BY RICHARD BARONE | At first glance, it may seem like an inconsequential little triangle of land across the street from a boarded-up, vacant hospital, with some nondescript, industrial-looking buildings on its northern side and a dried-up, unkempt garden within. Surrounding high and low exterior walls provide a bizarrely out-of-place, brown-brick barrier. As one approaches from the west on Bank St., the walls, rising several stories, are particularly unattractive and obtrusive. The three-cornered plot can easily be called an eyesore. Yet the triangle at the intersection Greenwich and Seventh Aves. at W. 12th St. is potentially one of the rarest of commodities in our West Village neighborhood: a village green, and a true community park. The land is soon to be restored to public use as a result of the demise of St. Vincent’s Hospital.
A dozen or so initial designs, presented to Community Board 2 some months ago, revealed several appealing plans for the triangle, with varying percentages of green space, plus paved walkways, trees, benches and all the elements that constitute an open, inclusive meeting place. One particular design with inviting entrances at each of the three corners, a slightly raised grassy hill and a number of unspecified features (such as places for statuary, plaques or fountains), seemed like a good starting point.
Recently, a private competition was held to design an AIDS memorial. But the winning design, which called for a surrounding structure of high exterior walls, was perceived to be flawed — and met with understandable resistance in the neighborhood.
In all of Manhattan, there is always a hopeful quest for open, green space. An enclosed park, with light blocked by high walls, and with gravel instead of grass, would have frustrated that hope and overwhelmed the area.
However, I believe the community would support a thoughtfully planned AIDS remembrance as part of an open, community park. For the record, I participated in numerous ACT UP demonstrations in the early 1990s to raise awareness of the AIDS crisis.
This remembrance could be a universal tribute not only to the diverse victims — whose loss to our community should never be underestimated and must never be forgotten — but also to the groundbreaking caregivers of much-missed St. Vincent’s, as well as to the historic activists who bravely raised their voices when too many fell silent. All would be honored by a sorely needed park that symbolizes and celebrates life.
Transforming this drab triangle into a beautiful, living, green space with historical markings that connect the past to the present and memorialize with subtlety and dignity, while reflecting the diversity that is the hallmark of our neighborhood and city, is a win-win.
The City Council’s final decision of what to do with this little slice of the Village is an opportunity to satisfy the needs of our unique community in this fittingly unique way.
Barone is a recording artist, performer, producer and author who has collaborated with artists from Lou Reed and Moby to Liza Minnelli, Tiny Tim and, most recently, Pete Seeger. The lead singer of the Bongos, his memoir, “Frontman: Surviving the Rock Star Myth,” was published by Hal Leonard Books. Since 1984, Barone has lived in Greenwich Village, where he recently completed work on his fifth solo album, “Glow.” He recently was appointed professor at the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at New York University.