Some Thoughts on Completion of Phase I Washington Sq Park Redesign … And A Rainbow in the Fountain!


Rainbow in the Fountain Wednesday afternoon May 20th, 09
Rainbow in the Fountain Wednesday afternoon May 20th, 09

More thoughts on the newly opened, reconfigured Washington Square Park Phase I, which, as you most likely know, involved moving of the Fountain 23 feet east to align with the Arch … coming next week.

However, I think it’s important to give it a minute and see how it all works together before making quick judgments. All the press I’ve read thus far speaks as if people somehow thought a newly renovated park wouldn’t look … nice? It seems to me the long standing dispute between a large portion of the community and NYC government/Parks Department has made the situation confusing – for most – to assess.

As you most likely know, I have critiques of the NYC Parks Department. However, I did not question that they could pull off a nice-looking park. Some of the design aspects Park re-designer George Vellonakis pointed out to me on Tuesday, Phase I’s Opening Day, may work well (I’ll get into some of them another day). However, there are still serious questions that arise.

Yes, the Park looks pretty. But it had also been allowed to fall into serious disrepair. A lot of time, money and thought went into the last 16 1/2 months while the NW Quadrant and Fountain Plaza were closed – attention that hadn’t been given to Washington Square Park, a world famous park in New York City, in years. Why?

Some questions to ask are :

* did the City integrate key public input into the process? was there purposeful evasiveness and lack of transparency to avoid doing so?

* does the space work without losing the unique character it had by becoming sanitized ?

* why was the Park allowed to fall into such disrepair?

* are private interests driving some of the decisions?


Oh, and I’ve been wondering, why do only children go in the Fountain… what stops the adults?

Note: Blogging Break ’til Tuesday, May 26th. Unless I appear with some new photos, news or random thoughts on Monday. We’ll see how that goes.

Have a great weekend.

See you at the Park..?

Photo: Cat

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5 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on Completion of Phase I Washington Sq Park Redesign … And A Rainbow in the Fountain!”

  1. Still a bit angry? The park looks better than nice. It looks great! A showpiece, something all of us locals can be proud of. I only hope that we and the city can keep it looking this fantastic for years to come.

  2. Hi Dave,

    is it “anger” to look closely at something … to wonder why it transpired the way it did… to think the public should play a role in a “public” space in New York City?

    There are a lot of new people coming to the Park and here who may have no idea of what the issues were. Do we just forget history?

    I think the park looks pretty. I am happy the NW Quadrant is open. But it would have looked pretty maintained also. I’m not taking away from the thought that was given to the design whether I agree with aspects of it or not. Yet it’s important to remember that a maintained Washington Square Park, as it was, with green lawn and new flowers and un-cracked pathways, would have looked great. Right now the contrast is so big. If you put new lawn, flowers and paths on the section not yet touched, it would look really nice.

    I don’t think this “process” needed to play out the way it did and that falls on the New York City Parks Department.

    And you raise a good question. Will four years from now the park be allowed to fall into disrepair ? Let’s hope not.

    WSP Blog.

  3. Cathyn – Its clearly not anger to look, and you helped many of us do just that and make note of every detail (thanks again). What I think could be interpreted as “anger” is to move to obstruct when things don’t go your way. The courts ultimately directed Parks to maintain its course. To say it didn’t have to “play out this way” seems a little disingenuous. The record shows there was very little in Parks plan acceptable to the objectors.

    Private interests are many and subjective. You are careful to say that your desired course of repairs would have been “great” or “look really nice” yet at no point do you contend they are equivalent to Parks plan.

    Perhaps the lesson to be learned is to look deeper next time. Nothing Parks originally put forth was new in spirit. This project did not exist in a vacuum. The city has been systematically restoring our parks in the fashion now revealed AGAIN in part in Washington Square. Glad you are very pleased!

    This blog was a rallying point for a group that did not have its suggestions accepted and then moved to obstruct the project, attempting to remove it from the well known program that has re-made Central Park, Madison Square, Union Square, City Hall and other parks into newly renewed community assets.

    Looking is one thing. What went on here was something entirely different. What was welcome democratic dialogue when the initial suggestions were heard turned into unnecessary court battles and flogging of well intentioned public officials. In my view, a dramatic waste of public resource. As a taxpayer I’d rather have my Parks officials working on Parks and not answering lawsuits.

    That said, you now seem ready to go bury the hatchet with the Parks administration. Perhaps its time to become a strong advocate for their fine product and hardworking personnel.


  4. Ray…

    I can’t even address all of your points because we are coming from such different perspectives … And that’s okay. I appreciate that you read my blog and give your perspective.

    I would like to see “my Parks officials” telling the truth and responding to community input and then maybe lawsuits wouldn’t be necessary. The lawsuits were not frivolous.

    Each park is different. Only Union Square comes close to the ‘purpose’ and ‘spirit’ of Washington Square and the City really didn’t mess with Union Square too much even amidst several renovations. (Except now with the whole restaurant issue but even so…)

    I have no hatchet. I am not burying it. I will still be critical of the Parks Department when I feel it’s necessary to speak out about things they do.

    If I wasn’t clear, yes, I believe the Park would have looked just as nice completely renovated ‘as is’ with some new tinkerings (fence, paths, green lawn, flowers, lights, etc.) and maintenance … the main thing people are responding to is the ‘newness’ and also the ‘access.’ That’s what I mean by it being hard for people to assess. It’s pretty, yes. I appreciate the work that went into the design but I think it has flaws and we could have gotten here on a different path.

    Thanks for commenting, as always.



  5. Cathryn,

    I agree with your frustration about the awful lack of community input into the renovation.

    And while the new Park may look “better than nice,” it is not Washington Square.

    The unique sunken performance space invited people to come down and join the fun – you had to make a conscious decision to enter, and once you did you were a part of the action. Now it’s just a wide open space that people walk through on the way to someplace else. The loss of the old trees is particularly tough.

    Also, there were places in the original sunken area where you could step back from the activity and just observe – places where you had a sense of privacy in the midst of all the chaos. Those are all gone.

    The new space isn’t terrible, it’s not the wonderful, unique space it was. Actually, it feels like a Disneyland recreation of Washington Square, not the real thing.

    And the new fence sucks.


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