Park.

Posing here with the BID members are Community Board 2 Chair Brad Hoylman, Community Board 2 Parks Committee Chair Tobi Bergman, City Council Member Alan Gerson, Speaker Quinn’s Community liaison Grey Elam, and NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, among others.

They all look so happy, don’t they?

Given the overwhelming disapproval their constituents have expressed towards the City’s “renovation” plan and the lack of transparency and factual information the NYC Parks Department has provided about the “renovation” of this landmarked Park, I question whether any of the aforementioned people — other than Commissioner Benepe (we know where he stands) — ought to be trotting themselves out for a photo op and appear in this photo.

Yet there they are.

How does Washington Square Park stand a chance amidst Mayor Bloomberg’s agenda if these are the people designated to speak up for it?  And they don’t.