Chains of Fools? The Push for Gates & Conformity at Washington Square Park

Chains of Fools? The Push for Gates & Conformity at Washington Square Park

Updated 4/22 11:35 a.m.

Tobi Bergman Community Board 2 Chair Manhattan
Tobi Bergman, CB2 Chair, makes his case

Woefully UnderPublicized Community Board 2 Parks Committee Meeting this Month Votes for Chain Closures at Washington Square Park, Full Board to Vote Tonight

Before Community Board 2 Parks Committee met earlier this month to discuss its “Proposal to install chains and signs for effective night time closing of Washington Square Park,” I wrote about my concerns about this vague agenda item believing this was really code for : gates, something the community fought against amidst the contentious redesign of the park.

Well, quite likely it is, if the meeting that was held April 6th is any indication.

It is important to remember that, not that many years ago, parks were open 24 hours. Less than 6 years ago, Washington Square Park had a 3 foot fence around it. The only reason that changed is the contentious Bloomberg Administration redesign.

Chains, Then Gates?

Previously, C.B. 2 Parks Committee Chair Rich Caccappolo has outright stated he thinks there should be gates at the park; Caccappolo was not involved in the Board at the time the battle over Washington Square was fought, neither were many of the current committee members. However, Community Board 2 Chair Tobi Bergman, a former Parks Department employee and often still advocating for the Parks Department, was.

Bergman was the one to present the idea for “chains” at the entrances at the park at the meeting to replace the current (and long standing) park “closures,” dubbed french barricades. This also would add signs stating, “Park Closed.” The chair stated that “the Sixth Precinct was unable to attend” (allegedly because they had to deal with the upcoming Bernie Sanders Rally) so he presented the idea (and rationale) for new closures at the park.

Every member on the Parks Committee voted for his resolution which will be brought up tonight at the full Board meeting. (6:30 p.m., 557 Broadway at Prince Street).

If not aesthetics, why the sudden need for a change never quite answered at meeting

There was no real reason given for some strong need to have different “closures” and signs at the park. Oh, except for… then it will be easier for the NYPD to arrest people if they are in the park after hours. Is this the kind of society we are aiming towards? This Community Board may be, although I do not think this is reflective of people, the larger community, in general.

No statistics were presented as to whether there is really some problem related to the way the park is closed now, such as too many people lingering in the park.

When asked by this blog, Bergman did not have any specifics.

Yes, the current french barricades are not the most attractive and may be cumbersome to move around to open and close the park however that is not the reason being given for this change, which opens up a whole lot of questions.

Bergman said that “I think it’s almost 10 years ago the Community Board approved the Washington Square Park redesign.”

Which actually is sort of true, and yet not true, since the Board later rescinded its approval in 2007 (somehow this has not been retained in the rewriting of the history of the park redesign). “We finally agreed there would be a fence but no gates.”

Bergman stated, “There was a reason people didn’t want gates; symbolically, they send a message.”

He continued, “The barricades look terrible. Someone comes along and moves it. The next person comes by, after the barricade is left open by someone else, and they are no longer doing something wrong.” (Hence, according to Bergman, the reason they cannot be ticketed/arrested.)

French Barricades at Washington Square Park
Closing up the park French Barricades

Bergman’s resolution proposes “stanchions with a chain.” The chain would be 6 feet 5 foot long chain. He added, “It’s more difficult (to figure out a solution) around the Arch.” There would be a need, he stated, for something 25 feet long. “It has to be worked out so that emergency vehicles are able to get through.”

Bergman did not present any pictures, illustrations or diagrams of what he was proposing. And, in practice, a barricade would seem to be more of an obstacle than a chain.

Gil Horowitz supports this, allegedly speaks for all of 2 Fifth Avenue?

The first person to speak up in support of this was “Dr.” Gil Horowitz. Gil Horowitz comes out to speak when there are issues that threaten the George Vellonakis design in some way (of which he is a fan). Horowitz lives at 2 Fifth Avenue, has some position on the board there, and states that he is speaking for the building.

How can one person advocate for an entire building, on an idea before it is even presented?

Horowitz went on to say that “we” “support the idea of chains.” He stated that the original George Vellonakis design was set up to have gates” and “if maybe some day, some Board might want gates” … that it is still set up to happen. (He stated this repeatedly and spoke for longer than most people are allowed.)

He continued: “the bulk of people I represent near the park would like gates.”

One gentleman mentioned how homeless people had “set up camp at the park for a few weeks” (as a concern) and then also acknowledged that that is a separate question, “should a park be a refuge for homeless people…?”

The meeting swiftly moved on before this question could be engaged but it was a moment of contemplation that is largely absent from these meetings.

Bergman: Avoiding the “Controversy” of Gates? Fouratt: “Hard Fought Issue in Redesign”

Bergman said this was an attempt “to do this without the controversy of gates.”

He said the police have put forth this request, although notably when the NYPD came before the C.B. 2 Parks Committee a year or so ago, this was curiously absent from their discussion.

Community member/advocate Jim Fouratt said, “I’m opposed to it. The Community Board should hold a public meeting and not sneak it in like this. This was a hard fought issue in the redesign.

Fouratt also mentioned how the closing time of the park was supposed to be 2 o’clock, then it was 1 o’clock and now it is midnight.

He continued, “This is a public park. Many of us do not go to the Hamptons. It is nice to be able to sit in the park.”

Fouratt said, “Before we know it, it will become a fait accompli. … Putting a padlock is anticitizen.”

He asked the committee to hold a public hearing on the matter, not to put it forth in this way.

Parks Committee Shows Lack of Contemplation Related to Washington Square Park

Although no solid rationale or numbers were given as to any real problems with the current way of closing the park, Tobi Bergman, former Parks Department employee, and close ties remain, knew the time was right to put forth the idea of “chains.”

This blog mentioned that it could easily be “a slippery slope” to the installation of gates.

Sadly, no member of the committee asked any questions. When this blog also asked for illumination of any real issues, Bergman had no criteria to point to.

At the time of the vote, committee member Coral Dawson, quickly piped in, “I support this.”

Does Dawson even know what she is supporting?

Of course, it makes it trickier for the Board when the Chair presents the resolution.

Six years ago, the fence around Washington Square Park was 3 feet high

The larger issue: Is it a big deal if someone walks through the park after hours, sleeps on a bench, strums a guitar by the fountain?

Are we so far removed from (not that many) years back when the idea of the park (and all parks) being open 24 hours was just the norm?

It was only five to six years ago that the fences were 3 feet high.

Was our city that much different either of those times? Possibly in mentality, but, in safety, I don’t think so.

This is part of a continued push for conformity and rules and the sanitization of Washington Square Park.

And it is somewhat ironic, as current Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver pushes for his Parks Without Borders initiative.

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For additional background, see this April 6 WSP Blog post about the meeting as well as April 1st.