For over a dozen years, the community around Washington Square Park fought off the concept of a private conservancy at the Greenwich Village park. After witnessing the changes, the commercialization of its uptown neighbors Union Square Park, Madison Square Park and Bryant Park, park lovers wanted to avoid that fate for their iconic public space.
The fight had been successful; the park is managed and run to date by the city Parks Department.
However, over the last 3 years, ties have been added that threaten the character of the park and may lead to it following the path of the privatized parks: catering to real estate & corporate interests and wealthy donors, NYU, mutating into an overly programmed and commercialized, transforming it from a free-wheeling, unique space into a whole other overly programmed, sanitized organism.
The tie that has been added: the arrival and presence of a private “conservancy” (one that has said it really isn’t one).
The four affluent women who are the founding members of “Washington Square Park Conservancy” told the public at the one Community Board 2 “public hearing” in 2013 addressing their organization’s “formation” that they only used the word conservancy because every other name they looked at was taken. They realized there was “bias” against the word.
They side stepped, evaded and omitted any “murky” details in statements to the public that might be alarming or stop their C.B. “approval,” coached along the way by Bloomberg Admin Parks officials. They were just a “little friends’ group,” Chairman Elizabeth Ely said – and would remain so, aiming to raise funds and round up volunteers, nothing more.
Yet, documents later obtained by this blog tell a different story and called into question almost everything they said – and didn’t say.
A majority (but not all – it ultimately was a split vote) of Community Board 2 did not take public concerns seriously along the way.
The emails WSP Blog exposed documented plans (which they later denied, despite email evidence) for signing a license agreement with the city (which would hand them the reins), outlined extensive programming, including “theatrical productions and film festivals” for “park patrons,” noted meetings with higher ups at NYU about money, and showed they tried to figure out how much they could omit publicly when coming before the public. They were held back – somewhat – by public outcry once the documents were exposed.
But little by little, step by step, they have been working on inserting their footprint on the park.
As to what the issues are that invade and transmute the privatized parks, you only have to take a look at the agenda for tonight’s Community Board 5 Parks and Public Spaces meeting. Community Board 5 oversees the three parks I mentioned above, all privatized, all examples of some of the most egregious aspects of privatization of public space.
COMMUNITY BOARD 5 PARKS AND PUBLIC SPACE AGENDA
Monday, August 29th, 2016
at 6:00 pm
Bryant Park Corporation
111 West 40th Street #2400
- Mashable x DQ Snacks: marketing and tasting event with a photo booth in Union Square Park from 11AM to 3PM on September 13th, 2016.
- Vibram Arctic Grip Launch: consumer event to test a new no-slip shoe on ice in Union Square Park from 9AM to 6PM on October 3rd, 2016.
- Brayola Promotion: brassiere promotional event featuring a wind tunnel in Greeley Square Park from 2PM to 8PM on September 8th, 2016.
- JC Penney Ashley Nell Tipton Fashion Event, a fashion show and interactive event in Greeley Square Park from 7AM to 8PM on September 6th, 2016.
- Madison Square Park Conservancy presentation of King.com Ltd Promotion, an event to market a gaming app from 12PM to 8PM on September 21st and 22nd, 2016. The event would feature a 44-foot dome installation.
- Bryant Park Corporation [WSP Ed. note: this is the organization, a Business Improvement District, which runs the park] presentation of their 2016-17 plans for the [Ed. note: corporately-sponsored] Winter Village in Bryant Park
- Ralph Lauren Club Monaco Presentation, a model presentation in Union Square Park during New York Fashion Week from 10AM to 11AM on September 15th, 2016. [Ed. note: this item has been removed from the agenda.]
When I last attended a Community Board 5 Parks Committee meeting in 2013, I encountered a presentation by the Bryant Park Corporation with its plans at that “park” for the Super Bowl, including huge corporate presence featuring Verizon, Pepsi and Bank of America:
For beyond a Cliff Notes’ version of what has transpired to date with private conservancy at Washington Square Park, check out these links for more details:
You can also check out my series at the Huffington Post on privatization of public space.
The best thing the public can do to keep Washington Square Park non-privatized and the distinctive space it has been is to remain attentive and vigilant. Check back at this blog too!
Bottom photo: Cathryn