Is Washington Square Park still equipped for large rallies after controversial Bloomberg Administration-era redesign?
The Bernie Sanders Rally this Wednesday, April 13th will be a testing ground of sorts for Washington Square Park as a site of large rallies once again. The park will be closed all day in advance of the Presidential candidate’s event until two entrances open to the public at 5 p.m. on the southern end, east and west. All park lawns and plantings are fenced off and the Fountain will be off limits as well.
The controversial and contentious Bloomberg-era redesign of the park — primary construction took place over seven years beginning in late 2007 and is still ongoing with sidewalk repairs — reduced the public space on the famous Fountain Plaza by 23 percent, making the Greenwich Village park less welcoming for the large rallies and protests which had been part of its long history.
Thus far, 17,000 people have RSVPd for the Sanders rally via the event Facebook page.
The event begins with music at 7 p.m.
Additional information about the Bernie Sanders Rally has been released and Map to navigate the park can be found at this WSP Blog page.
When queried last week at a Community Board meeting what the “maximum amount” of people the park could hold for the rally, Washington Square Park Administrator Sarah Neilson curiously could not say. She said it was for the NYPD to “decide.” Neilson stated they were expecting “north of 7,000, less than 10,000 people” at the time.
Washington Square Park Shrunk During Contentious Redesign; Recent Rallies Denied Use
Discovered amidst a lawsuit hoping to stop the park redesign was information that the Parks Department plans would result in a 23% reduction in public space on the Fountain Plaza. The re-designer had previously told the Community Board the reduction would be 5%.
In 2010, it was announced that, after 32 years, NYU would never again be able to hold graduation ceremonies in the park as it was confirmed that the redesigned space could only hold 14,000 people instead of the 19,000 previously accommodated (around the Arch/Fountain Plaza/lawns).
In 2011, a Veterans Day Rally with folk icon Joan Baez, originally set for Washington Square Park where Baez has a history, was denied access to the park and relocated to Foley Square. When contacted, attorney Norman Siegel, who negotiated with the Parks Department, told me that he was informed the space was not equipped for large rallies anymore.
Prior to the redesign of the park, in 2007, Presidential candidate Barack Obama held a rally in Washington Square Park with an estimated 20,000 people in attendance. (At that time, the park closed at 12 noon, not all day, and it sounds like the Fountain was accessible from this Villager article.)
Planning the April 13th WSP Event; the Mayor Gets Involved
On April 4th, Mayor Bill de Blasio, an NYU alumnus, inserted himself into the mix to make an April 14th debate between Democratic Presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton happen, writing to the candidate via Twitter:
Previously, the Parks Department had issued the Sanders campaign a permit for April 14th at the park, reportedly stating this was the only date available. It is uncertain why so limited as there are no other events going on. The date was then moved to the 13th after the Mayor got involved.
NYU Graduate Informs University Publication that Washington Square Park is NOT “Basically NYU’s Campus” & to “Be Careful with that Stuff”
On April 5th in a piece posted at NYU Local about the confirmed Sanders Rally in Washington Square, the online outlet wrote:
An alumnus of the school responded in a comment:
Love the commenter who writes, “Right On! WSP is the people’s park” which may be why, against all odds, a Bernie Sanders Rally is happening tomorrow (4/13) at Washington Square Park, reclaiming, in a sense, its history.
Previously at Washington Square Park Blog: