What the “founding members” of the Washington Sq Park Conservancy want you to know — CB2 Parks Committee and Parks Department to Discuss Conservancy Wed. June 5th

The meeting details are here as far as the Community Board 2 Parks Committee meeting that will address the Washington Square Park Conservancy. Meeting will be held this Wednesday, June 5th:

Wednesday, June 5th, 6:30 P.M.- Lesbian and Gay Community Service Center, 208 W. 13th Street (between 7th and 8th Avenues), Room 301

*Presentation by and discussion with the Parks Department regarding the formation of a Washington Square Park Conservancy.

On the same topic, what follows is a letter that appears in this week’s Villager. It’s a bit curious. For one, why does this group  — the private Conservancy “founding members” — only use The Villager as a mode of communication? Two, what they outline might bring up fewer concerns if the new WSP Administrator (who does work for the Parks Department) was not also “executive director” of the Conservancy. That brings up a bunch of questions. Oh, and three, transparency in advance would have gone a long way.

Letters, The Villager, May 29, 2013

Clarifications on new conservancy

To The Editor:
We are Village residents who have joined together to support the Parks Department in its maintenance of Washington Square Park. We’ve heard rumors circulating, so we’d like to clarify a few things.

Over the past months we met with Parks, community leaders and neighbors to discuss this idea, all of whom encouraged us to proceed.

Our group is called the Washington Square Park Conservancy, which may surprise some people. Frankly, it surprised us, too, but other appropriate names were taken. And “conservancy” is just a word that “friends” groups adopt to indicate they raise funds to support parks. We envision an organization with broad representation, reflecting longstanding Village ties and passion for the park.

We have no formal agreement with the city. Jurisdiction over all activities in Washington Square Park — including setting policies, permitting events and managing staff — will remain with Parks.

Our mission is simple: Keep Washington Square Park clean, safe and beautiful. Our goal is to provide volunteer support and funds for maintenance and plantings. City budgets wax and wane. A committed group of neighbors can help smooth out these cycles.

We have already provided funding for a summer playground associate to organize children’s activities. We’d like to raise funds for late-evening maintenance staff. Beyond that, we want to be responsive to our community’s priorities.

We look forward to working together to help keep Washington Square Park enjoyable for all.

Elizabeth Ely, Veronica Bulgari, Gwen Evans, Justine Leguizamo
Founding board members, Washington Square Park Conservancy


If they have no “formal agreement” with the city then why was it kept (purposefully) so hush-hush? That phrase “clean, safe and beautiful” concerns me. They used that phrase in the New York Post article as well. They sound well meaning but as if they are representing some other park that is just not Washington Square Park. This is a park that has so much life within it and yet that is their prime focus. That brings along with it a very sanitized view that is not necessarily congruent with the park itself. Nothing against cleanliness of course! But …

More on Conservancy at WSP Blog here.

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4 thoughts on “What the “founding members” of the Washington Sq Park Conservancy want you to know — CB2 Parks Committee and Parks Department to Discuss Conservancy Wed. June 5th”

  1. They have board members, so they must have formal by-laws. Someone should obtain these and compare them to the by-laws of the Central Park Conservancy and the Bryant Park Restoration Corporation.

    Is this new accidental conservancy a 501-c(3) with the same mission statement scope as either of these other organizations, particularly wrt/ accepting management work for the park? If so, its not just a neighborhood group that’s just in the process of feeling its way forward, its a full blown, planned out in advance Conservancy.

    Do the by-laws grant any favored position to businesses, as the Bryant Park Restoration Corporation does? Are there provisions which could grant NYU special control, such as guaranteed Board seats, by way of allowing ‘business members’ guaranteed participation provided they buy in?

    Restricted donations are a serious issue. This allows donors to impose their will upon the actual physical nature of the park, and the activities going on within it. How will this conservancy permit such restrictions to be accepted or rejected *by the community* rather than just by the conservancy board and trustees?

    The CPC and BPRC both face the challenge that selection of their Trustees/Board members is optimized to be effective in networking to raise money. This new conservancy needs to answer the questions of how such a leadership, which could become overwhelmingly dominated by monied and politically powerful interests ‘for the sake of fundraising’ (take a look at the CPC trustee list for example) would allow any meaningful community or non-monied presence inside the conservancy, specifically on trustee and board seats (not just at ‘advisory input’ meetings where the final thoughts of long discussion are sprung on the public after all discussion is effectively over). Would this conservancy allow at least some trustees and board members to be nominated from and elected by an at large community membership base of the conservancy, rather than the usual self-appointed or mayor-appointed mechanisms for allowing people to be part of the governance?

    Finally, this conservancy, if it is positioning itself to take over the park management as the others have, needs to explain how it would write into its charter specifically worded provisions to protect the ‘non profit’ park uses against being crowded out by the ‘profit’ uses. Will fees be waived/minimized for users who are not running a profit making venture such as a music festival (BPRC has effectively blocked such users by quoting high use fees)? Will “take over this public space for private events” activities, allegedly in the name of fundraising, be confined to a limited absolute quantity of days per year and days of duration each, e.g. not be of long duration or almost total takeover, such as the Fashion Week activities at Bryant Park? And perhaps most importantly, will this conservancy specifically disavow in their charter any right of the conservancy to deny free speech gatherings such as protests because those activites somehow conflict with economic or ‘beautification/cleanliness’ etc. goals of the park management (‘no protesting the Iraq war on the great lawn, it would ruin it’).

  2. Great questions. Thank you! They bring up other questions … I had never heard of “restricted donations” before tho’ I knew at Union Sq Park a donation was made, I believe, but only if a restaurant was put in. So perhaps something like that…

    It is often said that the Tisches gave money ($2.5 million) towards the new fountain only if it was moved to align with the Arch (tho’ perhaps Bloomberg Admin used that ‘rumor’ to ‘help’ them do so) and perhaps can not even be moved ‘back’ until after a certain amount of time. Not sure if that is a rumor or not.

    If new conservancy is such a benign friendly neighborhood group, why be meeting in private with Parks? Why not join in with one of the other “friends” groups, etc. etc.? Many many questions.

    Thanks again.

    Can you come to the meeting tomorrow (6/5)?


  3. The idea of Banning Musicians from Washington Square Park makes as much sense as banning Squirrels from the park. Your “Conservancy” should be aware that your fountain (along with Central Park’s Bethesda fountain) have been gathering places for musicians since the sixties.

    The artistic community of the Village is the reason why there is still a Washington Square Park, in the first place. They stopped Robert Moses from having a highway going thru it! Check your History!

  4. Hi Danny,

    Good point re: the artistic community and community at large stopping traffic coming through the park against Robert Moses’ wishes.

    I think the Conservancy founders like the idea of music in the park — however, often seems to be the case, once people with different ideas and values and money have their ‘hands in’ something, they will see more and more of what they’d like to change.

    And the Bloomberg Admin itself has been particularly troubling on that issue and the curtailing of performances and artists. It is allowed right now.

    Best not to give any ideas about banning squirrels! 🙂



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