Threat of Privatization Places Storied Public Space at Risk for Sanitized Change
Apart from Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, Washington Square Park has been New York City‘s second most popular protest spot in the Trump era* with rallies occurring on a constant basis.
Can you imagine the park not used for this purpose? Perhaps a restaurant placed within it… the musicians silenced … events with corporate sponsors programmed non-stop .. the Greenwich Village space increasingly closed off to the public … and protests a thing of its past?
Elements of each of these scenarios have happened at the other city parks, including Madison Square Park, Bryant Park, Prospect Park, and Central Park, which are all privatized parks run by “public-private” “partnerships.” The privatized parks are rarely used for hosting the type of political actions and rallies for which Washington Square Park is known.
Once city parks are privatized, their very essence changes over time: corporate, real estate, and Wall Street influences gain sway. Commercialization runs rampant. Viewed as expensive gardens with “social capital” to be expended; they are exceedingly programmed – the parlance is that they need to be “activated” – then needing more and more activities and funds to feed the privatized beast: the very thing that makes them less public.
An example is Central Park. As described on the Central Park History web site which outlines the fall out with the arrival of the Central Park Conservancy:
“Central Park, which had once served as a monument to a more activist state and an expansive vision of the public good, was now to provide a testing ground for an experiment in narrowing the public sector.”
Whatever positives may be viewed with the advent of the private Central Park Conservancy, it is important to note the negatives that came along with the privatized influence. Central Park is no longer a go-to spot for actions and events as it apparently once was. Could this happen to Washington Square Park?
Privatization threat at Washington Square Park Looms
For over 20 years, Washington Square Park has been run by the city Parks Department with a publicly paid park administrator. Yet, a conservancy “in name only” was formed recently behind closed doors. Without community input, pushed through in a sneaky, “murky” manner, this Washington Square Park Conservancy has been seeking to gain more turf, and the threat of sanitized change at the park is imminent.
The private organization was allowed to place a sign trumpeting itself at the park’s very gates recently, they are hiring more staff, planning more events, sending email pleas the park is struggling for money (it’s not).
Held back for now due to emails and documents uncovered by this blog revealing the founding members’ true, larger plans – plans never presented to the public – they are currently just biding their time.
The ultimate goal: to procure a “license agreement” (revealed in the FOIL – Freedom of Information Letter – emails, link below) allowing the conservancy’s four affluent women founders to run and manage the park, channeling Washington Square Park into a pristine, sanitized (but very much programmed) garden.
If you value Washington Square Park as a protest hub and activist space, stay vigilant, in more ways than one!
Photos February 21, 2017 Day of General Strike Rally: Cathryn
*Not based on data tracking, but observation
Previously at Washington Square Park Blog: