Volume 74, Number 50 | April 20 - 26 , 2005

Letters to the editor

Good luck, Bob, you’ll need it

To The Editor
It is somewhat amusing to reflect on the fact that of the two committees — Business, followed by Institutions — that I chaired while serving on Community Board 2 for 13 years I have been succeeded both times by Bob Rinaolo. Does this mean that Bob is going to follow me into retirement to keep the string going?

Bob, I wish you luck in dealing with 800-pound New York University gorilla that you mentioned in Scoopy’s Notebook a few weeks ago, but you are going to need more than luck in dealing with the gorilla that has grown into King Kong. I am not as sanguine as you that dealings between N.Y.U. and the community will be easier because they have a process in place — namely, their department of government and community relations. Unfortunately, that name is a misnomer, as the record will show that this department has been created to shield the upper echelons of N.Y.U.’s executives from having to deal with problems that only they can solve from a policy standpoint.

For example, at the January meeting of the Institutions Committee close to 100 community residents from the easterly side of Washington Sq. Park came to listen to N.Y.U. explain the new life-sciences building. It was not long before the residents expressed deeply felt anxieties about the pending new construction as a result of long-festering problems of day-to-day maintenance and construction activities that have made life hellacious for many. The sad fact is that complaints about the construction activity, contractors’ noise, garbage collection, construction refuse collection and many other related problems have been routinely ignored by N.Y.U.’s department of government and community relations for several years.

Sadly, there are NO RELATIONS with N.Y.U. because they choose to turn their back on real problems of their own creation. Instead, they love to bask in the platitudes of “good deeds” like painting park benches in Washington Sq. Park (of which their students are extensive users), expound on how much their employees contribute to United Way (as if they are the only employer who support this charity), and, the most recent, contributing $1 million to the renovation of Washington Sq. Park (which buys them a seat at the table for co-chairing the redesign effort).

N.Y.U.’s real colors were recently shown on March 30 when City Councilmember Alan Gerson called a community meeting to discuss the very same problems brought up at the January Institutions Committee meeting and invited N.Y.U.’s department of government and community relations. And guess what: They refused to attend the meeting. Imagine, spurning the city councilmember that represents the area. The best thing that can be said about N.Y.U. is that at least they are consistent. They will ignore Alan Gerson, as they have ignored the community.

There is no doubt that N.Y.U. talks the talk. All the rhetoric of how they are “a private university in the public service” is exactly talk. Town halls initiated by N.Y.U.’s President John Sexton promise a new stance and give lip service to how Greenwich Village is a “fragile ecosystem” but we have seen little in the way of accomplishments or how N.Y.U. is attempting to preserve the ecosystem.

At our January meeting, N.Y.U.’s architects showed examples of previous science buildings designed by them, including at Princeton, Cornell and Duke. We pointed out that these were campus settings in non-high-density areas and we wanted some attention paid to the fact that the Village was the unique and “fragile ecosystem” that called for special attention. We requested that N.Y.U. explore every avenue to placing the additional 5,000 sq. ft. needed for the life-sciences building either below grade or distributed among the high-ceilinged floors as mezzanine space to avoid adding two more floors as current plans call for. We were told on the spot by N.Y.U., “No, it could not be done.” Isn’t it amazing how we can put men on the moon but somehow a university that claims to be “world class” refuses to or cannot solve a simple design problem? Nevertheless, a letter was sent to President Sexton putting this request in writing and we will await the outcome.

So to sum up Bob, do not be beguiled by N.Y.U.’s “talking the talk” — they have yet to show that they can “walk the walk.”

Bob, best wishes and good luck.

Marty Tessler

Women gave birth to museum

To The Editor:
Re “New Ukrainian Museum casts Archipenko in new light” (news article, April 13):

Thank you for your wonderful article about the opening of the Ukrainian Museum. The Ukrainian community, which has been a staple of this community for 150 years, has added this treasure to our community. The only thing missing in your article is the fact that it was the Ukrainian National Women’s League of America, the oldest and largest Ukrainian women’s organization in the U.S.A. — celebrating their 80th anniversary in 2005 — who gave birth to the museum, collected funds from its members for 28 years and donated space to the museum at 203 Second Ave., which building they own partially, for 28 years, for which the Ukrainian Museum paid a token $2 per year. This fine organization should be acknowledged every time something is written about the museum. If it was not for them the museum would have never seen the light of day.
Jaroslaw Kurowyckyj

Washington Sq. Park: Déjà vu

To The Editor:
When I first heard that the new plan for Washington Sq. Park involved relocating the fountain to line up with the arch, I let out a silent scream. What has happened to our institutional memory?

Let me go back in history to 1962. Then-Parks Commissioner Newbold Morris had confided in me his secret lifelong ambition: “When I was a little boy and came down here to visit my cousin, Edith Wharton, I was always bothered by the fact that the fountain and the arch were not in alignment, and now I’m in the position to do something about it!” My reaction was pretty negative, and when he repeated this story at one of several community conferences chaired by Tony Dapolito, serving one of his many terms as chairperson of what was then known as the planning board, the crowd hooted its disapproval. Somewhat bewildered that we didn’t share his views, Morris eventually agreed to defer to the wishes of the community, but not till after the various conferences hammered out in detail what we all envisioned for the park, as reported in numerous issues of The Villager and the Voice. The articles usually alluded to the broad representation of all political factions including the Tamawa Club, V.I.D. and the Republican Club, represented by the Councilmember Ted Kupferman, as well as other local groups and prominent activists, including Ed Koch, Jane and Bob Jacobs, Edith Lyons, Doris Diether, Rosemary McGrath, Stanley Tankel, Howard Moody and many others. (See the lead story in The Villager, June 21, 1962.)

After several of us testified at the capital budget hearings the following March, asking officials to delay approving funds for the park until there was an acceptable plan, The Villager’s April 11, 1963, front-page headline read: “Mr. Morris Allays Community Fears.” He “assured” the community that it would be in on the planning stages. Fast-forward a year. The May 7, 1964, Villager reported on the Parks Department plan designed by Gilmore Clarke, who was known as Robert Moses’ favorite architect. Besides moving the fountain, rearranging the paths and eliminating a toddler play area, Clarke’s plan included a neo-Grecian colonnade flanked by two comfort stations. The whole concept was “overwhelmingly vetoed by 200 Villagers” at a meeting reported on in the May 28 Villager, while that week’s Voice quoted Morris saying, “I get the message.” He withdrew the plan, and following a suggestion by Borough President Edward R. Dudley that the community “get off the dime” by coming up with its own plan, the August 20 Villager announced formation of an architects committee appointed by Dapolito: Bob Weinberg, Edgar Tafel, Matin Beck, Albino Manca, Norman Rosenfield, Robert Nichols, Joe Roberto, Bob Jacobs and Harold Edelman. Their numerous meetings over the next few years have been meticulously recorded and preserved in files kept by Bob Nichols. As a landscape artist, Nichols actually drew the plans, though in a memo he wrote that he favored giving the entire committee credit for the design.

The process was hailed in an August 16, 1968, article in The New York Times quoting Elliot Willensky, co-author of the famous “AIA Guide to New York City.” Willensky proclaimed that the “pattern of the community consultation set [here] has become the model for all park development in the city.” Well, that was then. Now, 37 years later, consultation seems to have evaporated to a mere trickle, and, unfortunately, Willensky is no longer around to rouse the troops. Neither is Tony Dapolito. Now the community is confronted with a fragmented approach, cleared in advance with only a few people, while most Villagers have been left out of the process. Add some grass here, relocate a few things, get rid of a play area and so on. Then tweak the design a bit and perhaps mollify a few groups...just enough so that it looks consensus. That’s not the approach that Willensky commended, but maybe the lesson is that each generation has to reinvent the wheel. It might not have come to today’s unsatisfactory situation if only the Parks Department had been willing to accept the offer of a national organization, the Project for Public Spaces, to survey park users’ priorities. Unfortunately, the offer was rejected.

Looking at the design, one has to wonder what’s behind the plan for an expensive fence. Ostensibly the idea was a restoration of some 19th-century features. As it happens, all parks were fenced in back then, but most, if not all, are open today. As for reverting to the past, isn’t it enough that today’s approach downgrades the playgrounds, both in funding and in scope — or should we continue the concept of historical accuracy, in which case there would be NO playgrounds in the park. No dog runs either! (In fact, it wasn’t till 1903 that the city installed the first municipal playground, just a few blocks out of Community Board 2, in Seward Park.) The rumors swirling about regarding a future conservancy and other matters call for more transparency on this entire process, and some approach more effective than the tweaking now going on.

One more look — back in 1962 and a related matter. The Feb. 21 Villager front page pictured a snowy scene under the arch, when several of us met with the Traffic commissioner to discuss how to reroute the buses that had been using a turnaround south of the arch. A proposal to have the buses go around the perimeter of the park (trimming the park’s four corners to facilitate the turns) was rejected, and the current routes established, providing some service to the South Village for the first time.

A note of historical clarification: Edith Wharton (1862-1937) was born Edith Newbold Jones at 14 W. 23rd St. and did live at 7 Washington Sq. N. just before her marriage, but that was in 1882 — 20 years before Morris (1902-’66) saw the light of day. By then, she was building her house, The Mount, in Lenox, and traveled abroad a lot. She moved to France in 1911, so it’s hard to know when her young cousin visited. Perhaps there were gatherings at her sister-in-law’s house at 21 E. 11 St. Edith’s next-to-last visit to the States was for the wedding of her niece Beatrix Jones in 1913, so that might have been the occasion. One further note about Newbold Morris. He did agree with our request for innovative playgrounds that have replaced the old stereotyped Moses pattern. The very first design that he authorized was for the new park at Abingdon Sq., now known as Bleecker Park.

Carol Greitzer
Greitzer was a city councilmember from 1969-’91. Her district covered both Washington Sq. and Union Sq. parks. She was a founder of The Council for Parks and Playgrounds, which later merged with the Park Association to become the Parks Council, now renamed New Yorkers for Parks.

Brodeur and Founding Fathers

To The Editor:
Re “Arrested for harassment, again” (police blotter, April 6):

Sorry to bother you with details of my latest false arrest but your report took many of my words out of context.

My angry words at most, are on par with George Washington and Thomas Jefferson’s claims that “King George should hang.” There is no threat. (Just common sense.)

I’m a pacifist and don’t use violence. I warned Stallings that it only takes one very angry tenant to go postal (my apologies to the Postal Service). We see violence exploding every day in America, and it’s usually because people don’t “do unto others” and I even explicitly told Stallings I wouldn’t hurt him, but that I would make him the poster child of corrupt landlords during this election.

Christopher X. Brodeur

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