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 They ultimately rescinded their approvalalbeit on the third try.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.

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