Parks must yield on fountain, fence and plaza plans
The Washington Square Park resolution passed by the Community Board 2 Parks and Waterfront Committee last Thursday has set the stage for final negotiations on the renovation plan for the historic square. Following the recent agreement reached by Councilmember Alan Gerson and the Parks Department, the only issues about the renovation project left unresolved had been moving the fountain, raising the plaza, the size of the plaza and the height of the fence around the park.
The resolution, spearheaded by Arthur Schwartz, the committees new chairperson, recommends that the fountain not be moved, that the sunken central plaza not be raised to ground level or decreased in size and that any perimeter fence be no higher than 30 inches slightly higher than the current pipe-rail fencing around the park and about equal to the height of most fences in front of Village townhouses.
The new resolution drew relieved cheers and applause from most in attendance at last Thursdays meeting. Yet, from remarks made at the meeting by Bill Castro, Manhattan borough Parks commissioner, it seems Parks is still set on moving the fountain 23 feet east to align with the arch and, we would assume, also on raising the plaza and installing a 4-foot-high fence.
Its time for Parks to realize that the landscape literally has shifted on the Washington Square debate. Yet, this should have been evident back on Aug. 3 when the Fine Arts Federation of New York issued an opinion opposing moving the fountain, stating, We lament that a beaux-arts sensibility that privileges axial symmetry should trump real history. The current location of the fountain is historical, relevant and, as records indicate, was even accepted as part of a harmonious landscape composition by both White and Vaux. Clearly, based on the Fine Arts Federations position, it was a very good chance that the Art Commission seven of whose 11 members are drawn from a list provided by the Fine Arts Federation would vote against the renovation plan.
So, now Parks has the opportunity to move forward with a revised plan that, assuming its approval at the C.B. 2 full board meeting on Oct. 20, will have the full support of the one body that is supposed to be representative of the community. Will Parks now continue to buck the will of the community and try to ram through a plan that both the Fine Arts Federation and Board 2 oppose?
Its time for Parks to sit down with the community and work out a final revised plan that can win approval of both the Art
Commission and, more important, the majority of the community. The park needs a renovation, not a major disruptive reconstruction and redesign. Lets stop wasting time, get on the same page and move forward with this important project.