When Private Influence Controls Public Parks
You are probably aware of the secret scheme to privatize Washington Square Park: A private conservancy was hatched and developed over two years behind closed doors without any public input, it was then presented to the community as a fait accompli.
There was one farce of a Community Board meeting where public input was “heard” with the four wealthy conservancy founders portrayed as do-gooders, a “little friends group,” who stated that they only used the word “conservancy” because “every other name was taken.” But it is clear that this is a blatant attempt by the 1% to sanitize and privatize Washington Square Park and to build up to a major conservancy model with NYU and other private and real estate interests holding sway.
Stalling them somewhat has been the attention on records Washington Square Park Blog obtained (FOIL – Freedom of Information Letter – records), documented and published. These documents expose this group’s manipulation and disrespect for both the community and the truth and demonstrate the conservancy “founders” willingness to misrepresent their intentions at every turn – they will say whatever it takes to keep their private organization in play.
Bloomberg Era Tactics & Manipulations
The chief orchestrator to date has been Manhattan Parks Commissioner Bill Castro who instructed the four conservancy “founders” on what to say – and more importantly, what not to say, keeping boatloads of information from the public.
And the lies continue. Community Board 2 “leaders” have given these wealthy individuals a free pass and make excuses for them at every turn; elected officials have mostly looked the other way.
In addition, a recent New York Times story on the completion of the park’s redesign made Washington Square Park sound like a dirty, downtrodden place pre-renovation. It said that “tourists avoided the park and people stopped bringing their children” (not true!) which basically helps pave the way for the conservancy to take hold. (People who don’t know the truth will say — “Without the conservancy, it will go back to what it was before!” It is not that hard to revise history.)
Fighting back against the privatization and keeping the park accountable to the public
There is new energy afoot to fight back on the privatization of our park, push for a review and rollback of this conservancy, and give it back to the people. More on that to come!
(Added 5/28:) There is a chance to roll it back. Even tho’ this group is not operating full scale now, 501(c)(3) documents filed – legal documents – implicate that as their intention. Programming, licensing and sanitizing are part of the “conservancy” agenda ( as well as undisclosed discussions that involve NYU and NYU money). With the Parks Department Administrator as their Executive Director, they are set up to gain ground.
(Added paragraph 5/28:)The problems with handing off a public park to private influence are many and they are typically underreported and not understood. While right now there is a conversation about park “equity,” there is another kind of equity : fairness to those who use the park and believe our public spaces should be just that: public space. Instead, privatization of public spaces, giving control to a private organization, a “non-profit” that acts as a for-profit corporation, leads to: diminished public access, change in use of the space, increased commercialization as well as corporate and real estate influence, wealthy Board members and donors making policy and use decisions behind-the-scenes, and more!
There is more to be written at WSP Blog’s Private Conservancy Watch series (there have been six installments thus far – link goes to Part I – as well as many other articles).
While the four affluent conservancy “founders” have money and elite power on their side, this blog has wonderful, astute readers (yay!) and yet has also been entirely self-funded over six years, except for some kind donations along the way by readers; the blog is ad-free (except for one parks-related ad).
Washington Square Park Blog is citizen journalism, investigative reporting, advocate for the park and community, and hyperlocal blog rolled into one. Hundreds of hours have been spent on the material written on the blog, as you can imagine.
NYU, Mario Batali, Socialites Waiting at the Arch
We don’t want NYU, Mario Batali, and socialites to be programming and running Washington Square Park — under the guise of keeping this public space “safe, clean and beautiful.” I will do my part to keep the pressure on via my blog and other efforts – but I need your help.
From coverage of the dying trees around the Fountain to the relocating and booting out of the park’s hot dog vendors (public pressure from this exposure brought them back! it was Conservancy meeting minutes from the FOIL documents that revealed the group was involved in the decision, deeming the carts “unsightly” ), continuous updates on the three phases of the park’s redesign, coverage of Community Board, City Council and Landmarks Preservation Commission meetings, focus on privatization of public space, photos at the park as well as happenings nearby, this and more have appeared at WSP Blog over these six years.
Information that first appeared at Washington Square Park Blog has been picked up by the New York Times, The New York Post, NBC News, The Villager, Metro, AMNY, Curbed, DNAinfo, Time Out NY, MSN.com, CBS News, and more. (Oh yeah – I used to be a rock music publicist!)
If you find joy or value from the information featured at Washington Square Park Blog, and, in particular, if you are against the privatization of the park, please support my work at this time and click below to donate.
Thank you so much!
Editor and Founder, Washington Square Park Blog
* I’ll also mail anyone who donates a copy of my book/zine from last year, Tales of Washington Square Park !
To get you started from Washington Square Park Blog, part of the series:
Everything ever written at this blog on the private conservancy and its manipulations: click here.
Key Documentation (emails and legal documents!):
Overview: Impact of Private Influence on Public Parks : read more here.
Hot Dogs In, Socialites Out!
Note: About once a year, WSP Blog engages in a bit of fundraising to help sustain this work. You may have received this via email if you are a regular reader. Thanks for your support.