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.
    • OTHER AREAS THAT ARE IN DESPERATE NEED OF REVIEW: GARIBALDI PLAZA/PERFORMANCE AREA, GARIBALDI STATUE, and CHILDREN’S PLAYGROUND (NorthEast) – also – SEATING ALCOVES, ALL THE PATHWAYS.

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.

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

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2 thoughts on “Washington Square Park Phase II: Lack of Transparency & Oversight Continues – Part II (Updated)”

  1. Keep asking the hard question Cat!!!! I am particularly upset about the way the previously wide pathways have become divided and narrowed. This destroys the ability to casually run into people you know, since you are nowon one side and they are blocked by the divider on the other. Also, you can’t seredipitously run into someone new as easily as before since the pathway is cut in half. Just another example of how the idiotic new design destoys the WSP’s casualness and turns it into a park that you walk quickly through rather than amble and linger.

    I would also ask questions about the fountain spray being so high that it often makes it impossible for users to sit in, on, or near the fountain. Go look at the fountain on any day with even a slight breeze, or in the fall or spring. It is deserted in a way that was previously never the case. I would like to know how users can ask park workers to lower the jets (especially the side jets, which I frankly think should be removed entirely because they leak all over the side where people try to sit). I remember the court documents stating a requirement that users be able to ask to have the jets lowered, anticipating this very problem. The Parks Dept promised they would allow the jets to be lowered if this problem happened and users asked to lower them.

    Also, I’d like to know what kind of material seating will be made of? I hope it is not the current black rocks that heat up so much that park users cannot even sit on the benches on a sunny day? Why don’t they remove those and put in cemenet again, which stayed cool enough to enjoy sitting on?

  2. hi Be,

    Nice to hear from you and thanks for your comments! All very astute thoughts and spot on. You’re right the planters act as dividers and do exactly that… they divide. I’ve heard a lot of people talking about this very aspect that you touch on – that the park is now a park that encourages you to walk quickly through.

    I’m not sure about the side jets but you’re right that this came up in court in relation to the fountain spray. Someone involved in that lawsuit would need to step up or you could contact Jonathan Greenberg?

    The seats being installed in phase II are pretty much those same rainforest wood benches that no one really likes. The old green benches were great! I’m not sure about the seating around the Garibaldi Plaza which is supposed to act as a stage and sitting area. The seating around the fountain is what you are referring to and very problematic – that black granite is not tolerable in the heat. That should be replaced, you’re right. Maybe with enough pressure, some letter writing, etc. or just time.

    Keep commenting please! It’s good to have reminders of certain things and fine tune various points.

    best,
    Cathryn.

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