Washington Square Park Task Force (and Community Board 2) Chair Jo Hamilton had requested that I put together my “list of questions” around Phase II and said she’d try to get answers. I stated that these were not my questions alone; people in the community had questions. Ms. Hamilton didn’t appear to grasp my repeated attempts to infuse more transparency into the process. I wasn’t trying to write a blog piece – I wanted the Task Force to do what it’s supposed to do (and I’d happily report on that).
Frustrated that I couldn’t get this concept across, I started to put together some semblance of a list. When I asked this community member what questions she had, she responded, “Well, it’s kind of hard. We’ve been given so little information – it’s hard to even know what the questions are.”
And there you have it. We’re in the middle of a multiple-year, $30 Million Dollar New York City project – a redesign of a historic landmark park in Greenwich Village – and all the bodies assigned oversight of the project (as outlined in Part I) have fallen asleep at the wheel.
So, here is my list of some of the unanswered questions plus information I’ve gathered including causes for alarm:
- OVER BUDGET – The Washington Square Park Redesign project was originally budgeted – all three phases – for $16 million TOTAL but Phase I alone cost that.What will Phase II – budgeted at $9 million – come to? With the delays in work and numerous changes as it proceeds, I’m guessing way over that. The park is nowhere near done and the cost is already $9 mil.
- COMPLETION OF PROJECT MONTHS BEHIND SCHEDULE – HELLO 2011? Projected date for Phase II’s completion was September 2010. The Villager reported that the Parks Department and contractor Tucci are working towards December 2010 but in all likelihood this project will be going into early-to-mid 2011. The reason: numerous design changes by the Parks Department, mismanagement by the city agency of some of the finer details of the project, and lack of oversight by the appropriate bodies.
- DYING TREES – Why do these same two trees around the Fountain keep dying? 2009’s newly planted trees died, were replaced, and now the replacements are dead in less than a year. If you’ll recall, the forty year old original trees that lined the fountain were chopped down to make way for the aligning of the Fountain with the Arch at Fifth Avenue. Could these repeated deaths be due to the re-designer’s error? I think so. (Look for a separate post on this later this week.)
- JUST HOW MANY TREES ARE BEING AXED IN PHASE II? – How many trees are being chopped down for the extensive work on the SouthWest, NorthEast and SouthEast Quadrants? No one knows. It hasn’t been revealed publicly. Since the blueprints were dropped off on a table with no explanation at the last Community Board 2 Parks Committee meeting, there’s been no discussion of this.
- WHAT WILL THE “NEW” MOUNDS LOOK LIKE? HOW TALL WILL THEY BE? – The Parks Department says the three Mounds — which seem to elicit a “love ’em or hate ’em” response — will be recreated at 5 feet tall (previously they were 6 feet) but the blueprints show them at 3.5 feet tall with an “elevation” of 26 inches. Call me confused. Of course, a public meeting would answer these questions. The original Mounds, created as part of the 1970 design, were considered an area of “spontaneous play.” In more recent years, they had been closed off to public use and were used in the winter for sledding.
- CABLE NET PLAY STRUCTURES FOR CHILDREN WITH 6 FOOT DROP? – The concept behind the “new” Mounds makes them part of a more extensive play area, including “Cable-Net Play” structures that the Mounds appear to take a backseat to. It’s rumored that the “cable-net play” structures (you know those steel structures we all grew up playing on that you climb across a bar up top) will be set up so children can fall into a 6 foot deep ‘hole’ underneath — which will be covered in artificial turf.
- CONTROVERSIAL ARTIFICIAL TURF ABOUNDS – Tho’ this was greatly opposed by the community, the entire area around the Mounds is swarming with dangerous artificial turf.
- WILL THE DOG RUNS REMAIN IN PHASE II? – It’s proving difficult for the dog runs (large dog run and small dog run) to be completed without interfering with the Parks’ administrative offices which border the area. Will the completion of the dog runs remain in Phase II? Everyone pretty much thought the dog runs were fine where they are now – but the Parks Department insisted on moving them onto the southern edge of the park.
- CHESS AREA – TREE IN THE WAY? NUMBER OF CHESS TABLES IN JEOPARDY? – The famed Chess area at the Southwestern quadrant is being made somewhat smaller. The plaza here, like every quadrant entrance, is circular. However, it was discovered recently, that, what worked on paper in George Vellonakis’ design, doesn’t in reality: the chess area diameter runs straight into an old tree. (Surprising they don’t just chop it down, eh?) The number of chess tables was supposed to remain at 19 but, with this new glitch, the chess tables may be reduced in number. Previously, the circle of this Quadrant included a ‘cut out’ for the tree, thereby making the “circle” not entirely symmetrical (can a circle be symmetrical? I’m not sure but you know what I mean… Apparently, yes.). This designer loves symmetry so it’s doubtful that’s going to happen here — throwing the number of chess tables into jeopardy.
- PATHWAY OBSTRUCTIONS – The pathway that enters at LaGuardia Place — that many use to walk past Garibaldi Plaza (previously included “Teen Plaza”/performance area) and head over to the NE side of the park — will only lead into the Fountain Plaza, blocked by the lawn and Performance Area. In addition, the pathway leading from the Fountain to the Eastern Side of the park, previously connected to this route, will no longer have a big, open feeling to it – impeded by a narrow path and a large planter.
- OTHER AREAS THAT ARE IN DESPERATE NEED OF REVIEW: GARIBALDI PLAZA/PERFORMANCE AREA, GARIBALDI STATUE, and CHILDREN’S PLAYGROUND (NorthEast) – also – SEATING ALCOVES, ALL THE PATHWAYS.
Many of these items are over budget, behind schedule and needing oversight primarily due to Parks Department changes to the plans, sometimes error and often mismanagement.
However, more alarming is the stunning lack of transparency by the New York City Parks Department coupled with the lack of supervision by anyone else. Most of this information has been kept as quiet as possible with the complicity of the very bodies, namely NY City Council, Community Board 2 and Washington Square Park Task Force, that are charged with the Park’s oversight.
The larger question — will any of this get a public airing? — remains to be answered.