Guest Post: Goodbye Washington Square Park

Guest post 

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?
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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.

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10 thoughts on “Guest Post: Goodbye Washington Square Park”

  1. Villagers have to protest, protest, protest. Leave our park alone. It is bad enough that NYU has taken over half the Village but this is too much. Parks do not belong to politicians or corporations. Who are the WSP Conservancy and why do they have a right to do anything in the Park? Who gave them the right to decide anything? Changes to Washington Square should be voted on, not mandated by the WSP Conservancy or anyone else. I want to know all the names of those affiliated with WSP Conservancy.

  2. Hi Monica,

    Yes, agree, re: Robert Lederman. If only the Parks Committee of C.B. 2 had given this the same degree of thought and contemplation (or even a percentage of it) and pressed ‘pause’ before the rush to vote.

    Hey Jasmina,

    Thanks for the link. Yes, great example of how private entities sell out our public parks — that Great Googa Mooga situation was beyond. I think some people have forgotten what a ‘park’ is for.

    Cathryn

  3. Hi Reena,

    The Conservancy says they are not going to “run” the park while having set up their private entity like every other full-blown conservancy. For the names, go to this link: http://washingtonsquareparkblog.com/2013/06/13/report-back-community-board-2-parks-committee-meets-on-wsp-private-conservancy-part-i/ Those are the only members we know — the “founding members” — they have not revealed if there is anyone else on their board, etc.

    JOR — that Union Square restaurant situation is really troubling. Thanks for that link. That was a good article. I’d add tho’ that the addition of the Pavilion as restaurant is not just loss of “play space” as Geoffrey Croft said but loss of a space that was known for historic protest back to 1882 and in more recent years was being used for dance lessons and music, etc.

    Cathryn

  4. One might wonder whether the entire set of conservancy licenses the city has issued could come under court challenge due them apparently not having been granted within a framework of competitive proposal and due diligence, such as RFPs or formal sole-source review.

    If the city is determined to grant a conservancy license for WSP, when does the clock start on proposals from interested parties to win the license? Has the licensee already been chosen by some closed sole-source process? Could you share the sole-source due diligence documentation that shows that this particular group and its particular stated objectives is so uniquely valuable, over all other possible approaches and staffs, that there is no need to explore any other licensee with different objectives (strategy) or expertise? If potential licensees have been excluded without solid sole source justifications, is this legal?

    CB2 might do a true service to not only WSP but to all parks of the city, to pivot this vote from whether it ‘approves a conservancy’, to declaring that it will *begin* a public process of exploring advice from interested parties about how public-private cooperation could be done in a healthy way (if there are healthy ways).

    Perhaps the only healthy way, for the needs of WSP, is to stay as is and recruit more donors. Perhaps there are some beneficial aspects learned from other conservancies that could be cherrypicked and adopted for WSP without jeopardizing the values which park users cherish. Perhaps the Parks department planners could make a compelling case for high user fees and renting out the Park for events. Perhaps a restaurant could describe how they could run a concession which would be so great that it could win broad public acceptance in open community board discussion and serve as a model for what a bidding process should seek for a restaurant.

    If the city feels that all these discussions are already settled and the policies already in place, it should just step in front of the community and flat out decree that this is so, in person, in so many words, and listen to the response. People know perfectly well that trying to push through ‘approval of a conservancy group’ as an up/down vote with limited information and a history of secret planning is begging the bigger question. Everyone knows that the conservancy model with all its baggage is the issue.

    Take a breath, please, CB2, and say that the discussion has to start over, under your mandate, in a public fashion. Make all these behind closed doors operators write out their arguments for the public to review. Create an informed discussion. Craft something new and better for the future. Thank you.

  5. typo correction first para thank you: corrected:
    One might wonder whether the entire set of conservancy licenses the city has issued could come under court challenge due to them apparently not having been granted within a framework of competitive proposal and due diligence, such as RFPs or formal sole-source review.

  6. Guest,

    Thank you! Very well stated addressing the ‘bigger’ picture and questions that need (ed) to be asked.

    Very much agree with what you wrote and particularly the idea of the discussion starting over NOW under C.B. 2’s mandate creating an “informed discussion.” “Craft(ing) something new and better for the future” is what the Village and Washington Sq Park should be about.

    Thanks.

    Cathryn

  7. Wow. This is upsetting, very upsetting. I hope the community board has the integrity to stand up for the community. This has been kept very quiet – because once the people find out, they will be very displeased and will not stand for it. Note that the protests in Taksim Square, Istanbul were set off because the government tried to take the park away from the people.

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