Part IV: Update on NYC's Redesign of Washington Square Park – It's All a Chess Game

chess lesson at washington square park
chess lesson at washington square park

At the recent meeting of the Washington Square Park Task Force, an entity convened by Community Board 2 and local elected officials, there were some items related to the redesign of Washington Square Park in future phases – it’s currently in Phase I – for which answers were not available.

Such as:

*Chess Tables – The famous Washington Square Park chess tables will remain in the southwest corner of the Park. However, based on the “Plaza” that has been constructed in the Northwest corner (all corner “Plazas” will basically look alike – it’s a symmetry thing), the Chess area square footage and public space will be significantly reduced.

I asked Park Administrator Rebecca Ferguson, representing the Parks Department at the meeting, how many chess tables there would be in the new design. It has been speculated that the number will be greatly reduced. She did not have an answer.

*Alcoves – On the northeast, east and southeast sections of the park, there are small alcove sitting areas that add greatly to the charm of the park. They contain smaller groups of people but are used for people watching, reading, quiet conversations, playing guitar. A little removed from the main activity but not too much. The sentiment at the meeting was that these areas should be saved. The present plans call for these areas to be demolished. Steve Simon, Manhattan Borough Parks Department Chief of Staff, commented, “Nothing’s been finalized [but we] have to mirror the pathways built in Phase I.”

As with many comments delivered by the New York City Parks Department, the question remains : Why ?

*Trees14 trees were chopped down in Phase I of the redesign of the Park. This included the trees that lined the fountain — the City states that in order to dig up the foundation around the plaza, the trees had to go — but a good portion of them were just in the way of the redesign. I advocated at the meeting that the Parks Department begin to work existing trees into their design plans.

When asked how many trees were being chopped down in the remaining phases, Rebecca Ferguson stated that she did not know. She said that the Parks Department is conducting an “ongoing survey” (by an arborist) of the health of the trees. However, the issue – when New York City Parks Department redesigns a city park – typically is not the deteriorating health of the trees. Consistently the reason for the destruction of the trees is that they are inconvenient for the new look and splashy overhaul.

At Union Square Park, 14 trees on the North side were chopped down in May. These mature trees clearly could have been worked into the playground design. They were viewed by the Parks Department – the caretakers of our trees – as expendable. Parks Commissioner Benepe told me in April that the Union Square trees headed for the chopping block were all “dying.” One day later, in court, the City admitted that just two of the trees were possibly at risk due to ‘health’ issues. The rest were fine.


Stay tuned… there’s more!

Read Parts I, II and III below to catch up.

Here’s the next installment. Part V.

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