Updated – It’s been over a year since any information has been relayed to the public about Washington Square Park Conservancy: updates on the private organization’s “activities” were supposed to come before Community Board 2 every six months but its Parks Committee has let this practice lapse over the last two years.
Washington Square Park conservancy received controversial “approval” for its “formation” with a super vague presentation by its four wealthy founding members in June 2013. This presentation was filled with omissions and evasions, later uncovered and published by WSP Blog, and was the sole “public hearing” scheduled by C.B.2 to address the matter. The founders said, in public statements: they only used the word “conservancy” because every other name they looked into was “taken”; they would not be running or have undue influence on Washington Square Park, they maintained. They were just a “little friends (of the park) group” set up to raise funds, gather volunteers and plant flowers (oh, and maybe they’d “start a book club”).
Emails recently obtained by Washington Square Park Blog show that C.B. 2 Parks Committee was in constant email contact with the four conservancy founding members in advance of the meeting, alerting them to exactly how it would be run, hashing out details with them. (Imagine the same happening with a business trying to get a liquor license, for example, coming before the Community Board… ) The public and park advocates – who had pushed back against a private conservancy at the Greenwich Village park for over 12 years – had no such benefit, and so could hardly be adequately prepared for what was to transpire.
This private group could have been a true community–led and involved organization, but aimed not to be one – beginning with the manner in which they deceived the public at that June meeting (documents unearthed and published by Washington Square Park Blog show just how far the deceptions went, see link at bottom of piece). It was a true insult to the public process. And although they said they would not be running or managing the park via a “license agreement” (the New York City Parks Department continues to run the park) or BE like a typical conservancy such as those at the privatized parks (think Madison Square Park, Bryant Park), everything they are currently doing (more on this to come) is cribbed from the larger established conservancies, the only difference being that those organizations run and manage those parks.
If these staid, formulaic, tired practices are infringed on Washington Square, how can the result be anything different than a sanitized, overly programmed, commercialized, and less public park like the others?
Now, as C.B. 2 has lessened its focus on this private group, the organization, founded by the wealthy socialites, has amped up. After raising just $180,000 for the park last year (and likely $50,000 came from “Taste of the Village,” built up over a dozen years by the Village Alliance which handed it off to the ladies, conveniently for them, two years ago), they just hired a $60,000 a year social media manager. So now they have to raise funds to PAY that salary. This is how the privatized parks work. This is how a park loses its soul.
After telling The Villager and the public they would not do programming (statements like this was how they received “approval” by the Community Board, in very much a split vote), they recently presented Disney blockbuster film “Moana” on the Fountain Plaza – with NYU. What this has to do with their oft repeated mantra of making Washington Square Park “safe, clean and beautiful” is anyone’s guess.
Please come speak up at the C.B. 2 meeting Wednesday, June 7th:
Community Board 2 Parks Committee Meeting
Wednesday June 7th @ 6:30 PM- NYU Forbes Building, 60 Fifth Ave., Room 150
Representatives of Washington Square Park Conservancy will deliver an update on previous year and upcoming activities.
Also on agenda: Consideration of a a resolution asking the NYC Parks Department to consider lighting the Washington Square Park arch in lavender for Pride weekend.
Photo, top: Right, George Vellonakis, new Washington Square Park Administrator (and “Executive Director” Washington Square Park Conservancy, in a “dual role” which should be considered a conflict of interest) and, left, Sheryl Woodruff, Development Director of Washington Square Park Conservancy at screening of “Moana” recently. Vellonakis later intentionally moved out of range to avoid being photographed or there would be a better picture.
NYU booth, as with almost everything NYU, it is purple and appears over the top:
Background Info from Washington Square Park Blog (except Villager piece, as noted):