Re-Post — Originally published September 1, 2010
Lack of Parks Department Transparency; No Governmental or Community Oversight Leads 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 sections of the historic park.
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.
Phase II is overseen by landscape designer George Vellonakis, a favorite of NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe. Vellonakis 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.
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 New York City Council’s complicity – wants to keep it that way.
Wondering what the problems are?
Read Part II here.