NYC’s Redesign Plans for WSP

Info on Phase II construction here.

Phase III (currently ongoing) here.

February 26, 2008

You’ve heard of the city’s plans to spend $16 million to “renovate” the world-famous Washington Square Park. Most New Yorkers think that the Park was fine the way it was, with just a few repairs and maintenance needed. With the costs now spiraling upwards to $25-30 million, the question is “Why?”

It’s a tale of money and power clashing with the will of the people, and every time one layer of corruption is uncovered, another lurks just below the surface.

If you walk by Washington Square Park right now, the Arch and Fountain area are off- limits, gated and shut, surrounded by a 10-foot fence. Each pole exhibits the stamp: “Made in China.” The 50 year old trees that lined the fountain have been chopped down. The historic circular fountain — the site of numerous impromptu and free musical performances and political rallies — has been dismantled. The ghosts of NYC’s most influential dissidents and cultural icons like Jane Jacobs (who successfully challenged Robert Moses’ plans to erect a highway through the West Village, among numerous other causes that she took on related to the use and misuse of public space), Bob Dylan (who lived down the block on Macdougal Street), Dave Van Ronk, and Peter, Paul and Mary and current performers like Dave Chappelle and Whoopi Goldberg are being buried in the rubble.

The bulldozed paths lead straight to Mayor Bloomberg. And the pretexts that the Mayor and his Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe provide are coming right out of the playbook of of the corrosive Manhattan Institute, “think-tank” for the City’s retrograde policies and long the nemesis of the interests of the public.

The pretext: They say they want to align the fountain with the Arch.

In the 1890s, Washington Square Park designer Stanford White purposefully kept the two unaligned, and that way has worked just fine – thank you very much – for over a century. About this magnificent fountain, Jane Jacobs writes: “In effect, this [fountain] is a circular arena, a theater in the round, and that is how it is used, with complete confusion as to who are spectators and who are the show.”

The reality: They are cutting away public space to control public gatherings and un-permitted performances.

To accomplish this they are:

• Digging up 18th Century and 19th Century burial grounds

• Ruining the historic nature of the park

• Chainsawing 40 to 80-year-old trees (14 cut down thus far. Plans allow for more to be felled.)

• Fencing in the Park

• Removing the famed chess tables (and rebuilding SOME of them elsewhere)

• Dismantling the large circular Fountain, which also serves as public rallying venue, rebuilding it in a much smaller version eight yards away with vast reduction of the ad-hoc seating

* Renaming the fountain (a plaque on each side) for the billionaire Tisch Family media tycoons … after the Tisch family contributed $2.5 million to the Mayor’s Fund.

• Adding lawn space — more “picture perfect” for NYU’s graduation ceremonies.

• Narrowing the public walkways

In a true example of “greenwashing,” the Parks Department states that it is making these drastic changes to add “more green space.” This is in direct contrast to Mayor Bloomberg’s tree and “sustainability” p.r. initiative, since this involves unnecessarily cutting down many mostly old and stately trees. (In case they hadn’t heard, trees are more “ecological” than grass.)


Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe are spearheading the dramatic changes and privatization of our beloved Washington Square Park and it is difficult not to implicate NYU in the scheme – not just a university, but one of the largest corporations and real estate barons in New York City. Community Board 2 originally approved of the Mayor’s “initiative” but later rescinded its approval. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and City Council Member Alan Gerson raised a few concerns but, after receiving sizable financial contributions, have promoted the Mayor’s plan – a perfect example of the corruption of public officials and the political process. (Originally, the Parks Dept. wanted to make all benches in the park “backless,” but that was changed after protest.) And NYU, which is attempting to purchase all buildings surrounding the Square, wants the Park as its sanitized jewel for graduation ceremonies and its own private functions.

* * *

A study of Washington Square Park in 2005 by the Project for Public Spaces noted, “Washington Square Park is one of the best known and best-loved destinations in New York City. And as a neighborhood park and civic gathering place, it may be one of the great public spaces in the world. Anyone who visits the park and who looks at how people use it can confirm in just a few minutes that it has nearly all of the key attributes of a great public space. … It’s success can also be measured by other indicators such as the amount of affection that is being displayed, it’s overall comfort and feeling of being safe, the level of stewardship, and the way that people engage in different activities at very close range and interact with each other easily.”

* * *


WSP Blog Correspondence With the Parks Commissioner:

*My Response to Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe about WSP (2-13-09)

*Parks Commissioner Benepe responds to WSP Blog Concerns (1-30-09)

The New York Times Story: The Battle for Washington Square

*Sunday, Nov. 23 ’08 City Section Cover Story – About (Part 1 of 2)

*Reflections on the New York Times Story (Part 2 of 2)

*** Return to home page. ***

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36 thoughts on “NYC’s Redesign Plans for WSP”

  1. Well, I guess it’s time to get ourselves together and get over there.
    My internet connection at home is down until tomorrow (I hope) but once it’s up I will put this on the site. Looks like grassroots is a way to go. I have come to so hate michael bloomberg (who I once liked) and it is based entirely on his destruction of anything interesting in NYC.

  2. i have only seen the park and arch in the movie I AM LEGEND i thought the arch looked pretty good and the park too. But i’m not a new yorker so my voye doesn’t count. just make it better than it was or leave it alone i say. i hear bloomberg isn’t that great of a guy anyway. if he wants face lifts let him do his own. or pay for washington square out of his own pocket. just a drop in the bucket for him ,so i hear. god bless new york and all her citizens may we never forget 9/11 and god bless nyfd and nypd and port authourity ,and every soul lost at ground zero. god bless from fresno california.

  3. I am originally from NY, now residing in AZ. I came back into town the other night and deicided to walk with some friends over to the park and was astonished!!!! What is going on here and why? There has to be something that can be done to stop this…this is not only a nostalgic place for many of us who have tons of memories here, but this is a tremendous piece of our history. This is not the only place in the city and even the island I see this happening! Have we forgotten the things that make NY so great? It is the quaintness, freeness, and absence of chain stores and restaraunts that make us special! Who wants to go into a historical landmark and have lunch at pizza hut or Taco Bell? This is a disgrace to the value of our community!! Let me know how I can help, even being so far away….letters, emails, you name it!

  4. I live a block a way from Washington Square and could not be happier with the city’s plans! This park has been neglected for generations. Time for an evolution.

    Your celebratory use of words like “free”, “interesting” and “nostalgic” are tired code for a host of activities (some illegal others anti-social) that need to move on. Such activities kept a large number of citizens from becoming frequent casual park users.

    Have little fear, the culture of self expression will always remain and be welcomed – given the parks place in history and fueled by the youth that form the core of the village life. Yet we have to acknowledge that NYU student have matured and more importantly so have the needs of permanent residents around the park. The city’s plans are in line with these.

    The claim of a majority of dissent is likely over-blown by those who are “nostalgic”. Time will tell, and I suspect that once a refurbished and well maintained park (trust supported) is re-opened, all well be celebrating our ability to enjoy.

  5. Hi Ray,

    Funny … None of the “celebratory” words you attribute to this site appear on this page or on any of the main pages (“free,” “interesting” or “nostalgic”). Did you read something somewhere else and decide to respond here?

    I’d say your words are “tired code’ for a bit of spinning.

    One thing we agree on the park has “been neglected” by the Parks department and does need to be “maintained.” Had those things happened, perhaps Washington Square Park would not have fallen into disrepair. But, alas, then the Parks Department probably would not have gotten away with working to push through these sweeping changes.

    Best of luck.

    WSP Blog


  7. I moved here last year from San Francisco. I moved here to be closer
    to friends and to gain back what has been lost in San Francisco over
    the years. Mayor Willie Brown did much of the same things that Bloomberg is doing
    (although I think Bloomberg has done a LOT of good as well), he was loved
    at first but then started ‘re-building’ San Francisco. In the end, many
    artists had to leave the city-rents were too high, chain stores were
    popping up everywhere, and trees were replaced with grass and
    even more chain stores. Now that I am an official citizen of NYC-
    I am willing to put up the same fight I up in SF-hopefully,
    with better results. I have many photos I have taken over the years
    of the fountain from previous visits that show people enjoying themselves-
    perhaps pasting them up around the area next to current state may
    serve as a reminder of what is to come…

  8. I’ve lived near Union Square for almost 25 years and have found every one of the City’s improvements to enhance the use, joy, comfort and design of the park for everyday New Yorkers. Washington Square Park needs to be upgraded just as any public space periodically needs to be upgraded, with historical sensitivity and common sense. I’m quite sure that not everything in the City’s plan was well thought out but let me pose a question: with the City about to fall into a deep, painful and prolonged recession, if not depression, when do you expect ever again to have $30 million dropped into the park for the improvement of the infrastructure and traffic patterns? The answer: maybe 50 years from now.

    It will all turn out well and a year after the work is completed no one will remember what the battles were all about.

  9. The fact is, the park didn’t need a 30 million dollar total overhaul. The space was used well, and loved well. It needed general upkeep, and since that didn’t happen, it became broken down like anything will when you don’t take care of it. Does that mean you need to totally throw out a diamond in the rough? No. You shine it up, especially during such disastrous financial times. It would cost much, much less. Then you keep it maintained, to keep it well used, and well loved. That’s all that needed to be done. The design itself is used to it’s fullest by park users. Let’s just clean it up!

    When far fewer people can be in the park, in far fewer ways than before, who get locked out, and need permits, and are forced to keep moving when there is no space, I think that is exactly when everyone will remember these battles, and why they needed to be fought.

  10. My wife and I recently visited NYC for the first time in about ten years, and I insisted that we visit one of my favorite places on earth, Washington Square Park. We did not know about the city’s “renovation” plan, and we were appalled at how this beautiful and historic park has been divided and fenced. It was just perfect the way it was. Leave it to government planners to spend outrageous amounts of money to screw up perfection. – Beth and Bill Rogers, Johnstown, Pennsylvania

  11. As a 20 year local resident of washington sq park, my roommate a 35 year resident and employee of nyu we noticed after first digging up of the potters field wash sq pk that the yellow fever still existed as we contracted it and spit up green phlegm for days a park where over 5,000 corpses who had yellow fever were buried, now over a year later the park and its existing cheap need repair go to father demo square repair there now cruton pathway, a few new plants and flowers, cutting down numerous beautiful old trees, justify the millions spent or pocketed by the neo-con new world order shysters, thieves, blood sucking vampire, illuminati, mason, war mongers represented by bloomberg and cronyism with tisch to rename the fountain after him.

  12. Thanks for this, but I was in NYC last week and saw the new sections of the park and all was exquisite. Kudos to the City, the neighborhood, and the designers for doing the right thing and following history to a happy end. There’s not a thing wrong with it, and much that is an improvement, not the least of which is the lighting which is at once historically deferential and efficient and non-polluting at the same time. (Did you really like the lollypops that sprayed light all over the night sky?!) And there seems to be more green, for people animals and plants, not less. I walked through at 11p and felt totally at home and safe among the returning students, the musicians and the skaterboyz. You be better off working WITH such efforts to achieve your goals rather than against. That is the lesson here.

  13. This is probably the most ridiculous forum for protest that I’ve seen yet. This is a classic case of people who have way to much time on their hands making a big stink over nothing which seems to be the m.o. of a lot of village residents. The spirit of protest was not meant to condone public whining, especially for something so unwarranted. Do any of you remember what the park was like before it was renovated? As a New York resident for 14 years, 7 of which were in the village, it pains me that some of my fellow New Yorkers can be so misguided and myopic. Washington Square Park, pre-renovation was a crumbling mess. I think that people often confuse charm with neglect because they fear change. The old park was so badly in need of repair that it was in danger of being classified as a ruin. I am certainly no proponent of new urbanism but the renovation that was done at Washington Square Park is very successful and very respectful of what was there before. The public space may be a bit more limited but that only serves to bring people closer together. My suggestion to you is to shift your efforts away from successful urban interventions like this and focus your anger (but please not your whining) at things that warrant protest. The park is fine, the systematic replacement of perfectly scaled buildings (some historic) with poorly designed megabuildings by NYU is really the outrage. Before you invoke the spirit of Jane Jacobs, you should really go back and read her work. The way that people utilize the park and interact within its newly defined spaces is exactly what she was trying to defend.

    • Repairs don’t include MOVING an entire stone fountain 23 feet just to align it with the arch for some crazy misguided notion, paid for by a rich mo fo family who want along with NYU to convert the park to the school’s personal campus to hold graduations in.
      In the Tische’s case they basically “bought” the fountain so they could get a couple of cheezy plaques with their name on it as a bragging tool. I hope the plaques are stolen right off and removed every time. To take a historic fountain paid for and built by other people and HIJACK it by moving it 23 feet it didn’t need to move is pretty self centered and low, what’s next, painting the statue of liberty and sticking a “paid for by the Tische family” plaque on it now too?

      • How does this even make sense? NYU didn’t pay to convert WSP into its own private campus. They can’t even have commencement at WSP anymore because the new layout doesn’t provide enough space to host the thousands of people necessary. God, it’s people like you who yell corruption and spread nonsense that stop others from taking us seriously when we protest against NYU.

        • Hi Mia,

          Well, on that one, as someone said to me, NYU got “out-NYUed.” The Parks Department’s plans even screwed them over vs. the way the University is typically doing it to everyone else in the Village!


  14. Jim, Thanks for your comment. But you are sort of off base on a few things. Maybe it could be clearer on this page but yes pretty much EVERYONE agrees “the old park was so badly in need of repair.” Why was that tho’? Because it was not maintained by the New York City Parks Department. For years. I can certainly see now (in the areas that haven’t been renovated) all the cracks in the pavements and uneven pathways. No one was against that. Everyone was against a manipulated process and not listening to some valid points on behalf of the community. People wanted new pathways and new bathrooms and repaired and maintained lawns, etc. There are other sections on the site that go into it all more in depth and I’ll try to update this page if it’s not clear. I think perhaps you might want to re-read Jane Jacobs as well because I do not believe that I am misrepresenting what she believed and would believe if she was here today.

    Thanks for stopping by.


  15. Bloomberg is a stinking crook. How much more wealthy has he become being the Mayor of NYC? In regards to the poor “No more handouts” says Crookberg, yet if anyone has received any handouts from New Yorkers it’s him. No wonder he wanted a third term, got to fatten that bank account up just one more illegal, immoral term don’t we? How much of that WTC Mosque payout is he taking? His greed and over-indulgent behavior is absolutely ludicrous.

    • The park certainly needed sprucing up, but not the tear-it-all-out carnage, and certainly not moving that fountain 23 feet just to align it with the freaking arch!
      Have to wonder how many hot meals or a place to stay for the homeless the money thrown away moving that fountain could have provided peopl ein need instead of a frivolous thing like this.

  16. Though I moved out of the city in 1986, home was 1 University place and as a kid the park was my playground, with Jimmy, and Charlie the hotdog vendors, and David Peel always around there. I’ve watched as NYU has destroyed landmark after landmark and literalyl taken over and hijacked the park now to make it more of their personal CAMPUS. They built that UGLY out of scale red garbage of a library on the corner when we first moved to our apartment around 1970, and since then I’ve watched NYU destroy more of the village, even talk of tearing down the little church if it’s not gone already, and build huge, UGLY, out of scale monstrosities of buildings and yet the landmarks commission does NOTHING, the city continues to issue building permits, now they tear into the park and MOVE the fountain 22 feet for some lame brained stupid idea of aligning it with the arch which it was never meant to do!
    How NYU has been allowed to take over like this is a mystery to me, MONEY talks, I guess kickbacks do too eh!

    • How does this even make sense? NYU didn’t pay to align the fountain with the Arch. They can’t even hold commencement at WSP anymore because the new layout doesn’t provide enough space to host the thousands of people necessary. God, it’s people like you who yell corruption and spread nonsense that stop others from taking us seriously when we protest against NYU.

  17. Hi R.,

    Thanks for your comments. Nice that the park was your playground and you even knew the hot dog vendors! The NYU library really is horrible and the university’s ‘plans’ to take up more and more space destroying what’s in their path continue on, unchecked. It is pretty astounding. And you’re right that the fountain was never meant to “align” with the Arch — some things should just be left as they were. It’s good to remember that this ‘trend’ did not start with this Administration, Bloomberg’s, but it certainly has increased pace. NYU’s tearing down of historic buildings and structures with character has been going on for a very long time. It’s just sad. Yes, the little church is no longer there. The Village still has a lot of character but … it’s different, more transient, different values.

    Thanks for checking out the blog and writing in!

    WSP Blog

  18. Hi, Cat. Can you explain why it’s difficult not to implicate NYU in the renovations? It makes no sense to me since the new layout doesn’t provide enough space for NYU’s graduation ceremonies. Why would they pay to never have commencement at WSP?
    People will stop taking us seriously if we make things up to villainize NYU every chance we get.

  19. Hi Mia, Sorry for the delay! I think NYU did not realize that the designs shut out their graduation, the City tried to minimize to the community the large reduction in space on the Fountain Plaza, and perhaps NYU never asked. NYU is always trying to claim Washington Square as its own – there is an article on here (I’ll try to come back and add the link) with an excerpt from a Villager editorial on how using Wash Sq in all its marketing adds up to big $$ for NYU. In a way, the Bloomberg Admin and NYU are one on a lot of issues and you are right it is not outright NYU’s fault that this was done — there were others conspiring to do so but there is no evidence NYU was not involved in those discussions of where their $1 million would go. It’s a call and you may disagree … but NYU and the city meet and what they decide is private – you may say they are not the “villain” and others may say they are.

    Thanks for your comments!



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