V TALKING POINT
BY WILLIAM CASTRO | Spring has arrived in New York City, and the heart of the Village, Washington Square Park, is again blooming with flowers and teeming with visitors. Washington Square Park is known as one of our city’s most iconic destinations and as one of the world’s most dynamic public spaces.
As residents of the Village and readers of The Villager well know, in recent years the New York City Parks Department invested in a major restoration of Washington Square Park that will be completed soon. When you visit the park today, you see new and expanded lawns, a fountain that has been restored to its original splendor, repaved and accessible paths, new benches, lighting and much more. As a result, the park looks better than ever, and we are excited to ensure the park’s continued success in the coming years.
Our goal with Washington Square Park’s renovation was to create a renewed sense of place, with a design that restored and upgraded the park’s significant features, while preserving its rich history of diversity. The first phase included a renovated and accessible plaza, the restored fountain, and expanded lawns and new planting beds that dramatically increase the park’s green space. The second phase included an enhanced playground, a stage, petanque courts, a small dog run and a new chess plaza, as well as sitting areas, landscaping, fencing, light poles and paths. The third phase will soon be completed and will include a new park house with restrooms for the public and space for Parks maintenance staff, a large dog run, perimeter sidewalks and a new playground for older kids. The Parks Department looks forward to joining the community in cutting the ribbon on this final phase and to seeing the realization of a fully restored Washington Square Park.
As Washington Square Park enters the next chapter of its storied existence, I would like to take this opportunity to announce the appointment of its new administrator, Sarah Neilson. Sarah is a veteran of the Parks Department’s Capital Projects Division, with a background in city planning, public programming and nonprofit administration, and a lifelong enthusiasm for parks and public places.
In the early 1980s, then Parks Commissioner Gordon Davis began appointing borough commissioners and park administrators. This was to ensure that parks would benefit from an increased level of experienced and skilled managers who would bring their expertise to upgrade physical conditions, organize recreation programs and obtain public and private funds for capital improvements. Administrators have overseen significant improvements to parks such as Battery Park, Riverside Park, Fort Tryon Park, Madison Square Park, Randall’s Island, Central Park, Prospect Park, Northern Brooklyn’s parks, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Rockaway Beach, Van Cortlandt Park, Pelham Bay Park, Crotona Park, the Staten Island Greenbelt and more.
To assist in this effort, traditional friends groups and nonprofit park conservancies were formed to help raise private dollars to combine with public funds for maintenance and programming enhancements. Public-private partnerships have also coordinated thousands of neighbors to become engaged and active in their local parks through volunteering. Many park administrators are also the executive directors of a park’s nonprofit group. This allows the Parks Department to ensure that the best interests of the park and the public are coordinated with those local residents who have volunteered their time helping to improve their park.
At Washington Square Park, Sarah will hold a dual role as the executive director of a nonprofit organization that is currently being formed. A group of citizens who live and work in the community is seeking to raise funds for the park and engage neighbors to help the Parks Department care for the park’s lawns, plants and playgrounds, and to create programming. We look forward to working with the new group to encourage community involvement and volunteering.
Visitors to Washington Square Park will soon see fruit from our partnership in the flowering trees, daffodils and tulips, and in annual maintenance, including our top-dressing of the lawns. The Parks Department has increased maintenance staff to handle the springtime influx of visitors, while the new nonprofit group has pledged to bring in a playground associate for the summer months to conduct arts and crafts and other activities for children.
The future of Washington Square Park is bright, and we look forward to joining forces with the community as we ensure that it remains an inviting oasis to our city’s residents and visitors.
Washington Square Park Administrator Sarah Neilson is happy to hear community members’ ideas and concerns about the park and the emerging conservancy. She will hold a weekly “Arch Hours” session on Mondays from 11 a.m. to noon at the Washington Square Arch, and encourages you to stop by and say hello. She can also be reached at Sarah.Neilson@parks.nyc.gov or 212-408-0297.
Castro is Manhattan borough Parks Department commissioner