Volume 75, Number 4 | June 15- 21, 2005

Villager photo

Marjorie Reitman and Willis in the Washington Sq. Park small dog run.

Park users can’t get over fence around Wash. Sq.

By Johanna Petersson

The Washington Sq. Park renovation project has prompted intensely strong feelings in the community. At public meetings where the plans have been presented, the overwhelming majority of people have voiced strong opposition.

Nevertheless, the first phase of the park’s $16 million, two-year renovation is now slated to start in August or September, according to Aubrey Lees, outgoing chairperson of Community Board 2’s Parks Committee, who has been a leading advocate for the renovation.

Last Thursday, however, an informal survey of park users, from dog walkers and students to craftspersons, revealed continued misgivings about the plan.

George Entel, auto detailer and soon-to-be civil engineering student, comes to Washington Sq. Park from his Staten Island home almost every Sunday. His favorite pastime, he says, is people watching because of the park’s special atmosphere and diverse community. “I show it to everyone that comes to visit,” said Entel. He likes designer George Vellonakis’s idea of moving the park’s fountain to the east, aligning it with the arch, but is critical of the idea of putting up a new fence. “No. Fencing I do not like, this place should be accessible,” he said. “A fence puts a timeline around it.”

When asked what he thinks about the refurbishment plans, James Llado, a management-and-systems graduate student at New York University, said he welcomes more lush lawns, more benches and making the seats around the fountain more accessible to elderly or disabled persons by elevating the whole plaza area, but is critical of a fence. “That would give a completely wrong impression,” he said, “as it would look as if it was a private park.”

The one thing those interviewed agreed on was that the proposal to put a new, 4-foot-high fence around Washington Sq. would destroy what they feel the park is about — freedom — and that it would lead to a “Gramercification” of the square, giving the impression of its being private, like Gramercy Park, as a way to get rid of undesirables.

In the dog run for small dogs, Lauren Kelso, who has lived near Washington Sq. Park for two years, was chatting and enjoying relaxing in the shade with Marjorie Reitman, a dog walker, while their dogs frolicked about. Kelso’s main concern with the plans for moving the small dog run to the park’s southern perimeter is that the new location will be too sunny. The shade allows the dogs to run around and play, even if the weather, as it was on this particular day, is in the high 80s and sunny, she said. “Just look over there,” she said and pointed across the pathway at the dog run for larger dogs. “The dogs are trying to get out of the way of the sun, being on the sides of the dog run, instead.”

As a dog walker and a West Village resident for the last 32 years, Reitman jokingly said the park should install revolving doors for her in the dog run. She feels neighbors around Washington Sq. have been left out of the renovation planning process and that N.Y.U.’s influence over the plans for the park is far too great. She agrees with the plans in that the dog runs need upgrading and improved drainage, but is still critical of the move. “N.Y.U. doesn’t want dog runs, period. Dogs make noise, but N.Y.U. doesn’t own this park,” Reitman said.

James Gallman, the park’s famed Matchstick Man, sat on the concrete wall by the Garibaldi statue selling his folk art, as he has done for the last 10 years when weather allows. Working on one of his intricate match creations, he said he’s worried the renovation will take away what the park is all about. “It won’t be Washington Sq. anymore,” he said. “It is going to turn into Gramercy Park.”

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