Sunday New York Times City Section Cover Story 11/23: The Battle for Washington Square

Tomorrow’s New York Times City section features a cover story “The Battle for Washington Square,” an effort by reporter Graham Bowley to outline what’s transpired thus far around New York City government’s controversial redesign of this renowned park and dynamic public space over the last four years.

What’s transpired could be a multi-part series or a book (and is a movie), so it would be exceedingly difficult to get every last nuance into one story. I’m still assimilating the article but a few immediate comments – it’s puzzling that there are no current photos of the park under construction especially because the Times sent a photographer on my September Walking Tour highlighting the redesign elements of the park.  The online story only portrays pictures of Washington Square Park in the past which strikes me as a bit, um, odd.

There’s a nice synopsis of the Park’s value as a public space: “perhaps … [no park is] more valued than the 10-acre, 181-year-old Washington Square Park, the beating heart of Greenwich Village. Through the decades the park has been the haunt of some of America’s best-known artists, writers, musicians, anarchists and Beatniks, and a seemingly round-the-clock distillation of the frenetic spirit of New York.”

The reporter Graham Bowley walked with me through the Park a few months ago. There are a few inaccuracies as far as my comments. For example, Mr. Bowley quotes me as saying of the new exterior fence – currently being installed at 4 feet tall with unapproved “decorative spears” on top, vs. the current height of 3 feet: “That keeps you out. That is very threatening.” Actually, what I said is that it is not welcoming.

And I definitely think things can be done from here on. See my further comments: “On Washington Square Park’s Design Going Forward” here.

I welcome the New York Times covering the story – the story has been woefully un- (and under) reported to date – and I hope it leads to others. There are so many more pieces of what transpired to be told. And I’d love to hear other feedback from you.

9 thoughts on “Sunday New York Times City Section Cover Story 11/23: The Battle for Washington Square

  1. “To be modern is to find ourselves in an environment that promises us adventure, power, joy, growth, transformation of ourselves and the world—and, at the same time, that threatens to destroy everything we have, everything we know, everything we are.” – Marshall Berman

  2. I’ve read the NYT article you refer to here and am glad you pointed out that you were misquoted. However, I think the re-design of the park, based upon the illustration that accompanies the article is a WELCOME red-design. New Yorkers are fortunate that there are public, green spaces – such as Washington Square Park – they can enjoy at any day of the week. The re-design will seem to result in a GREENER and shadier park that what it has been. If it was re-designed in the ’70s, why not allow lush greenery to roll over the park? Budget crises are being faced by everyone at this time. If the private sector – in this case corporates – are willing to pick up the tab for a public space in which they are part of the community, then why not? That should alleviate some of the strain on the city’s coffers. In the end, they and all the community’s residents will benefit from it.

    I look forward to strolling through the refurbished Washington Square Park.

  3. Try being more San Franciscan. Embrace change. Be braver. The world moves on. Try going with it. You should learn from the West Coast.

  4. People talk about Washington Square Park as if it was a referendum on whether or not ‘change’ is a good thing. Change is inevitable.

    I’m not going to lose any sleep about whether the park is one way or another. I don’t think that matters.

    I just didn’t like how hostile the Bloomberg Administration was about pushing this through. They love to talk about the private money they raised, but no donors came close to matching the amount of taxpayer money that was spent, and they didn’t allow the public to have a say about what was happening to their own environment. Mayor Mike really lost my vote with this one.

    I’ll still go there, as will most people. That doesn’t constitute an endorsement of what they did or how they did it.

  5. I have fond memories of Washington Square Park. All of the artists I was witness to with magicians, musicians, painters, comedians and the conversations, laughs and smiles shared in the Park. It’s terribly disheartening to see how those with money to throw away can effect the welfare of others less fortunate. People of all walks of life gathered at the Park to see life. Too many controlholics trashing our liberties to freely express ourselves. Yeah, I know, the self-righteous will try to justify their side whle us, less fortunate have nothing or no one to really support our right as humans beings to go somewhere and have a good time.

    Actually, the way I see it, Wahington Square Park and parks like itself will become obsolete because I rememebr in the ’80’s when the homeowners who lived in those beautiful brownstone townhouses on Fifth and its surrounding area did not want us “strangers” around “their” park. Besides, what right did I have to be there. After all it’s “their” park. I could never afford to live there.

    Thus, time brings about change and different attitudes. I apologize for taking up all this space. It’s just very sad. Nothing’s sacred not even people. This is all about control, power and the manipulation thereof. God bless.

  6. Mike Bloomberg’s will is often cited in argument as “change is inevitable”. I don’t think one man gets to decide or define what change is, especially when that man uses language like that to stifle those who question his “vision” or who get directly hurt by this “inevitable change”. “Just go with it” is pretty apathetic, no? Especially when you actually love where you live for what it is and has always been, and see it as something with an identity, and not just a blank slate waiting for any billionaire with a paintbrush. I always wonder about the people who are thrilled that the park is getting destroyed because their property values are going up. Why are they even here? Why do they live by the park? I mean they obviously didn’t like it very much if they are rejoicing that someone is finally erasing what it has been up to this point. The park has had a pretty strong identity for this whole time. Have they just been bitterly snickering, and waiting around for someone to just strike a match to it? Why don’t those people just go somewhere they actually like? Then everyone else can get the grass replanted, flowers watered, new pavement, and general repairs that we’ve wanted this whole time, without the mass, unnecessary destruction of our park. Pretty is empty and common. Character, independence, and rebelliousness is what made WSP famous and a place to even care about to begin with.

    Yeah, I read the last line of the Times article and thought, “Did Cathryn really say that?” It sounded weird to me. Why would you devote yourself to this cause if you didn’t believe the public could actually make a difference in changing how this redesign will proceed. Is there anything you can do to get a correction? That is a pretty big error to say you aren’t sure if anything can be done to save the park, especially when your whole site is a call to action to save it, and a major information source for what is happening and what the public can do to change the tide.

  7. This is New York City, people.

    Change is inevitable, and the last incarnation of the Park was hardly the epitome of a creative gathering space or people’s park- though it was claimed as such by the blog author. The park will be what the users ultimately make of it, and as long as it is a free and public space, it will continue to foster community and creativity. More benches, more accessible open space (read- goodbye to the obsolete, off-limits, rat infested mounds already!), and upgraded facilities (i doubt very much there will be armed guards at the privy discouraging the typical transient who must by necessity wash and change there…) should be embraced by anyone interested in seeing it thrive, rather than holding on to a romanticized notion of what it was for an individual New Yorker.

    Though perhaps undue pressure was exerted by the better-funded stakeholders, the public review process in New York is still one of the best and most comprehensive in terms of getting public opinion recognized and giving a voice to the end-user. And while NYC Parks has its share of problems, the design and planning team there are not trained to create spaces of coercion or suppression. The process in NY encourages public participation and transparency, and there are many advocacy groups monitoring the process to safeguard that- note that many of these groups are supporting the plan in construction.

    The blog author should accept that her wishes will not be implemented in deference to a plan that takes all views into account to create a space that serves a broader purpose. Let it go, be a voice in how the park is used in the future, and help foster a continued sense of community there rather than an impediment to it. Or stay in Kensington.

  8. Lew and anyone who makes the ‘change is good’ argument — and YES, change IS good — I posted today an entry which I think addresses these arguments that are missing the point, at least in relation to what’s transpired over Washington Square Park’s redesign and what people opposed to it are really saying:

    http://washingtonsquarepark.wordpress.com/2008/11/24/reflections-on-sundays-new-york-times-article-the-battle-of-washington-square/

    Thanks for stopping by the site.

    best,
    Cathryn
    Washington Sq Pk Blog

  9. I am also really happy about having a fence around WSP. I hope it’s high enough to discourage people from climbing over it so that they’ll stick to the nice pedestrian walkways and allow the lawn areas and plantings to grow and thrive and look beautiful. I’m sick of the lawns being turned into massive deserts of scrubby dirt patches, and the plantings being trampled.

    I think it’d be nice if you spent significantly more time being active getting the drug dealers permanently out of WSP. THAT would be time well spent, IMHO.

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