Volume 74, Number 41 | February 16 - 22, 2005


Washington Sq. plan offers much; fine-tuning is required

Following a Community Board 2 Parks Committee meeting on the design for Washington Sq. Park’s refurbishment — and a subsequent meeting devoted to plans for the park’s dog runs — much more information has become available about the Parks Department’s plan for Washington Sq. than a month ago, when this page called for more public input into this much-anticipated project.

The discussion and input will continue at the public meeting Councilmember Alan Gerson is sponsoring on Wed., Feb. 16, at the Center for Architecture at 536 LaGuardia Pl., starting at 6:30 p.m.

From what we’ve seen so far, there are definitely things to like about the plan, designed by George Vellonakis, who most recently redesigned Abingdon Sq. Park.

Adding more lawns seems a good thing. Lush new lawns would undoubtedly be some of the park’s highest-use areas.

The way Vellonakis has reconfigured the seating wall area around the central plaza is well done. Currently these walls are 30 in. high and an older person might have trouble hauling him- or herself up to sit on them. Once sitting on the walls, one’s legs dangle above the ground, in what is not the most comfortable position. The granite seats that would replace these concrete walls would be a tasteful improvement.

Moving the fountain slightly east to center it with the arch makes sense in terms of symmetry, but more important is the fact that the fountain itself will be conserved and the freewheeling uses that occur in and around it kept exactly the same.

We also agree that the Teen Plaza area on the park’s south side just east of LaGuardia Pl. is mostly underused. Yet, adequate provisions for alternate locations for performance spaces — for major events, like the Washington Sq. Music Festival — must be made.

A new wrought-iron fence ringing the park would be a welcome, though, we imagine, quite expensive, addition.

Consolidating the park’s buildings into one octagonal structure, and using underground basement space, will open up more areas for park use and create a more pleasant vista.

Other parts of the plan, however, have proven quite contentious, such as moving the dog runs, possible elimination of the mounds and failure to restore a long-lost adolescent playground, cutting down at least eight trees and possible reduction of some of the chess tables.

We would hope Parks can find a way to restore some new mounds to the park. As for the dog run, it appears some dog owners are being persuaded to accept relocation by perks Parks is offering for the run.

Another concern is how the redesign would affect the amount of open, unprogrammed space. Currently, the area east of the fountain, for example, is a large asphalt-covered swath. If this area were to be narrowed under the redesign and lawns added, and these lawns closed from time to time, would it mean fewer people being allowed to use the park?

Clearly, there are many needs to balance in a small space — and plenty of kinks still must be worked out. We encourage Parks to keep working with the community to achieve a redesign that we can all be proud of and enjoy using.

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