The One Year Anniversary of this Blog!

I recounted here how I started this blog after going to an exhibit in January 2008 at the Municipal Art Society on Jane Jacobs. Jane Jacobs had been critically involved over the years at Washington Square Park (and, of course, New York City, in general). The goal of the exhibit was to inspire community activism. They handed out a little booklet which said, basically, if all else fails, if you’ve tried everything, START A BLOG. I recognized – from hearing their stories – that many of the people in the community had tried the typical routes (go to meetings, talk to politicians, talk to your community board, hand out flyers, etc. etc.). A blog seemed like something new, different.

Right around the time I started, I met all these wonderful Brooklyn bloggers at a luncheon. They were all so inspiring, honest, talented, encouraging, quirky. Truthfully, if I had realized how much work it would be, I might have rethought it but this blog provided a place to practice writing in a structured way that was part activism, part journalism. I have a background in public relations so it seemed like some of that might get thrown in also.

I started out wanting to tell the story of what had happened to that point. Then, last summer, new meetings about the park’s redesign began and I was able to report the story as it was happening. Curbed called this a “watchdog blog.” Along the way, this blog (and I) got written up in the New York Times, linked to by numerous other blogs and web sites, and had written dialogue with the NYC Parks Commissioner.

When I first got started – to catch up – I surveyed video footage and scoured newspaper articles recounting the numerous meetings and lawsuits and presentations … oh my! … navigating a history of incomplete and often inaccurate information presented by the Parks Department, questionable decisions made by the local Community Board 2, Landmarks Preservation Commission and City Council, and political deceptions and maneuvering across the board. Catching up, the well of information seemed bottomless.

I recognized early on that I needed to interconnect other issues going on in our city and public space that also relate to the issues at Washington Square Park.

Those inter-connections are:

* the reduction and privatization of public space (particular emphasis on Washington Square Park, Union Square Park, and Yankee Stadium Parkland);

* the cutting down of hundreds if not thousands of trees in our parks across the five boroughs while the Mayor hypes his MillionTreesNYC “initiative” ;

* the dangerous and controversial use of artificial turf in our parks and playing fields;

* NYU: Washington Square Park’s influential neighbor and its reckless real estate land grabs which are decimating our communities and neighborhoods throughout Manhattan as it plants its flags seemingly everywhere. (NYU’s influence on Washington Square Park’s plans is very behind-the-scenes but it is there. NYU owns, after all, basically all the real estate that surrounds the park.);

* Business Improvement Districts and Conservancy Models : The problem with the overly pervasive BIDs and Conservancies is that they get a stronghold on our public spaces, thereby influencing usage in ways that are based on bolstering real estate values over community interests;

* Failure of elected officials: City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and City Council Member Alan Gerson (its Gerson’s district but Quinn’s is next door, covering Greenwich Village) have failed in protecting Washington Square Park and in responding to their constituents’ pleas for intervention. They made some modest changes to the Parks Department’s plan in October 2005 and yet they can’t be bothered – to date – to make certain even those modest modifications are upheld.;

* Washington Square Park Task Force — The one body charged with watching the Parks Department as the redesign plan is put into place. Largely comprised of members of Community Board 2, as well as representatives of elected officials, and community members, I’ve been attending and covering the meetings this past year. While I recognize some of its strengths and gains, too often the requests it puts forward to the Parks Department and information it relays from these meetings to Council Member Gerson and Speaker Quinn lacks a true sense of advocating for the Park. “Going along to get along” seems to be its method of operating.;

And… of course…

* Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Without him and his deft and slickly corrosive way of maneuvering through city agencies and outside groups, I believe none of what’s happened at Washington Square Park and in our city would have been possible, particularly at such an accelerated rate.

-He and his policies are responsible for placing the interests of developers and corporations over neighborhoods and communities which has been a real detriment to the diversity and uniqueness that is (or should be) New York City.

-The Mayor (with the assistance of Speaker Quinn and 28 City Council members) and the overturning of voted-in term limits is another issue I’ve covered in-depth since I started, believing it highlights our CEO Mayor’s arrogance, lies and sense of entitlement.

So there you have it! I can’t say what the year ahead will look like. I believe there’s room for change in the NYC Parks Department’s plan for Washington Square ParkWe’ll see! At least we’ll all know exactly what went down. I hope you will continue to send me your ideas, your feedback, your comments, your help, and your encouragement, and we’ll navigate the road ahead together.

Thank you !

Cathryn.

Photo: Venetia27