Washington Square Park Phase II: Lack of Transparency & Oversight Continues – Part II (Updated)

Updated 9/8/10, 12:48 p.m. — A couple months back, I called a Greenwich Village community member who has been involved from the very beginning with the redesign plans for Washington Square Park.

Washington Square Park Task Force (and Community Board 2) Chair Jo Hamilton had requested that I put together my “list of questions” around Phase II and said she’d try to get answers. I stated that these were not my questions alone; people in the community had questions. Ms. Hamilton didn’t appear to grasp my repeated attempts to infuse more transparency into the process. I wasn’t trying to write a blog piece – I wanted the Task Force to do what it’s supposed to do (and I’d happily report on that).

Frustrated that I couldn’t get this concept across, I started to put together some semblance of a list. When I asked this community member what questions she had, she responded, “Well, it’s kind of hard. We’ve been given so little information – it’s hard to even know what the questions are.”

And there you have it. We’re in the middle of a multiple-year, $30 Million Dollar New York City project – a redesign of a historic landmark park in Greenwich Village – and all the bodies assigned oversight of the project (as outlined in Part I) have fallen asleep at the wheel.

So, here is my list of some of the unanswered questions plus information I’ve gathered including causes for alarm:

  • OVER BUDGETThe Washington Square Park Redesign project was originally budgeted – all three phases – for $16 million TOTAL but Phase I alone cost that.What will Phase II – budgeted at $9 million – come to? With the delays in work and numerous changes as it proceeds, I’m guessing way over that. The park is nowhere near done and the cost is already $9 mil.
  • COMPLETION OF PROJECT MONTHS BEHIND SCHEDULE – HELLO 2011? Projected date for Phase II’s completion was September 2010. The Villager reported that the Parks Department and contractor Tucci are working towards December 2010 but in all likelihood this project will be going into early-to-mid 2011. The reason: numerous design changes by the Parks Department, mismanagement by the city agency of some of the finer details of the project, and lack of oversight by the appropriate bodies.
    Dead … second time around…
  • DYING TREESWhy do these same two trees around the Fountain keep dying? 2009’s newly planted trees died, were replaced, and now the replacements are dead in less than a year. If you’ll recall, the forty year old original trees that lined the fountain were chopped down to make way for the aligning of the Fountain with the Arch at Fifth Avenue. Could these repeated deaths be due to the re-designer’s error? I think so. (Look for a separate post on this later this week.)
  • JUST HOW MANY TREES ARE BEING AXED IN PHASE II? – How many trees are being chopped down for the extensive work on the SouthWest, NorthEast and SouthEast Quadrants? No one knows. It hasn’t been revealed publicly. Since the blueprints were dropped off on a table with no explanation at the last Community Board 2 Parks Committee meeting, there’s been no discussion of this.
    Site of Future “Mounds”
  • WHAT WILL THE “NEW” MOUNDS LOOK LIKE? HOW TALL WILL THEY BE? – The Parks Department says the three Mounds — which seem to elicit a “love ’em or hate ’em” response — will be recreated at 5 feet tall (previously they were 6 feet) but the blueprints show them at 3.5 feet tall with an “elevation” of 26 inches. Call me confused. Of course, a public meeting would answer these questions. The original Mounds, created as part of the 1970 design, were considered an area of “spontaneous play.” In more recent years, they had been closed off to public use and were used in the winter for sledding.
  • CABLE NET PLAY STRUCTURES FOR CHILDREN WITH 6 FOOT DROP? – The concept behind the “new” Mounds makes them part of a more extensive play area, including “Cable-Net Play” structures that the Mounds appear to take a backseat to. It’s rumored that the “cable-net play” structures (you know those steel structures we all grew up playing on that you climb across a bar up top) will be set up so children can fall into a 6 foot deep ‘hole’ underneath — which will be covered in artificial turf.
  • CONTROVERSIAL ARTIFICIAL TURF ABOUNDS – Tho’ this was greatly opposed by the community, the entire area around the Mounds is swarming with dangerous artificial turf.
  • WILL THE DOG RUNS REMAIN IN PHASE II? – It’s proving difficult for the dog runs (large dog run and small dog run) to be completed without interfering with the Parks’ administrative offices which border the area. Will the completion of the dog runs remain in Phase II? Everyone pretty much thought the dog runs were fine where they are now – but the Parks Department insisted on moving them onto the southern edge of the park.
  • Chess, Anyone?
    • CHESS AREA – TREE IN THE WAY? NUMBER OF CHESS TABLES IN JEOPARDY? – The famed Chess area at the Southwestern quadrant is being made somewhat smaller. The plaza here, like every quadrant entrance, is circular. However, it was discovered recently, that, what worked on paper in George Vellonakis’ design, doesn’t in reality: the chess area diameter runs straight into an old tree. (Surprising they don’t just chop it down, eh?) The number of chess tables was supposed to remain at 19 but, with this new glitch, the chess tables may be reduced in number. Previously, the circle of this Quadrant included a ‘cut out’ for the tree, thereby making the “circle” not entirely symmetrical (can a circle be symmetrical? I’m not sure but you know what I mean… Apparently, yes.). This designer loves symmetry so it’s doubtful that’s going to happen here — throwing the number of chess tables into jeopardy.
    • PATHWAY OBSTRUCTIONS – The pathway that enters at LaGuardia Place — that many use to walk past Garibaldi Plaza (previously included “Teen Plaza”/performance area) and head over to the NE side of the park — will only lead into the Fountain Plaza, blocked by the lawn and Performance Area. In addition, the pathway leading from the Fountain to the Eastern Side of the park, previously connected to this route, will no longer have a big, open feeling to it – impeded by a narrow path and a large planter.

Many of these items are over budget, behind schedule and needing oversight primarily due to Parks Department changes to the plans, sometimes error and often mismanagement.

However, more alarming is the stunning lack of transparency by the New York City Parks Department coupled with the lack of supervision by anyone else. Most of this information has been kept as quiet as possible with the complicity of the very bodies, namely NY City Council, Community Board 2 and Washington Square Park Task Force, that are charged with the Park’s oversight.

The larger question — will any of this get a public airing? — remains to be answered.


Part 1: Washington Square Park Redesign Phase II: An Eerie Silence – What’s Going On?

Washington Square Park Redesign Phase II: An Eerie Silence – What’s Going On? – Part 1

Well, that's not going to happen...

Lack of Parks Department Transparency; No Governmental or Community Oversight Lead to Eerie Silence on WSP: Phase II

What’s happening with Phase II? It’s been a bit quiet on the Washington Square Park Redesign news front. Hard to believe but there have been no official updates on the current work on the $30 million + project for 9 months now since a brief overview was given in December 2009 shortly after the work got going.

It’s somewhat understandable why Phase I — which included the controversial, and, most would say, unnecessary aligning and leveling of the Fountain Plaza — got all the attention.

Yet Phase II’s tinkering, with no spotlight on it at all, includes some of the most loved aspects of the park, including: the Chess Tables, Mounds and Play Area, Dog Runs, Garibaldi Statue and Performance Site, Seating Alcoves, Children’s Playground, as well as the lawn, pathways and gardens throughout the SW, E and NE sides of the historic park.

So, why the silence? If you read Washington Square Park Blog regularly, you know that I’ve advocated for more governmental and community oversight on the project.

Who, you ask, should be doing that oversight?

  • Body #1: The New York City Council.The two public faces at the onset of Phase I were Council Member Alan Gerson and Speaker Christine Quinn who engineered the famous Gerson-Quinn Agreement. Gerson lost his bid for a third term when he was voted out of office by disgruntled constituents. His replacement, Margaret Chin, has distanced herself from the project. At the rare meetings that have occurred in relation to WSP since she assumed the position early this year, no representatives from her office have attended.
  • Body #2: The Washington Square Park Task Force. Lacking Phase I’s high profile and without Community Board 2 and Task Force Chair Brad Hoylman there, the WSP Task Force has gone silent on Phase II. I’ve emailed Hoylman’s replacement, Jo Hamilton, multiple times reminding her of the Task Force’s purview but she has been resistant, likely believing former Parks’ employee (and chair of the CB2 Parks Committee) Tobi Bergman’s insistence that oversight is not part of their role. (Here, he perhaps intentionally mixes things up between the CB2 Parks Committee and the Washington Square Park Task Force. The latter is charged, in fact, with the role of oversight of the finer details of the redesign.)

For a quick refresher, here are the first three points of the WSP Task Force “goals”:

1. Make sure all points of Quinn-Gerson agreement are adhered to.

2. All bid documents, all changes of plans, and all design details should be run by task force.

3. Enable the community to have input on design details.

Meanwhile, Phase III, yet to come, which reconstructs the rest rooms and Park administrative offices into one elaborate structure, has been the subject of three separate meetings. Numerous questions have been allowed by the community members – and they have been answered. The reason? This leg is being overseen by an outside architecture firm.

Oh, Garibaldi...

Phase II is overseen by Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe‘s favorite, landscape designer George Vellonakis. Vellonakis, as it is widely known, dislikes community input; therefore, only cursory details have been presented — these more than a year ago. There have been no substantive updates – or opportunities for review – since.

In fact, the only time anyone saw the blueprints up close, they were dropped off on a table at a February meeting of the CB2 Parks Committee with no discussion allowed. Tobi Bergman brushed this off; although even he seemed a bit disgruntled that the blueprints were handed over FIVE MONTHS after the project had begun.

Do you sense a lack of respect – and even disdain – by the Parks Department for the community and everyone involved?

It’s no surprise that Phase II is mired in problems that no one knows about, and the Parks Department – with Community Board 2’s and the NY City Council’s complicity – wants to keep it that way.

Wondering what the problems are?

Read Part II here.

Washington Square Park Task Force Meets Tonite; Also, CB2 Parks Committee addresses Friends of the High Line Proposal and Public Hearing on “expressive matter” i.e., art in NYC Parks

The Washington Square Park Task Force and Community Board 2 Parks Committee meet tonite Wednesday, April 7th at 7:15 p.m. to discuss Phase III Washington Square Park redesign. The New York City Parks Department will be presenting a proposed design for the restrooms and Parks’ maintenance building — public comment is welcome.

Prior to that, at 6:30 p.m., the Parks Committee will discuss two other interesting issues. (How they will accomplish this in 45 minutes will be interesting!) These items are:

* Friends of the High Line will present their plan for a maintenance building to be located adjacent to the High Line in CB 2. (Update: This topic has been removed from the agenda.)

* Public hearing on proposed new Parks Department rules regarding vending of “expressive material” in parks.

— If you haven’t been following this, it’s quite controversial. It’s yet another way for the Bloomberg Administration to give private interests continued and additional reign over our parks and will limit artistic diversity and vitality, click here to read yesterday’s New York Times story. It’s not, as the Parks Department is asserting, that the artist vendors are taking up too much room and causing congestion in our parks by any means. To see that, go to Union Square when the GreenMarket is there on Saturdays or during the holiday market which takes up way too much of that public space in December.

Location for the meeting: NYU Silver Building, 32 Waverly Place, off Washington Square East, Room 401

The Washington Square Park Task Force – What is it and what are its stated “goals?” (Part I)

Part 1 of 2; 3/10/10There have been issues with the lack of follow-through of the Washington Square Park Task Force, the body designated to oversee the park’s redesign, since its inception. Since I touched on this body and issues with it back in November ’08, I thought I’d run an edited version of this post again. If you think about it, if the Task Force had been paying attention to details, as
mandated, they would have been aware that the new benches the Parks Department were installing at the park were rainforest woodmuch called into question now – and could have stopped it. Just one example!

Original post (slightly edited):

The Washington Square Park Task Force was put into play by (former) NY City Council Member Alan Gerson and (present) NY City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (both of whom voted to extend their own terms in the whole term limits fiasco).

The WSP Task Force is supposed to be the body that follows up on the Gerson-Quinn Agreement and the “stipulations” put forth in that letter (of October 6, 2005 from Gerson-Quinn to NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe).

The WSPTF is run presently under the aegis of Community Board 2 but it is also comprised of members of the public, the Community Board, and representatives of elected officials*.

Co-chaired by Community Board 2 Chair Brad Hoylman — now, Jo Hamilton — and CB2 Parks Committee Chair Tobi Bergman, the Washington Square Park Task Force meets infrequently and it is unclear how and when certain decisions are made. Yet it is the only body that has been given some jurisdiction over the Parks Department and the outcome of the redesigned Washington Square Park.

Therefore, the hope would be that it would have some teeth and it would be in there fighting for this dynamic and historic public space. But is it?

Goals of the Washington Square Park Task Force:

I have an undated document which stipulates the goals as such:

1. Make sure all points of Quinn-Gerson agreement are adhered to.

2. All bid documents, all changes of plans, and all design details should be run by task force.

3. Enable the community to have input on design details.

4. Maintain the sense of informality of the park which is so central to its charm and character.

5. Maintain Washington Square Park as a well maintained, diverse, plural park where all sorts of people feel welcome.

6. Maintain as much green space as open to the public as possible while keeping it alive.

7. Maintain as many of the trees as possible.

8. Create conditions which allow funding of bathroom renovation.

9. Step up maintenance pending the resolution of the legal issues.

10. Oppose the establish of a conservancy without a good deal of public vetting.

So how has the WSP Task Force done thus far on these stated “goals” and what are the inherent problems with it?

Part II, which follows, will explore this next.

* The elected officials represented on the Task Force are: Congressman Jerold Nadler, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Council Member Rosie Mendez, Council Member Alan Gerson(now Margaret Chin), State Senator Tom Duane, and Assembly Member Deborah Glick.

Edited from original post published November 7th, 2008.

What Needs to be Done to Have a Functioning Washington Sq Park Task Force? #1: Separate from Community Bd 2 (Part II)

Part 2 of 2; 3/10/10: The same issues I wrote about when this post first was published in November 2008 seemed abated for awhile but have resurfaced anew. No one has any idea what is being missed in relation to Redesign: Phase II details pertaining to the chess tables, the Mounds, the childrens’ playground, the alcoves, the Garibaldi Plaza, etc., because the questions are not being asked. The heads of the Task Force currently have the laissez faire attitude that since the design is “approved”, there’s nothing for them to do now. In December 2009, the body asked for an update on Phase II. Since the Parks Department said they didn’t have one ready, the Task Force now sits idly by. They do not ask to view the design details which are part of the reason for their existence. No one has any idea how many trees are being cut down in Phase II because they have not asked.

Edited version of post from Nov. 13, 2008:

Washington Sq Park Fence Being Installed

Washington Sq Park Fence Being Installed

I’ve been grappling with how to tackle addressing the Washington Square Park Task Force following Part I in which I listed its purported goals and the NY elected officials who have actual representatives on it. The Task Force has a lot of good people on it from the community who from the beginning wanted to have an impact but as Fusun Ateser, a member of the Task Force, told me recently, “we were not allowed to do anything.”‘

Task Force Linkage to Community Board 2

Part of the problem I believe is the close linkage of the WSP Task Force to Community Board 2. Presently, Brad Hoylman — now, Jo Hamilton — Community Board 2 Chair is the co-chair of the Task Force, with CB2 Parks Committee Chair Tobi Bergman.

Community Board 2 has already made its own share of mistakes around Washington Square Park approving the Parks Department’s redesign plan twice with insufficient data and despite widespread community disapproval. They ultimately rescinded their approvalalbeit on the third try.

There ought to be an independent body monitoring what’s happening at this Park. At Task Force meetings, Mr. Hoylman and Mr. Bergman are adamant that the Task Force was only created to uphold the Gerson-Quinn letter. While others on the Task Force seem ready to go further, they are continually reined in by Hoylman and Bergman. In July ’07, when people attempted to put forth resolutions, Mr. Hoylman stated that he “wanted to be sure it doesn’t resemble a Community Board resolution.” Therefore, resolutions were not allowed.

What would a Functioning Body look like?

The Task Force needs to be taken out of the hands of the Community Board in this instance. We need people to continue fighting for this park. The people who comprise the WSP Task Force feel they have no power. This is a historic park. It is a landmark in New York City. It is a dynamic public space. It deserves to have people fighting for it – who will fight for it.

Problems with Washington Square Park Re-Design not caught by WSP Task Force

Most recent example: As I noted in the updated version of Part I, the Task Force totally missed that the new benches being installed at the Park were made of rainforest wood – a wood from an endangered area that certainly could have been avoided putting into use. They never asked so they didn’t know.

Example: The lamps in the park. Ms. Atessur said the Task Force was never shown the two different lamp choices (the Task Force has oversight on design “details”) and asked for their approval on them. When I asked Brad Hoylman if the body approved the choice of the lamps, he told me he thought so but never got back to me with a confirmation. (Task Force member Doris Diether also confirmed she never saw – or approved – the lamp choices.) If they were not approved by the Washington Square Park Task Force, then what is the Task Force doing? This is part of their charge.

Note: some people wrote to me at the time this post was written and told me that the lamps were a trivial item to focus on, that they were fine enough. But I don’t think it’s trivial to note that the Task Force hadn’t been doing its job. They have not been paying attention to the “details,” as mandated.

Example: The fence. The fence (coming in is 4 feet high, as opposed to the more welcoming 3 feet that exists currently) is not supposed to have decorative spears or points on top (this is actually stated in the Gerson-Quinn Agreement). And yet – it does. (See photo above.) Is anyone looking after this?

There needs to be a point person from the Washington Square Park Task Force walking through the park regularly and monitoring each aspect. There needs to be a point person talking to the Parks Department. Now, unfortunately, if Council Member Alan Gerson is the designated elected official you go to if you are not getting answers from the Parks Department, then you may be in trouble because he will not rock the boat. But at least get the boat in the water!

Washington Sq Park Fence Now

Washington Sq Park Fence Now

Top photo (fence being installed): Cathryn/WSP Blog
Bottom photo (girl with guitar sitting on fence): Louis Seigal

Edited version of post originally published November 13th, 2008

Updated Part I here.

Washington Square Park Task Force to Meet Wednesday, December 2nd to Address Final Phases of WSP Redesign Plan

On Wednesday, December 2nd, the Washington Square Park Task Force and Community Board 2’s Parks, Recreation and Open Space Committee will meet to address the following in relation to the final phases of Washington Square Park’s redesign:

* Review of the current status of Phase II construction including presentation of various final details of the park plan.

* Review of current status of plans for (Phase III) the Washington Square Park maintenance building and rest rooms.

The meeting will begin at 7:15 p.m. Various NYC Parks Department representatives will be present.

Earlier that evening, at 6:30 p.m., CB2’s Parks Committee will be addressing a proposal by NYU to remove 6 trees on Thompson Street in connection with construction of the Interfaith Center (58 Washington Square South) and installation of heating pipes under the sidewalk.

Location: NYU Silver Building, 32 Waverly Place, Room 714

Washington Sq Park Task Force to Meet about Design of WSP Buildings – Administration and “Comfort Stations” – Wednesday, May 6th

Some News: There will be a meeting of the Washington Square Park Task Force and Community Board 2 Parks Committee on Wednesday, May 6th focusing on the design of Washington Square Park‘s comfort stations (i.e., bathrooms) and administration buildings, all located on the South side of the Park.

Community Board 2 Chairperson Brad Hoylman sent out a special notice yesterday about this meeting. From the notice: “In previous public hearings about reconstruction of the park, many community residents focused on the condition of the rest rooms as the single worst condition in the park and CB 2 has prioritized the construction of the new facility. At this meeting, the Washington Square Task Force and the CB 2 Parks Committee will meet with the Parks Department to discuss the scope for this project. This meeting represents the most important opportunity for the community to advise the Parks Department of our needs and preferences regarding this important project. All are welcome to attend.”

I respect Brad Hoylman a lot. He has been extremely helpful and welcoming to me. Community Board 2 is addressing many critical issues in the neighborhoods it represents (overcrowding in local schools and open space issues among them — also included in the special notice). But I question whether this is the “most important opportunity for the community to advise the Parks Department of our needs and preferences regarding this important project.”

There have been four Washington Square Park Task Force meetings since July of last year addressing crucial phases and issues related to Washington Square Park and none of them – to my knowledge – had special notices sent out informing people about them. (The other meetings were well attended and they were listed on the CB2 regular e-mailed Monthly Calendar. Yet, a “special notice” gets people’s attention.)

It’s true that a large percentage of park users and neighborhood residents wanted the bathrooms given priority (they’ve fallen into serious disrepair). However, that sentiment applied to moving the implementation of their reconstruction up in the Parks Department’s plan to Phase I (or even Phase II) of the project, not to leave this for last – which is what is happening.

To learn more about the plans and/or give input, here are the details:

Washington Sq Park Task Force/CB2 Parks Committee Meeting
Wednesday, May 6th, 5:45 p.m., Meet at WSP Maintenance Office (south side of Park); Continues afterwards (approximately 6:30 p.m.) at Judson Memorial Church, Assembly Hall, 239 Thompson Street (off Washington Square South).

Check out Community Board 2‘s new web site.

Washington Sq Park Task Force to focus on Children’s Playground at Meeting Wed. Jan. 7th

A planned follow-up to the December 3rd Washington Square Park Task Force/Community Board 2 Parks Committee meeting focusing on the renovation of the large children’s playground will be held this Wednesday, January 7th. This part of the project is actually a renovation and not a dramatic redesign like the rest of the New York City Parks Department’s three phase plan for Washington Square Park. In a refreshing change of pace that hopefully will continue, the Parks Department is attempting to work with the community, in contrast to the situation – to date – with the other element’s of the park’s redesign.

Details: Wednesday, January 7th, 6:30 p.m. Location: NYU Silver Building, 32 Waverly Pl. Room 520 (I.D. Required).

The designer working on the playground is Chris Crowley, as opposed to Parks Department landscape designer George Vellonakis who has much different, um, style. Crowley was responsible for a renovation plan of the park drafted in the late ’80’s (never completed) – that allegedly received Landmarks Preservation Commission and Community Board 2 approval – which worked with the existing design that is favored by so many.

Washington Square Park, As It Looks Now, and What’s Been Happening Of Late

Washington Sq Pk, early Dec. 08

Washington Sq Pk, early Dec. 08

For a refresher, or in case you missed ’em, read more about what’s been happening lately at Washington Square Park from these recent posts:

* Update from Washington Square Park Task Force Meeting 12/3, featuring a Parks Department Presentation on Next “Phases” of WSP Redesign, Part I.

* The “Tisch” Fountain plaques have arrived!

* Rocker Pete Wentz and Band Fall Out Boy Attempt “Spontaneous” Concert in Washington Sq Park 12/15.

Photo: J. Bary

Part III Report-back on NYC Parks Dept. Presentation of Future Phase Redesign Work on Washington Sq Park

Part III, the final installment, of my report-back from the NYC Parks Department presentation of the future Phase (II and III) redesign work at Washington Square Park based on information presented at a joint meeting of the Washington Square Park Task Force and Community Bd 2 Parks Committee held December 3rd.

* The Plazas – Reduction in public space seems excessive

Phase I’s NorthWest quadrant’s “plaza” is basically finished. It is a circular pattern with a large circular flower bed in the midst of it with a walkway around it and benches at its edges. I personally don’t like how large the flower bed is in the center — I think it interferes with the flow of how people interact with one another which is my critique of much of the park’s design — but it doesn’t change dramatically what was there prior. So, fine.

— What happens to Washington Square Park’s other “quadrants” in the next Phase?

Each quadrant of the park has a “plaza” and, as George Vellonakis explained, they each have different designs. (A break from symmetry. Imagine.) The Southwest quadrant and the NorthEast quadrant — these areas are addressed in the next Phase — currently are quite large. The Southwest quadrant holds the chess tables and the Northeast quadrant is a large gathering spot prone to spontaneous performances; it also has picnic tables, which people utilize. So… what did George Vellonakis reveal about his plans for these two areas? Firstly, they are both being greatly reduced in size (same # of chess tables, smaller area to congregate). It sounded fairly significant although, unfortunately, he had no numbers or percentages to share.

The question is … Why? Why does the chess area have to be reduced? Why do the picnic tables have to go or at least why does that area have to be so greatly reduced?

* The Mounds / Artificial Turf

I’ll do another post on the Mounds one day this week but they are three “hills” on the southwestern side of the Park that children use as informal and spontaneous play structures and also are used in the winter for sledding. The Mounds have their fans and they have some opponents.

The Mounds are scheduled to be recreated in Phase II. However, the two words associated with the recreation of the Mounds area that got people alarmed were “artificial turf” which the Parks Department hopes to use on the ground surrounding the Mounds.  (Note: this is a clarification which did not appear in the original version of this post.)

Although Mr. Vellonakis tried to assure people that what the Parks Department planned to use was some better version of synthetic turf and “not infill rubber,” (a) can it really be that much better ? and (b) is it really necessary to use in this area? Mr. Vellonakis tried to make an aesthetic argument for using the artificial turf stating that it would “blend into the landscape” and therefore “make [it] more attractive.” Mr. Vellonakis also stated that the artificial turf would “hold snow better.” Hmmm.

I’ve written some posts on artificial turf here and here. (Links to be added in later.) It gets very hot (although Mr. Vellonakis said that the area is shaded so that’s less likely) and the pieces separate and kids have come home with it in their shoes. What if kids eat it? We still have no idea how it affects wildlife or the environment at large.

* The Playground

The large playground on the north east side will be completed in stages so as not to close off the entire area for an extended period of time – this is in response to parents’ wishes in the community. It will remain the same size within the same footprint. Chris Crowley from the Parks Department is in charge of the playground and does seem dedicated to working with the neighborhood users on this effort. The playground will also contain a children’s garden.

— “Safety Surface”?

Another controversial item — mentioned in relation to the playground — was the use of “safety surface” which is basically black rubber mats, ya know, the ones kids have burned their feet on.

— Interesting about the Fence…

The fence around the playground is currently 7 feet high and there was talk about perhaps putting a new, lower fence in around the area but there are (first we’ve heard of this…) concerns about the cost. When the fence was put in, Washington Square Park, interestingly enough, did not have a perimeter fence (the one that was put in is the current 3 feet high fence, the one being installed is 4 feet).

There will be a meeting on January 7th to discuss the playground in more depth.

* Dog Runs

The two dog runs – small dog run and large dog run – are being moved from within the park to the southern edge of the park. They will have multiple gates to hopefully prevent dogs from getting out into the street. The dog run advocates are still hoping that the dog runs will be enlarged. Although the large dog run is being expanded by 500 square feet, it is not considered large enough. Where the dog runs are being installed, there are some large trees which Mr. Vellonakis said would not be disturbed.

* Conservancy? — No, They Say

Bill Castro, Manhattan Borough Parks Commissioner, stated that there is “no plan to have a conservancy” at Washington Square Park. There are concerns amongst community members that because the Park’s budget is so high at this point and maintenance of the park will be costly that a private conservancy will be formed including NYU, the Tisches, the local BID(Business Improvement District), and real estate interests in the area. For reasons why, Conservancies spell trouble (they are basically BIDs), see here. (Link added later.)

There will however be more park enforcement rangers.


Although the Washington Square Park Task Force and community members have stressed again and again that the bathroom repairs and upgrading are a priority and therefore should have been tackled in the first or maybe even the second phase, they have been relegated by the Parks Department to phase III. When asked again about this, the Parks Department response to this “high priority” was “we will get back to you on that.” There was this strained silence but also covert smiles amongst Bill Castro and George Vellonakis and it is clearly not taken seriously – at all.

* A comment that seemed to sum it all up:

Mary seemed to sum up the underlying community sentiment:

“Washington Square Park keeps being compared [by the Parks Department] with [what’s done at] other parks. It is important to keep its character intact. A cookie cutter idea is not acceptable.”