Part II: What Needs to be Done to Have a Functioning Washington Sq Park Task Force? #1: Separate from Community Bd 2

Washington Sq Park Fence Being Installed
Washington Sq Park Fence Being Installed

I’ve been grappling with how to tackle addressing the Washington Square Park Task Force following Part I last week in which I listed its purported “goals” and the NY elected officials who have actual representatives on it. I listened to audio tape of a meeting from July 2007. I attended the July 2008 meeting. I’ve spoken to members of the Task Force. The Task Force has a lot of good people on it who from the beginning wanted to have an impact but as Fusun Ateser, a member of the Task Force, told me recently, “we were not allowed to do anything.”‘

Task Force Linkage to Community Board 2

Part of the problem I believe is the close linkage of the WSP Task Force to Community Board 2. Presently, Brad Hoylman, Community Board 2 Chair is the co-chair of the Task Force with CB2 Parks Committee Chair Tobi Bergman. There are many capable people on the WSP Task Force – it does not need to be led by the Community Board.

Community Board 2 has already made its own share of mistakes around Washington Square Park — notably, approving the Parks Department’s redesign plan twice with insufficient data and despite widespread community disapproval. They ultimately rescinded their approvalalbeit on the third try.

There needs to be an independent body monitoring what’s happening at this Park and – barring some other organization appearing – that ought to be the Washington Square Park Task Force but not in its present incarnation.

At meetings, Mr. Hoylman and Mr. Bergman are adamant that the Task Force was only created to uphold the Gerson-Quinn “letter.” While others on the Task Force seem ready to go further, they are continually reined in by (Community Board 2 co-chairs) Hoylman and Bergman. In July ’07, when people tried to make resolutions, Mr. Hoylman stated that he “wanted to be sure it doesn’t resemble a Community Board resolution.” Therefore, resolutions were not allowed.

What would a Functioning Body look like?

I’ve seen how groups can function well – and also not function well. I believe the Task Force needs to be taken out of the hands of Community Board 2. We need people to continue fighting for this park. The people who comprise the WSP Task Force feel they have no power. This is a historic park. It is a landmark in New York City. It is a dynamic public space. It deserves to have people fighting for it – who will fight for it.

Problems with Washington Square Park Re-Design not caught by WSP Task Force

Example: The lamps in the park. I asked Ms. Atessur if the Task Force was ever shown two different lamps (which was supposed to be done – the Task Force has oversight on design “details”) and asked for their approval on them. She replied no. When I asked Brad Hoylman if they approved the choice of the lamps, he told me he thought so but never got back to me with a confirmation. The lamps being installed presently do not fit the character of the park. If they were not approved by the Washington Square Park Task Force, then what is the Task Force doing? This is part of their charge. Clearly, either the two co-chairs have too much on their plate or cannot give this proper attention. Control of the WSP Task Force needs to be removed from their hands.

Example: The fence. The fence (coming in is 4 feet high, as opposed to the more welcoming 3 feet that exists currently) is not supposed to have decorative spears or points on top (this is actually stated in the Gerson-Quinn Agreement). And yet – it does. (See photo above.) Is anyone looking after this? Isn’t this important?

There needs to be a point person from the Washington Square Park Task Force walking through that park regularly and monitoring each aspect. There needs to be a point person talking to the Parks Department. Now, unfortunately, if Council Member Alan Gerson is the designated elected official you go to if you are not getting answers from the Parks Department, then you may be in trouble because he will not rock the boat. But at least get the boat in the water!

Note: I am going to send this information to every elected official listed as involved with the Washington Square Park Task Force.

Washington Sq Park Fence Now
Washington Sq Park Fence Now

Top photo (fence being installed): Cathryn/WSP Blog
Bottom photo (girl with guitar sitting on fence): Louis Seigal

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4 thoughts on “Part II: What Needs to be Done to Have a Functioning Washington Sq Park Task Force? #1: Separate from Community Bd 2”

  1. hey, the new fence looks great. nice thin posts. not spear-topped but it will keep folks from sitting on it, so it will last longer and save us $ on repairs. afterall, it’s not a bench.

    personally, i don’t think we need less of a Task Force, but more other groups that decentralize the process. i hope that you’re starting your own team to rival the WSTF, and maybe others will pop up soon. the more oversight the better, and leave the CB2 Force out in the cold.

    the lamps? – i think you need to pick your battles. everyone wants the Park renovated. Everyone. it’s just a matter of how/why/what. lamp fights might seem to weaken your stands on the important matters. ty and good luck.

  2. Hi LewisR,

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

    I guess there are two schools of thought and many people like the idea that you *could* sit on the fence!

    I agree about other groups being needed … And more oversight the better. Want to get involved? We’ve been working with the Washington Square Community Improvement District (CID) concept and could push that further forward. Or another entity.

    I understand your argument on the ‘pick your battles’ but I really think the lamps are problematic. They are SO prominent and they set a tone. And, I think, the wrong one.

    Thanks for writing and stopping by the site! Send more feedback anytime.

    WSP Blog.

  3. I am sad to say that I have only just read about the redevelopment of Washington Square. I grew up in upper Manhattan and left New York City 50 years ago. However, I went to school at City and Country School on West 12th Street and I was a Boy Scout in Troop 318. We met weekly in the basement of one of the local area churches. Washington Square was an integral part of my childhood. Many of my friends lived in the Village and around the park. The park itself, in my mind’s eye, was/is a set piece from a Merchant-Ivory film. As a boy scout one of our projects involved labeling every unique tree in the park, of which there were many. The flora of the park are quite individual because there is a river beneath it that was paved over when it became the official grave yard and hanging-site of the young city. Owing to this flowing source of water, the trees are interesting. They are unusual for a cityscape. A decade later, after I graduated from college, I returned to the square just to look for those labels. Some were still there; time had not completely obliterated their presence. Now, I imagine they are long gone, a piece of my memory and part of the parks communal history. Regardless of the changes in its physiognomy, I hope the square and park will retain that intimate connection with the city and the local Community. Certainly, it was a key part of my young life.


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