Reader Comments on New York Times Article & Its Revisionist History of Washington Square Park

The New York Times article, Blooms Return to Washington Square Park After Years of Renovation, inspired many comments. In this case, the issue isn’t whether the “renovation” is “good” or “bad;” the issue is the rewriting of the very history of Washington Square Park and the years that preceded its recent construction, which, in turn, rewrites the history of *why* the community fought the radical redesign of the park. The public very much loved the layout of the park and very much used the park as it was — people weren’t afraid to go in it as writer Kia Gregory asserts in the piece — while everyone agreed it needed fixing. Manhattan Parks Commissioner Bill Castro is quoted saying that the reason behind the work was so “the community could feel that it was really their own park again.” And Gregory, perhaps not realizing that this was a Castro falsehood, utilized that.

(If anyone should be fired in the de Blasio Admin Parks Department, it is Bill Castro. Too many misrepresentations to the public and manipulations behind-the-scenes.)

The very much used Fountain Plaza before construction
The very much used Washington Square Park pre-construction

Comments here at this blog:

Richard:

It seems like the Times wanted a story that was unreservedly pro-renovation and that’s what they got. A reporter who had more familiarity with the park’s history or who tried to find a broader context would have been superfluous to this goal.

Congratulations on receiving snark from Mr. Benepe! Irritating the officials and public figures you write about is a sign you’re doing good work as an investigative reporter. The more snippy and unprofessional they sound, the clearer it is you’re doing a job that needs doing.

Seth:

Cathryn,

Once again, you are 100% correct. I hadn’t seen the NY Times article until seeing your post, and I was appalled at how plain wrong it is. Just as the wound inflicted by the park redesign project on those of us who live near the park and see it every day has started to heal, this article throws salt on it. As a visitor to the Village since the 1960′s and a resident since 1983, and especially as someone who has lived immediately adjacent to the park since 1991, I know first hand that the premise of the article is total nonsense. There were just as many people in the park before the renovation as there are after, including families and kids. No one was afraid of it any more than they would be afraid of it now, or wary of any other urban park. My daughter, who is now 20, literally grew up going to the playgrounds in the park. The only thing that kept people from going was the endless renovation which closed off large sections for years at a time. Yes, the park needed renovation, but no, it did not need the redesign. I am convinced that the redesign happened mainly because it served the egos of Benepe, Vellonakis, and especially Bloomberg (who did absolutely nothing for the Village area during his 8 year term and his stolen extra 4 years, and with the park project did us a disservice).

One of the biggest jokes in the article, to me, is where it says “there are new shade trees”. Does the reporter even know how many large old trees were ripped out in order to allow the idiotic scheme to move and elevate the fountain plaza? And that all the new trees that have been planted in the fountain area that have failed to take root and possibly never will, due to the utter failure to consider trees and drainage when designing a park (what a concept!), leaving visitors to roast in the sun in the summer?

This Times reporter really has egg on her face. The only way for her to restore any credibility she might have would be to expose those who obviously led her down the garden path.

Seth

Jonathan:

Well said, Cathryn. Thank you for being the spokesperson for the Washington Square Park community. Your work is very important.

It strikes me as a sad commentary on our media, and its role, that someone like you, Cathryn, who is so well informed and makes such an effort to understand the underlying issues, is paid nothing for an important blog with a limited readership, while a NY Times Reporter makes a living wage and an enormous readership but has no understanding of the facts which she reports.

All she would have needed to do was to call the Sixth Precinct and get crime states year to year. She would have seen that Wash Sq Park was one of the safest parks on the city, as we all know, and that parents like me brought my small children to overcrowded playgrounds.

One thing I notice that is never mentioned is that the central plaza was diminished in size by 28%. Somehow with all the space committed to what has changed, the largest programmatic change of all was not news that the Times found “fit to print.”

Mitchel Cohen:

Kia Gregory’s article is hilarious.

Wow, she found someone — Lamont Holloway — who played chess against Bobby Fischer! Great lead, this looks really interesting. I read on, wondering what Lamont or Bobby learned from each other, how their games turned out and evolved. Did Lamont win any of their games?

It is only in the 3rd paragraph that we learn obliquely that Holloway wasn’t even born when Bobby’d hang out in the Park and was no doubt afraid to walk there alone amidst all the drug paraphernalia and muggings. (Kia Gregory, though, leaves you to do the arithmetic for yourself, as she leaps away from that minor credulous detail.) In fact, Holloway was only 4 years old when Bobby played Spassky in Reykjavik, Iceland in that most memorable contest followed every day by the eyes of the world, amidst the war on Vietnam.

But by then, we’re already sucked in by the lie that churns the rest of the story. Gregory’s “source” turns out to have been pontificating about the 50s, 60s and 70s, but really only started hanging out in the Park in the 80s. Well, maybe she’d research the influence of Washington Square Park on Bobby’s later near-fascist views. After all, she’s painting such a ridiculous dystopian description of Washington Square Park with murderers and rapists running rampant that it’s likely to set anyone into what would become Fischer’s neo-fascist dementia, no?

Well, no.

Never happened.

Gregory doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Clearly, she doesn’t have a clue.

And I’d bet NYU’s dollars to the wonderful trees that were destroyed in the Park’s “reconstruction” (that Gregory doesn’t bother to mention) that most of that twistory was Kia’s, not poor Lamont Holloway’s, who was probably the first typical Washington Square Park character that Kia came across during her first year in New York, from her schooling in Pennsylvania.

I hate to compare the two (below) because the magnitude and impact of the lying is so vastly different, but the methodology is the same: Is Kia Gregory striving to become the new Judith Miller of the New York Times?

Mitchel Cohen

Hellen Osgood sent this letter to the Public Editor at the Times:

Did the Times really publish an article implying that Washington Square Park was a wasteland prior to the recent renovation? Washington Square Park has been a vibrant, dynamic, cultural gathering place for decades. Ms. Gregory would have benefited greatly by speaking with Ms. Doris Diether, prominent Community Board 2 member, having served over 50 years, also lover and fierce defender of Washington Square Park. WSP has an energy not defined by infrastructure. The heart, soul and vibe of this very unique space is found in people love this park now and throughout history. You will find WSP referenced in every NYC travel guide published as a must see, must experience, happening place. Ms. Gregory, I invite you to revisit our park, take a tour with me to meet some of lovers of this park, including Ms. Diether, to gain a different perspective and learn some history.

Hellen Osgood
Greenwich Village Resident

Via WSP Blog Facebook page:

Monica McLaughlin:

I am not at all surprised. The Parks Department is a criminal organization. Bill Castro and Adrian Benepe are pure evil. And the Community Boards are in cahoots with them. They are all about contracts and kick backs. The job of the City Council Member is to get the tax money, they pass it to the Parks Department who passes it to the Contractor who distributes the kick backs. No one ever compares the contracts to build any particular park with what actually gets built so it is easy for them to do. I speak from personal experience with dealing with the building of a $1,000,000 dog run on the Upper East Side.

Michael Benabib:

Exactly it is absurd to suggest the park was a place to avoided by village residents. The park was a wonderful place before the redesign but that is not enough to justify a conservancy. They have to gild the Lily.

Stacy Walsh Rosenstock:

Wasn’t the reason why the renovations were done in several phases because this park is so heavily used? Sure there are drugs in the park as my friend Lucy Carney is aware of. It was because of her efforts in the late 70s and early 80s that got the cops to crack down on blatant drug dealing. Still that didn’t stop those of us with kids from using the park. This crackdown continued through the Giuliani Administration with surveillance cameras, undercover cops, and is probably the reason why there’s been a command post on West 4th St all these years.

But even with the renovation drug dealing continues in the areas around the chess tables. Did this reporter not notice that?

Sandra Mole:

The remarks made in the Times article remind me of Leguizamo’s claim on a TV talk show that his wife (who sits on the WSP Conservancy Board) wanted to “save” the park. Really?!

This article made me wonder: Doesn’t the Metro section of the Times have other reporters who may have walked through Washington Square Park at some point over the last seven years? Isn’t there vetting of New York Times articles before they appear?

Letters!

The New York Times takes letters at: [email protected] The Public Editor — who investigates reporting issues related to New York Times writers — also takes letters at [email protected] (300 words, no attachments, be clear what the story was and when it appeared – “Blooms Return to Washington Square Park After Years of Renovation,” New York Times, May 10, 2014).

Previously at Washington Square Park Blog:

* New York Times Rewrites History of Washington Square Park May 10, 2014

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