It’s hard to know where to begin to describe last Thursday’s (May 28th) Ribbon Cutting Ceremony at Washington Square Park which marked the “official” ceremony celebrating the reopening of the long-under-construction NW Quadrant and Fountain Plaza. It was a well planned event with food and drinks and music and speeches by elected officials and other community and business association members. But … who knew there were Parks Department flags, trucks, suitcases, tents? Parks Department flags lined the entire Plaza around the Fountain. Clearly, NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe wanted to make certain without a doubt that, at the end of the day, they were happy with what they accomplished – despite a muddled and often questionable “process” along the way.
I almost titled this blog entry: “Spin. Spin. Spin.” Because the overarching theme of each person’s speech was that everyone in the end worked together and the Fountain Plaza has been consistently packed since the Opening Day the week prior therefore the whole project is … a success! And not that it isn’t … (I think there are good things with the redesign and questionable things..) but there’s so much more to the story that the fact that there was such an intentional emphasis on this one repeated theme felt unnecessary and uncomfortable to me.
Let’s just be honest. At this point, can’t the Parks Department concede a point or two? But that that was not to be was apparent with my reading pre-ceremony of the Parks Department press release titled, “Community Celebrates Re-Opening of Washington Square Park.” Yes, there were community members there but it was really more about the elected officials citing how they and “the community” worked together to help smooth over any disgruntlement (apparently, according to one speaker, to reach “consensus”) and … basically… we were all the better for it.
But back to this notion that a packed Fountain Plaza equates that the “renovation” (i.e., redesign) of Washington Square Park is a success. Other than the gray day that appeared on the day of the ribbon cutting, the previous week had been quite been stunning weather-wise… Why wouldn’t people want to be gathering on a plaza in Greenwich Village around a (famous) Fountain…? Is that so unusual? (We live in a city with 8 million people and who knows how many tourists coming through at one time…)
I sat there one day the week the Park opened with my computer (no WiFi … but I actually don’t think there should be WiFi in Parks although it would be nice at times and it certainly would make my life easier…) around the Fountain and I really enjoyed sitting there. Do I still have concerns about the design…? Yes.
Some comments made at the ceremony:
Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe:
This is a special park and a special celebration today.
George Vellonakis spent a lot of time in the park. The project had to be explained again and again.
Along the way, there were some lawsuits. You don’t do anything in New York without a lawsuit.
The park is 20% greener now… we took a lot of the paving out.
Most of the mail we get isn’t positive. [then reads two positive letters received about the park]
NY City Council Speaker Christine Quinn
All the yelling was worthwhile… made the park more beautiful, more usable.
Always designed with the community in mind.
We have to thank NYU who has been a great partner in this.
NY City Council Member Alan Gerson
In my lifetime this is the third renovation I’ve lived through. Striking the right balance is essential. Everyone who argued, everyone who screamed, everyone who took part… [all led to this moment].
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer
Adrian Benepe is a piece of work. … He’s done an amazing job as Parks Commissioner. With community collaboration, great things can happen.
Village Alliance (local Business Improvement District) President Honi Klein
7 1/2 years ago started planning for the [renovation of the] park.
I was here Tuesday – Opening day. Washington Square Park is iconic … known for everything and anything goes. On Tuesday, there were more people here than you could possibly imagine.
Washington Square Association President Anne-Marie Sumner
There are natural tensions between the Parks Department and the Community [but we have a] magnificent result. A painters’ paradise.
Community Board 2 Chairperson Brad Hoylman
I think we reached the best conclusion for the space.
* Part I: Ribbon Cutting Ceremony for Phase I Opening in Photos June 1, 2009
Since Parks are being scaled back left and right (according to a story last week in the New York Post) due to budgetary concerns, will Washington Square Park be next?