Mounds Join Dead Fountain Trees With Drainage Issues at Park | Winter: Bring Back the “Temporary Sledding Structures” Idea?

washington square park mounds rain impacts
Ahh… the Mounds. The Mounds were part of the 1970s Washington Square Park design, removed in the initial Bloomberg Administration redo plans, and only exist now at the park because community advocates and former City Council Member Alan Gerson fought for their inclusion.

What was constructed in their place was not exactly the “Mounds” but a shortened, more child-oriented version which also has become a parents-gathering spot. In truth, the very first incarnation of the Mounds (sometimes referred to as The Three Hills) did have play equipment on them, but that was changed at some point, and that is not what the “Hills” became known for. It was for playing, skateboarding, running, and sledding in the winter until they were closed off for the longest time, still used for frolicking when snow fell.

They were a place of “spontaneous play,” and, although the new version is quite different, the good thing is that they remain a place of spontaneous play – something the former Parks Department would not have included without community pressure.

And they are a hit… despite the fact that they are covered in harmful artificial turf.*

Now, like the arborcide of the repeatedly dying trees around the fountain, the Mounds and that artificial turf are being impacted by rain, not draining properly, and deteriorating.

Is something up with drainage in the redesigned park?

The history of the Mounds:

The Mounds were created during the 1970’s design of the Park and were part of an “adventure playground” for older children. Ten years after they were installed, the Parks Department paved them over with asphalt, a substance, according to Mounds advocates, they were not meant to be covered in, and it led to a decline in their appearance as it broke down.

The linked footage is from the documentary, Square: Straightening Out Washington Square Park. The first person speaking is the Parks Department’s (controversial) landscape designer George Vellonakis. Later in the piece, sitting at a table with advocates for the Mounds, you’ll encounter City Council Member Alan Gerson informing people – at a point when it did not look like the Mounds would be saved – that temporary sledding structures would be brought to the Park in the winter to counteract the loss of the Mounds for that usage.

Thus far, the Mounds have been saved and are scheduled to be recreated. The most controversial part in that plan at this point is the use of artificial turf around the Mounds (see previous entries on the plans and on artificial turf).

You’ll see in this video (at the link) children actually using the Mounds (they have been closed off for use for awhile). As one advocates states: “They are places of spontaneous play which is different from play equipment which sort of mandates play. The Mounds allow spontaneous play, discovery, risk taking, all the things that are part of growing up.”

C.B. 2 Role & What Happened to the “Temporary Sledding Structures?”

There might have been more “controversy” over the plans for the new Mounds once they were added back in but no one was really clear on what they would look like. The Parks Department was intentionally vague during meetings and they were broached during Tobi Bergman’s tenure as C.B. 2’s Parks Committee chair (he is now Chair of the Community Board).

During that time, many WSP-related topics were given little attention or moved on from quickly. The “Hills” also were supposed to remain the same height as the previous incarnation (5 or 6 feet) but are clearly not. The Community Board was supposed to oversee all these details but Bergman gave the Parks Department a pass.

As far as going forward, it is unclear how and if the drainage issue will be resolved – but it should be.

And what about returning to the idea of the “temporary sledding structures brought to the park in winter” broached so many years ago?

Who even remembers that being discussed as an option at the point the Mounds were not in the redesign equation? (Good to have a blog, eh?)

Since the current Mounds don’t work for sledding, with all that cable-net play atop them, how about bringing some of those proposed sledding structures in? That sounds fun.

Good idea or no?

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(*People tried to get the artificial turf out of the picture with no success. In an older post, I noted that the Parks Department initially stated that the ground surrounding the Mounds would be covered in artificial turf, not everywhere within the Mounds. That was another switch-up.)

Photo: Sarah K. Cowan via Twitter

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