Chains of Fools? The Push for Gates & Conformity at Washington Square Park

Updated 4/22 11:35 a.m.

Tobi Bergman Community Board 2 Chair Manhattan
Tobi Bergman, CB2 Chair, makes his case

Woefully UnderPublicized Community Board 2 Parks Committee Meeting this Month Votes for Chain Closures at Washington Square Park, Full Board to Vote Tonight

Before Community Board 2 Parks Committee met earlier this month to discuss its “Proposal to install chains and signs for effective night time closing of Washington Square Park,” I wrote about my concerns about this vague agenda item believing this was really code for : gates, something the community fought against amidst the contentious redesign of the park.

Well, quite likely it is, if the meeting that was held April 6th is any indication.

It is important to remember that, not that many years ago, parks were open 24 hours. Less than 6 years ago, Washington Square Park had a 3 foot fence around it. The only reason that changed is the contentious Bloomberg Administration redesign.

Chains, Then Gates?

Previously, C.B. 2 Parks Committee Chair Rich Caccappolo has outright stated he thinks there should be gates at the park; Caccappolo was not involved in the Board at the time the battle over Washington Square was fought, neither were many of the current committee members. However, Community Board 2 Chair Tobi Bergman, a former Parks Department employee and often still advocating for the Parks Department, was.

Bergman was the one to present the idea for “chains” at the entrances at the park at the meeting to replace the current (and long standing) park “closures,” dubbed french barricades. This also would add signs stating, “Park Closed.” The chair stated that “the Sixth Precinct was unable to attend” (allegedly because they had to deal with the upcoming Bernie Sanders Rally) so he presented the idea (and rationale) for new closures at the park.

Every member on the Parks Committee voted for his resolution which will be brought up tonight at the full Board meeting. (6:30 p.m., 557 Broadway at Prince Street).

If not aesthetics, why the sudden need for a change never quite answered at meeting

There was no real reason given for some strong need to have different “closures” and signs at the park. Oh, except for… then it will be easier for the NYPD to arrest people if they are in the park after hours. Is this the kind of society we are aiming towards? This Community Board may be, although I do not think this is reflective of people, the larger community, in general.

No statistics were presented as to whether there is really some problem related to the way the park is closed now, such as too many people lingering in the park.

When asked by this blog, Bergman did not have any specifics.

Yes, the current french barricades are not the most attractive and may be cumbersome to move around to open and close the park however that is not the reason being given for this change, which opens up a whole lot of questions.

Bergman said that “I think it’s almost 10 years ago the Community Board approved the Washington Square Park redesign.”

Which actually is sort of true, and yet not true, since the Board later rescinded its approval in 2007 (somehow this has not been retained in the rewriting of the history of the park redesign). “We finally agreed there would be a fence but no gates.”

Bergman stated, “There was a reason people didn’t want gates; symbolically, they send a message.”

He continued, “The barricades look terrible. Someone comes along and moves it. The next person comes by, after the barricade is left open by someone else, and they are no longer doing something wrong.” (Hence, according to Bergman, the reason they cannot be ticketed/arrested.)

French Barricades at Washington Square Park
Closing up the park French Barricades

Bergman’s resolution proposes “stanchions with a chain.” The chain would be 6 feet 5 foot long chain. He added, “It’s more difficult (to figure out a solution) around the Arch.” There would be a need, he stated, for something 25 feet long. “It has to be worked out so that emergency vehicles are able to get through.”

Bergman did not present any pictures, illustrations or diagrams of what he was proposing. And, in practice, a barricade would seem to be more of an obstacle than a chain.

Gil Horowitz supports this, allegedly speaks for all of 2 Fifth Avenue?

The first person to speak up in support of this was “Dr.” Gil Horowitz. Gil Horowitz comes out to speak when there are issues that threaten the George Vellonakis design in some way (of which he is a fan). Horowitz lives at 2 Fifth Avenue, has some position on the board there, and states that he is speaking for the building.

How can one person advocate for an entire building, on an idea before it is even presented?

Horowitz went on to say that “we” “support the idea of chains.” He stated that the original George Vellonakis design was set up to have gates” and “if maybe some day, some Board might want gates” … that it is still set up to happen. (He stated this repeatedly and spoke for longer than most people are allowed.)

He continued: “the bulk of people I represent near the park would like gates.”

One gentleman mentioned how homeless people had “set up camp at the park for a few weeks” (as a concern) and then also acknowledged that that is a separate question, “should a park be a refuge for homeless people…?”

The meeting swiftly moved on before this question could be engaged but it was a moment of contemplation that is largely absent from these meetings.

Bergman: Avoiding the “Controversy” of Gates? Fouratt: “Hard Fought Issue in Redesign”

Bergman said this was an attempt “to do this without the controversy of gates.”

He said the police have put forth this request, although notably when the NYPD came before the C.B. 2 Parks Committee a year or so ago, this was curiously absent from their discussion.

Community member/advocate Jim Fouratt said, “I’m opposed to it. The Community Board should hold a public meeting and not sneak it in like this. This was a hard fought issue in the redesign.

Fouratt also mentioned how the closing time of the park was supposed to be 2 o’clock, then it was 1 o’clock and now it is midnight.

He continued, “This is a public park. Many of us do not go to the Hamptons. It is nice to be able to sit in the park.”

Fouratt said, “Before we know it, it will become a fait accompli. … Putting a padlock is anticitizen.”

He asked the committee to hold a public hearing on the matter, not to put it forth in this way.

Parks Committee Shows Lack of Contemplation Related to Washington Square Park

Although no solid rationale or numbers were given as to any real problems with the current way of closing the park, Tobi Bergman, former Parks Department employee, and close ties remain, knew the time was right to put forth the idea of “chains.”

This blog mentioned that it could easily be “a slippery slope” to the installation of gates.

Sadly, no member of the committee asked any questions. When this blog also asked for illumination of any real issues, Bergman had no criteria to point to.

At the time of the vote, committee member Coral Dawson, quickly piped in, “I support this.”

Does Dawson even know what she is supporting?

Of course, it makes it trickier for the Board when the Chair presents the resolution.

Six years ago, the fence around Washington Square Park was 3 feet high

The larger issue: Is it a big deal if someone walks through the park after hours, sleeps on a bench, strums a guitar by the fountain?

Are we so far removed from (not that many) years back when the idea of the park (and all parks) being open 24 hours was just the norm?

It was only five to six years ago that the fences were 3 feet high.

Was our city that much different either of those times? Possibly in mentality, but, in safety, I don’t think so.

This is part of a continued push for conformity and rules and the sanitization of Washington Square Park.

And it is somewhat ironic, as current Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver pushes for his Parks Without Borders initiative.

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For additional background, see this April 6 WSP Blog post about the meeting as well as April 1st.

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8 thoughts on “Chains of Fools? The Push for Gates & Conformity at Washington Square Park”

  1. There are a few points you have omitted in your reporting which apparently indicate bias toward your position of no gates /no fences.

    As reported in the meeting all city parks close at 1 am, why WSP however closes at midnight was not addressed. There appeared to be no deep disagreement with compliance to city park regulations.

    Homeless are offered shelters to live in. WSP is not a public campground.

    Homeless are somewhat different than those who elect to live a “traveler” lifestyle and set up camp in city parks. It is not permissible to: camp in a city park, to bring and erect furniture in a city park, to urinate and defecate on the lawns during such occupation.

    Additionally there are several children’s playgrounds in WSP, one should logically also consider the safety of children when transient encampments are made nearby a children’s facility. Are drugs, alcohol, unlicensed/unvaccinated animals present or worse unidentified criminal offenders?

    Chains were suggested with appropriate signage to better indicate that the park is closed. This is a clear indication that anyone entering the park after hours had committed a punishable offense. An open French Barricade may be ambiguous and is not a definitive statement. While a chain is not impenetrable barrier nor meant to be; the combination of signage and chain provide the legal utility for advice and enforcement. That was appoint made clear. Perhaps it is a better aesthetic than a gate or French barricade.

    Also discussed was the fact the park is significantly under patrolled, PEP officers are few and ill prepared to enforce. That fact was made apparent in the statement by the PEP officers that only 15 summonses were issued in a one-year period. That seemed to be addressed by the addition of new on-site PEP sergeant. It is very apparent there is a significant trash problem, rat problem, noise problem, destruction by skateboards grinding the public benches and a recent rash of painting residue on the monuments. We should look to improve the park’s environment not revert back a 70’/80’s era park when the park was in decline.

    I enjoy the park, respect the parameters of enjoyment and look forward to opportunity to better control park access for safety, aesthetics and preservation of neighborhood peace and quality of life

    I support the suggested option of chains and signage.

  2. The PEP officers are mostly useless. We see them exit the park by 2s and 3s for their breaks. They do not enforce the “no smoking” regulations and the smoking has gotten to be unbearable, especially marijuana that some people are allergic to. The restrooms are filthy and rarely is there toilet paper.

    Trash pickups seem to be more frequent. The noise level also seems to have decreased but the season is not yet in full swing.

    NYU students need to be informed that the park is a “public park” and not NYUs quad.

    Currently the acrobatic groups are performing in the fountain. When the fountain is turned on are these groups going to be allowed to block the circle for their acts?

    As you see all rules in the world do not mean squat unless they are enforced. I do not have confidence in the PEPs to do anything. Fences and gates are meaningless.

  3. In regard to Arch’s comment about the skateboarders damaging the stone benches. Arch is correct.

    The skate boards are erroding the polish finish on the stone. The benches are polished to prevent water infiltration. Without the polish water will seep into the stone, with enough freeze/thaw cycles the stone will spall and then fracture. This will not happen right away but it will happen.

    Not to mention the skateboarders are a hazard to people and dogs.

  4. Chains are just fine, especially if proper signage is added.
    There needs to be some better management to keep the park safe, clean and enjoyable for all. Its not unreasonable to expect the park closes at a given hour. Park management is negligent and the NYPD needs to step up its patrols, as PEP was only visible in the days immediately following this meeting but they have now gone back into hiding with Washington Square Park Administrator Sarah Neilson – who seems to be “the ghost administrator”.

  5. Not sure why the park needs to close at all. Chains and gates are NOT NECESSARY or DESIRABLE. Arch’s comment about children is a red herring. This is not really about encampments or dangers to children (always an argument to use when there is no other defense–WSP and NYC are not just for children). New York is a city of over 8 million people. We live and work differently, as is normal. We’re not talking about having lots of noise in the park. But quiet sitting on a late summer night? Just fine. Why do others object so strenuously? And why criminalize being in the park? It’s PUBLIC LAND.

  6. Hi, thanks everyone for this lively discussion and your comments.

    I do most closely agree with WSP Neighbor about the park and the way it should be viewed and Karen and others who are not looking for chains. I look at some of these changes as a way to step by step change the character of the park. Once it has changed, it will not go back. The essence of the park is pretty much unlike any other but it is in danger.

    Arch Guy you wrote that I left certain things out (as it is, there was a lot to cover) but CB2 Chair Tobi Bergman, who often advocates for things that either the Parks Dept or other interests (conservancy ladies perhaps?) are seeking, gave no real reason for the gates – he did not state it was due to homeless people or encampments. (And children are not in danger …that is not really the issue… Sometimes people * travelers* swing through briefly…) The most alluded to was someone walking through at night or being in there playing music or just lingering.

    Conveniently, the NYPD has never stated any problems at night in public. Comments are attributed to them and yet the one time the NYPD rep came before C.B. 2 Parks Committee, he said nothing about this, despite being prompted by Susanna Aaron from the committee.

    If people have nowhere to stay/live and they choose a park at night while it is un-utilized and do not damage or harm the surroundings, is that really so bad?

    Again, thanks for the comments!


  7. Also, Arch Guy and Artsy Girl re: skateboarders, it used to be skateboarding was allowed in the park. I believe early version of the Mounds encouraged skateboarding. So, yes, they are taking advantage now of the way the *new* design is laid out (which is somewhat ironic) to skateboard… the path leading up to Garibaldi, the benches, and not always entirely considerate, I agree. But why wasnt some accommodation made for skateboarders in the park?

    I agree also with Johnny on some issues with Sarah Neilson and her managing of the park; I would imagine that some of the behind-the-scenes and her having two roles (jobs) does not, in the end, help the park and the park administrator should work for the Parks Department only.

    Thanks again for your thoughts! I do appreciate them even if I disagree at times.



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