Conservancy will keep Washington Sq. looking good



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 or 212-408-0297.

Castro is Manhattan borough Parks Department commissioner

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7 Responses to Conservancy will keep Washington Sq. looking good

  1. Robert Lederman

    re: "Conservancy will keep Washington Sq. looking good"
    "Looking good" is a matter of personal taste. Apparently, Commissioner Castro and the Park Conservancy thugs who are remaking Washington Square Park in their own sterile corporate image, think that musicians, performers and artists are an eyesore that must be eliminated. Is it coincidence that the conservancy is announced at the same time a secret amendment to the park rules is passed that removes virtually all performers from the park? Does eliminating free expression count as the "fruit" of the Conservancies efforts? Doesn't having a conservancy director that is also a high ranking parks official count as a conflict of interest, or is that just a feature of the wonderful public private partnership in crime that Commissioner Castro and the new conservancy director Sarah Neilson are just very small cogs in?
    Robert Lederman, President of ARTIST

  2. Christine Eidinoff

    Mr. Castro – I am including this link as a follow-up to the REAL timeline of events regarding the park and the fact that there isn't the support from the public for privatization. This is a very biased view and I think the public deserves your office to be more transparent with decisions. In 2008 the previous administrator denied that there would be a new conservancy. Don't the people get a say?

  3. I recently had the experience of working in Los Angeles in a sparkly new building adjacent a corporate park. In the park, every blade of grass was a brilliant green. There was a pond and various structures for "play." A security guard patrolled the park on a Segway. But no one played in the park except for a local soccer team practice. It seemed uncomfortable there because it was very scripted how you were supposed to interact with the park. Parks in New York are such paradise because the city has very little nature otherwise. They are for everyone to enjoy. Please don't turn them into corporate parks that welcome some and forbid others. Even privileged professionals don't enjoy feeling constricted by an undue number of park rules.

  4. The standards have been lowered regarding the presavation our natural park resources….the city has sold out to privatization and the "non for profit's" are now taking public resources and turning them into cash cows for a select few…..what are Ms. Neilsons crendentials to run a public landmark park other than she's a "veteran" and has a "background" and "life long enthusist" in public places. I guess a college degree has been sub-planted cronyism. Too bad.

  5. john wetherhold

    We have had in this area long acquaintance with Mr. Castro and his parks privitizations. No where has there been honestly stated how the corporate park will force the residents to abandon their beloved musical performers and the freedom and spontaneous activities. The conservancy will not do anything but provide a private playground for the wealthy of the area to corporatize the park.

  6. john wetherhold

    continuing) Since everyone likes music, I am sure the parks will sponsor music festivals with paid corporate performers. We dont need to pay one cent for this right now. And of course the parks will have filming of commercials and special events like corporate parties to gather revenue (yes now parks have a revenue manager). Of course none of this would be necessary if the city funded the city's parks. New York city has one of the lowest percentage of the city budget devoted to parks of any major city. Both Sarah and Castro are trying to force this on a neighborhood that doesnt want it. To succeed, they must break our sense of community. the cb2 meeting is wed evening at 630 at the Grace church school at 11th and 4th avenue.

  7. VillageGirl1986

    I hope this conservancy can be stopped. It's unnecessary. The parks department can plant flowers and take care of the lawns as they have for many years.

    So tell me Mr. Castro, once you've done the lawn "top dressing" and planted your daffodils will your security goons allow us to use our lawns?

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