The Soul of Washington Square Park: What the NYC Parks Department Left Out of their Redesign Plans

While looking up articles on Washington Square Park earlier this year, I came across a research paper by a student at SUNY(State University of New York) Syracuse College of Environmental Science and Forestry entitled: “Searching for the Soul of Washington Square Park: Employing Narrative, Photo-Voice and Mapping to Discover and Combine Pragmatic Issues of Urban Park Design with a Community’s Emotional Needs” (May 2007). It was written by Yamila Fournier as a senior project.

Spending time at Washington Square Park working on her research, Ms. Fournier interviewed Park users as well as Parks Department “officials.” She investigated people’s routines at the Park and what they loved about it as a public space. She explored what the Parks Department procedures are for redesign of a park (the answer: there are no protocols in place).

As she delves into the history and process of the redesign of Washington Square Park and the interactions between government agencies and the community, she ties together themes in ways that have not been fully explored elsewhere. I have excerpted parts of it here.

Excerpts from “Searching for the Soul of Washington Square Park” (note: the formatting is all mine. It’s a 52 page+ paper so this is condensed.):

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When the idea to renovate Washington Square Park was first introduced, the general consensus was that the park is in need of much repair.

That is where all agreement ended. Since the plans for the redesign were unveiled in 2001, there has been no harmony.

The proposed redesign specifies:

*a closable 4′ fence around the perimeter;
*bringing the central fountain up to grade with the road;
*moving the central fountain 22′ to the east to create an axial relationship with the newly renovated arch;
*relocating dog runs;
*enlarging playgrounds;
*adding an adventure playground to replace the highly contentious mounds;
*creating a new building for Parks Department offices and equipment;
*relocating statuary;
*eliminating seating areas;
*adding light fixtures; and
*renovating bathrooms, among other changes.

Every portion of the design has its critics. One thing that almost all the critics can agree on is that the community felt left out of the design process.

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