Goodbye Washington Square Park
by Robert Lederman
The future looks very good for Washington Square Park; good that is if you are a corporation or the puppet of one. The newly formed WSP Conservancy, which advertises itself as being solely about little old ladies (and a celebrity couple) planting flowers and cleaning up trash, will soon be selling off the park to corporations anxious to use it as a billboard for their wonderful products.
The freelance musicians, artists and performers that WSP is world famous for will soon get to see what the newly amended park rules for “expressive matter vendors” were all about (hint: if you actually read the full text of the rules, rather than the fake synopsis of them provided as an FAQ, you will see that they ban performers from the entire park).
Sarah Neilson, the Senior Project Manager for the Chief of Capital Program Management with the NYC Department of Parks, will be doing double duty as the director of the new conservancy. Ms Neilson’s job for the Parks Department gives an exact clue as to what she will be doing as conservancy director.
Her job is to monetize our formerly public parks by selling permits for special corporate run events and to arrange for real estate interests to put condos in parks. She will be doing her utmost to maximize the profit potential of what was once just nice a place for New Yorkers to hang out, listen to music or play.
The conservancy claims it was created solely in order to raise money for park maintenance. Was the Parks Department previously refusing their donations and denying them a chance to plant flowers? Of course not.
So what is the “fundraising” really for?
To start with, you have to pay Ms. Neilson’s six figure salary. Later on, the board members will likely need a salary. Then more poorly trained PEP officers will surely have to be hired in order to evict all the performers once Ms. Neilson gets up to speed selling daily special event permits to record companies, commercial bands and corporations who want to plaster their name all over the park.
Like a decades old song about rebellion that is now being used to sell laundry detergent, the once proud symbol of the sixties will lend its street cred to the deceptive ad campaigns of any corporation willing to pony up a few hundred thousand for a one day permit.
Community Board #2, formerly home to ten thousand radicals, artists, jazz musicians and free thinkers, when did you become so trusting and naive that this nakedly obvious Bloomberg scam could be presented to you, voted for almost unanimously and sold to your community as a park improvement?
If you are not watching the store, who is? Certainly not the Mayor, the Parks Department or Christine Quinn, all of whom are infatuated with BIDs, Park Conservancies and park privatization.
Did you buy the absurd argument that because the budget allocation for parks keeps shrinking, that privatization is inevitable? Have you ever heard about cause and effect? Don’t you realize that it is the Mayor and Quinn who keep cutting the parks budget so that park conservancies will appear to be inevitable?
If you would like a crystal ball-like glimpse into the future of WSP, walk a few blocks to Union Square Park (USP).
Soon in USP you’ll be able to order a $35 breakfast in the new pavilion restaurant, buy a $10 bunch of carrots from the Greenmarket and then purchase a shopping bag full of very expensive gifts from the giant Holiday Market with 200 vendors. Don’t forget that those 200 vendors replaced 50 or so congestion-causing artists selling real paintings, prints, photos and sculptures. That’s progress, right?
While the buskers and performers who currently use much of WSP for free under the First Amendment will soon be gone, don’t worry, because Ms. Neilson plans to book many commercially viable acts into the new WSP. They’ll be singing the wonders of Sony, Disney, Nike and CitiBank.
The park will have a giant CitiBike rack; a corporate run restaurant, and, exactly as is being done with the High Line and the more elite areas of Central Park, the entire park will soon be available to be rented for private parties – so long as you can foot the million dollars for one day fee.
Don’t you just love non-profit corporate charities like the Washington Square Park Conservancy that are run by little old ladies and public spirited celebrities? How did we ever survive without them in the previous 300 years of NYC history before the creation of these wonderful entities that clean our parks, staff them with police and plant flowers?
Without conservancies we might have to invent an agency like the Parks Department to do this important job. We might even need a police department to patrol parks, or a sanitation department to take away garbage.
The Bloomberg legacy. Impressive isn’t it?
Please come to Community Board 2′s meeting Thursday, June 20th 6 p.m. 557 Broadway (Scholastic Building)
between Prince and Spring, auditorium. Public comment begins at 6 p.m. sharp. This will be your last chance
to oppose a conservancy taking over Washington Sq Park.