Info on Phase II construction here.
Phase III (currently ongoing) here.
February 26, 2008
You’ve heard of the city’s plans to spend $16 million to “renovate” the world-famous Washington Square Park. Most New Yorkers think that the Park was fine the way it was, with just a few repairs and maintenance needed. With the costs now spiraling upwards to $25-30 million, the question is “Why?”
It’s a tale of money and power clashing with the will of the people, and every time one layer of corruption is uncovered, another lurks just below the surface.
If you walk by Washington Square Park right now, the Arch and Fountain area are off- limits, gated and shut, surrounded by a 10-foot fence. Each pole exhibits the stamp: “Made in China.” The 50 year old trees that lined the fountain have been chopped down. The historic circular fountain — the site of numerous impromptu and free musical performances and political rallies — has been dismantled. The ghosts of NYC’s most influential dissidents and cultural icons like Jane Jacobs (who successfully challenged Robert Moses’ plans to erect a highway through the West Village, among numerous other causes that she took on related to the use and misuse of public space), Bob Dylan (who lived down the block on Macdougal Street), Dave Van Ronk, and Peter, Paul and Mary and current performers like Dave Chappelle and Whoopi Goldberg are being buried in the rubble.
The bulldozed paths lead straight to Mayor Bloomberg. And the pretexts that the Mayor and his Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe provide are coming right out of the playbook of of the corrosive Manhattan Institute, “think-tank” for the City’s retrograde policies and long the nemesis of the interests of the public.
The pretext: They say they want to align the fountain with the Arch.
In the 1890s, Washington Square Park designer Stanford White purposefully kept the two unaligned, and that way has worked just fine – thank you very much – for over a century. About this magnificent fountain, Jane Jacobs writes: “In effect, this [fountain] is a circular arena, a theater in the round, and that is how it is used, with complete confusion as to who are spectators and who are the show.”
The reality: They are cutting away public space to control public gatherings and un-permitted performances.
To accomplish this they are:
• Digging up 18th Century and 19th Century burial grounds
• Ruining the historic nature of the park
• Chainsawing 40 to 80-year-old trees (14 cut down thus far. Plans allow for more to be felled.)
• Fencing in the Park
• Removing the famed chess tables (and rebuilding SOME of them elsewhere)
• Dismantling the large circular Fountain, which also serves as public rallying venue, rebuilding it in a much smaller version eight yards away with vast reduction of the ad-hoc seating
* Renaming the fountain (a plaque on each side) for the billionaire Tisch Family media tycoons … after the Tisch family contributed $2.5 million to the Mayor’s Fund.
• Adding lawn space — more “picture perfect” for NYU’s graduation ceremonies.
• Narrowing the public walkways
In a true example of “greenwashing,” the Parks Department states that it is making these drastic changes to add “more green space.” This is in direct contrast to Mayor Bloomberg’s tree and “sustainability” p.r. initiative, since this involves unnecessarily cutting down many mostly old and stately trees. (In case they hadn’t heard, trees are more “ecological” than grass.)
WHO IS BEHIND THE DESTRUCTION OF THIS MAGICAL PARK?
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe are spearheading the dramatic changes and privatization of our beloved Washington Square Park and it is difficult not to implicate NYU in the scheme – not just a university, but one of the largest corporations and real estate barons in New York City. Community Board 2 originally approved of the Mayor’s “initiative” but later rescinded its approval. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and City Council Member Alan Gerson raised a few concerns but, after receiving sizable financial contributions, have promoted the Mayor’s plan – a perfect example of the corruption of public officials and the political process. (Originally, the Parks Dept. wanted to make all benches in the park “backless,” but that was changed after protest.) And NYU, which is attempting to purchase all buildings surrounding the Square, wants the Park as its sanitized jewel for graduation ceremonies and its own private functions.
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A study of Washington Square Park in 2005 by the Project for Public Spaces noted, “Washington Square Park is one of the best known and best-loved destinations in New York City. And as a neighborhood park and civic gathering place, it may be one of the great public spaces in the world. Anyone who visits the park and who looks at how people use it can confirm in just a few minutes that it has nearly all of the key attributes of a great public space. … It’s success can also be measured by other indicators such as the amount of affection that is being displayed, it’s overall comfort and feeling of being safe, the level of stewardship, and the way that people engage in different activities at very close range and interact with each other easily.”
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WSP Blog Correspondence With the Parks Commissioner:
The New York Times Story: The Battle for Washington Square
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