Volume 75, Number 19 | Sep. 28 - Oct. 04, 2005


Gerson and Parks are on the right path at Wash. Sq.

The agreement on the Washington Square Park renovation between Councilmember Alan Gerson and the Parks Department changes the landscape on the project, literally.

Under the agreement, the park’s play mounds would be retained at their current location; a new 8,000-square-foot playground for youngsters ages 9 to 12 would be created; a permanent elevated concert area would be built where the raised concrete-paved Teen Plaza is now; the two dogs runs, after being moved, would be expanded in rounder areas with entrances from inside the park not from the street; and no gates would be installed blocking any park entrance. Several hot-button issues remain unresolved: the proposals to add a fence around the park, move its fountain and elevate the central plaza.

Clearly, Gerson and Parks have made significant strides toward a compromise. With a new leadership in place, Community Board 2 is also modifying its previous position of full-fledged support for the original renovation design. On Oct. 6, the C.B. 2 Parks and Waterfront Committee, chaired by Arthur Schwartz, will consider Gerson’s agreement, but will likely say the fence should be lower or nonexistent and that the fountain shouldn’t be moved or restructured.

Basically, the realization finally seems to be dawning on the Parks Department and C.B. 2 that this redesign is not flying with the community and needs significant retooling.

Most would agree grass lawns are a good thing, and support the renovation’s plan to add more lawns to the park — provided they remain open and are not a “lawn museum.”

However, on the fountain and fence, it seems Parks and other groups advocating the plan need to stop trying to ram their ideas through against the wishes of the larger community and park users. The current sunken fountain is a classic amphitheater. To raise it to ground level would turn it into a mere pedestrian pathway, destroying a world-famous space and performance venue.

And there’s no need to align the fountain and arch. The Village street grid is askew with the city’s — Villagers are a bit askew by nature. Washington Square isn’t Versailles.

And we like the openness and transparency of the park’s current low, pipe-rail fencing. Again, Washington Square Park is unique. “Don’t fence me in,” or out, are sentiments that never rang more true than in Washington Square.

The community supports a serious rehab for a deteriorated square, but it doesn’t want the disruption and wholesale change of a major two-year renovation that will close at least half of the park at a time.

Fix the paths, put in new benches, improve the heavily used dog runs. But why do we need the park to be as precisely rearranged as the stripes on the Union Jack, or a Victorian viewing garden?

In short, we like the park basically the way it is. Some might say there’s a bit of a Pandora quality to the park now, a bit of everything, not totally regimented and homogenous — but we like that about it. Renovate it, but don’t change its essential character. As the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

It ain’t broke.

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