Jackson Square Park, Then & Now (Privatization)

Armani Exchange
Is this big sign really necessary?

Jackson Square Park, in the West Village off 8th Avenue, used to be a really quiet, sleepy park that not too many people went into and mostly homeless or people down on their luck, so to speak, utilized. I wasn’t a ‘park goer’ at the time I lived near by but the park has been refashioned and spruced up in recent years to match its surrounding neighborhood with the advent of the shiny, glass condo building now across from it, One Jackson Square.

In the fall of 2008, as the glass condo was being built, Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York wrote about the make over of the park and the organization behind it. I forgot there used to be a parking lot in that space! When you go by now, it’s hard to even imagine. There is a TD Bank and a Starbucks on the lower level now.

The organization that looks after the park now is a private entity, the Jackson Square Alliance. The endless privatization and corporatizing of our public spaces, as regular readers know, makes me uneasy – and for good reason. As someone astutely stated: “More private, less public.” As it happens more and more, we become conditioned to expect everything to have some commercial aspect to it. Former Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe was the enforcer of this during his reign; that’s what Mayor Mike Bloomberg wants.

From Vanishing New York 2008:

As reported before, it seems like [Jackson Square] park has been sort of “adopted” by the condo. Formerly (and still) a park known for its rough-around-the-edges populace, homeless men and women, disaffected queer kids, etc., Jackson Square has been getting cleaned up, wired up, and greened up for its debut as the front yard for condo One Jackson Square.

Who is the Jackson Square Alliance? Says the Daily News, it’s “a nonprofit comprising local residents and businesses,” and their president “is vice president of Hines Interests, the firm leading development of One Jackson Square.”

What are the implications when a private, luxury-based company forms a non-profit to “adopt” a public space for the purpose of improving their own profits? How about when they hire guards who also happen to be public servants? [WSP Blog note: “public servants” equal Parks Department PEP – Park Enforcement Patrol – this may have been at the time to ‘clean up’ the park]

It’s worth thinking about what this means and where it could go. If only certain types of people are allowed to visit a public space, can it really be considered public? Are there forms of back-door privatization?

New York Daily News, July 2008, Local Alliance spurs a turnaround at West Village Park:

Mary Vaccaro knows almost all the angles of Jackson Square Park.

For the past 10 years, she has painted the view from every corner of her neighborhood park and has gotten to know most of the homeless people who’ve hung around there. Among those, the 46-year-old Jane St. resident recalls Donna Rossomando and the “guy from the South” – each of whom no longer calls the park home.

In the past year, drunks and the homeless have been ushered out by the Parks Department. Flower beds have replaced dying trees; litter, especially the number of broken bottles, is down. The number of people using laptops in what’s now a Wi-Fi hot spot is up. Visitors to the park carrying Balducci shopping bags are now a common sight. …

Since its formation, the JSA has installed an irrigation system, replaced benches, replanted about $100,000 worth of flowers and plant materials and made wireless Internet available to park visitors. The organization also replaced some of the park benches with the $50,000 it raised.

It would be interesting to catch up with Mary Vaccaro now to hear her impressions. Of course, we don’t want people breaking bottles and peeing in our parks but that’s not all those people were doing, the ones no longer there – no longer welcome. I’d imagine they used the park as their connection to the world, to their friends. Shouldn’t there be some happy medium — all types of people allowed? And birds and squirrels?

Shouldn’t people be allowed to feed birds and squirrels? That sign (last photo, above) is the biggest sign I’ve ever seen admonishing feeding. Does the anti-feeding sentiment go hand-in-hand with shiny glass buildings, along with perhaps an inability to appreciate and maybe help your local wildlife? 

On the conservancy’s (that’s basically what the Jackson Square Alliance is – a conservancy) web site, they mention “replacing aging trees” as part of their “mission.” What if these trees are still living and breathing and managing quite well? Yet they are “aging,” so apparently that means they just get replaced. Sort of like that parking lot … replaced with a shiny, glass, imposing, unattractive – but new – building.

Does it seem like when these conservancies are put in place, taking over the job of our city’s Parks Department, it also seems to equal a sort of bland, one-size-must-fit-all type of living? 

As VNY wrote: “If only certain types of people are allowed to visit a public space, can it really be considered public?”


Further thoughts on the bird feeding issue: I am sure the Jackson Square Alliance has people coming in to sweep up, so, if feeding of birds and squirrels — I think the squirrels may be long gone — was permitted before 3 p.m., any leftover bird seed could be swept up at 4 p.m. or afterwards.  And my suggestion for would-be bird feeders is to go there to feed the sparrows – apparently that is allowed. And if a few pigeons or squirrels get some food, well, that’s out of your control. The sparrows seemed quite hungry by the way last time I was there. I remember years back a bird feeder outside a three or four story townhouse on nearby 13th Street but I don’t see any now.

 Previously at WSP Blog:

Privatization, Concessions, and New York City Parks

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