Volume 75, Number 26 | November 16 -22, 2005

Letters to the editor

Don’t mess with success

To The Editor:
Except for some anecdotal statements, all evidence points to keeping Washington Square basically as it is. New York University’s groundbreaking four-year use study published in 1990, and now the prestigious Project for Public Spaces study, have arrived at the same conclusion: the square is a magnificent success and a unique public space in the world. The square’s asymmetry and ratio of hard to green space support that success. Instead of changing it, the Parks Department should restore the square as it did the arch and Central Park’s Bethesda Terrace.

Contrary to Parks’ claim of continual design changes, Washington Square has retained its Olmstedian design, with curvilinear paths and asymmetric plazas, for 135 years. Landscape architect Bob Nichols’s crowning achievement in the 1960s was to enhance it with a new fountain plaza in the spirit of Calvert Vaux. From a reclaimed roadway surface, Nichols celebrated the earlier theater-in-the-round with a shallow sunken plaza and low seating rim. Nichols modeled the new plaza on Vaux’s Bethesda Terrace, and the Washington Square fountain plaza is both larger and more popular than its sister space in Central Park.

Experts in performance studies are alarmed that Parks’ plan to raise the fountain to grade level will eradicate Washington Square’s renowned fountain theater. “To destroy this would be a crime against New York City,” exclaimed one. Supporters of Parks generally could care less and consider performers, tourists and informality distasteful. The vast majority though, the Greenwich Village Block Associations and many others, prefer the square’s basic informal layout. They value both the square as a colorful, creative magnet and the tourists who fuel the local economy. They fear that the Parks plan will turn the fountain plaza into nothing but a pedestrian pass-through.

Parks’ tone-deaf approach to Washington Square stems from its congenital inability to distinguish the square from its 1,699 other public spaces. Parks is oblivious to the square’s unique profile as a combination village green, theater and tourist mecca and is appallingly ignorant of both the square’s architectural and social history. At a recent Community Board 2 meeting, Parks wasn’t aware and didn’t care that Stanford White intended the arch to be unaligned with the fountain (proven by the research of Charles Birnbaum, the country’s foremost landscape preservationist) and Parks was unaware of N.Y.U.’s important use study.

Commenting with uncanny prescience on the Nichols design when it was unveiled in 1964, New York Times architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable called it a “Triumph in Designing for Local Needs,” noting:

“Instead of moving the off-center fountain in line with the arch, as called for in the Parks Department plan — a pointless and expensive procedure to all who do not consider axial symmetry the ultimate objective of landscape design — the local architects redesigned the area around the fountain with a sitting wall, decorative pavement and connecting podium to improve its popular social uses.”

Parks’ current plan introduces the same axial symmetry that was defeated 40 years ago and it’s even more of an alien intruder now. It deserves rejection again. Don’t mess with success.

Luther S. Harris
Harris is author of “Around Washington Square”

Pier kids are community, too

To The Editor:
Re “Gate may be closed to gays in park’s crowd-control plan” (news article, Nov. 2):

As a property owner and resident living two-and-a-half blocks from the pier in the West Village, I was appalled to read about the “crowd-control” proposal under consideration by the Hudson River Park Trust. I was disturbed enough to show up at the community board meeting last Monday night where I was pleased to hear Trust president Ms. Connie Fishman suggest that the proposal to barricade the Christopher St. exit of the pier was “unrealistic” and unlikely to move forward.

Listening to public commentaries at the meeting, from what are purported to be “both sides” of “the problem,” I heard a common concern: safety and well-being.

That noted, I agree with a fellow resident who stood up to say that the West Village “community” is defined by all of us: residents, business owners and the youth who find themselves at the heart of this debate.

I moved to and invested in this neighborhood precisely because of its legendary reputation as a safe haven for diversity and freedom of expression. Negotiating the interests of diverse constituencies is not always easy or decorous, but as a resident, I see the nurturing of this diversity as of utmost priority. My quality of life here is unequivocally enhanced by the presence and safety of the L.G.B.T. youth — predominantly low-income youth of color — who find a sense of home on the pier; my safety and well-being is not separate from theirs.

I therefore back community-generated solutions that are inclusive of all of our concerns and the desire of all of us to enjoy this neighborhood and its public spaces. The best proposals I’ve heard so far include calls from both residents (see letter to the editor “Not all youths are mannerly,” Nov. 2, by Betty Rinckwitz) and youth organizers to end the current 1 a.m. curfew or extend it until 4 a.m. so that people can trickle on and off the pier in a more staggered way and mitigate the impact of an exit en masse.

Alexandra Teixeira

She demands an apology

To The Editor:
Re “Ludlow nightclub is not music to neighbors’ ears” (news article, Oct. 26):

In your recent article on Pianos nightclub on Ludlow St., Mr. David McWater, current chairperson of Community Board 3, is quoted as saying that I, personally, removed files from the community board office. Files that would explain why the community board’s State Liquor Authority Task Force — of which Mr. McWater was an active member at the time of Pianos’ application — approved a full liquor license for Pianos while Ludlow St. was under a local moratorium, a moratorium passed by the same community board task force. (Under a local moratorium, the block association must approve any new application for a liquor license). Mr. McWater goes on to state that the community board imposed a FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) policy in response, a policy that restricts public access to records and one in which the community board actually redacts bar applicants’ names from the C.B. 3 liquor license applications.

Mr. McWater’s statements about me in this article are deliberate lies and are slanderous and I demand that Mr. McWater retract his statements and publicly apologize for accusing me of such a crime.

Not only have I never requested a file for Pianos, and never under Mr. McWater’s tenure as chairperson, the very idea that one person could steal records from the community board office that would legitimize the actions of the community board S.L.A. Task Force is, in itself, absurd.

Any records of agreements made by the community board would be contained in its tape recordings of meetings and minutes of meetings — and copies of any such agreements would be kept with the block association, the nightclub and the New York State Liquor Authority’s application. In the case of Pianos, no record of any such agreement, with any party, exists.

Significantly, it has become local knowledge that shortly after taking over as chairperson of Community Board 3, Mr. McWater and the new district manager threw out numerous documents from the community board office, many of which, I believe, were invaluable in understanding the history of our community, and the process by which we arrived in our present condition. Community board records should have gone to the Municipal Archives instead of into the garbage.

I have lived on the Lower East Side long enough to remember slander suits brought by local activists against individuals and the city of New York for statements made by members of Community Board 3. Lawsuits that, I believe, only deepened the divisions in our community that survive to this day. I would rather learn from history than repeat it. I can only hope that Mr. McWater agrees.

Susan Howard

Bars are not an improvement

To The Editor:
Re “Ludlow nightclub is not music to neighbors’ ears” (news article, Oct. 26):

I wanted to add my own few comments about Ellen Keohane’s article about Pianos, the nightclub.

As a longtime resident of the Lower East Side (who also happens to be a musician who plays in bars occasionally, and is not anti-bar) I wanted to point out that if a neighborhood has crime, the solution to solving that problem and reducing crime should not be to flood a neighborhood with crowds of drunk people keeping all the residents awake till 4 and 5 a.m.

To solve one problem, it makes no sense to create another problem. So I take real issue with the people who justify what is going on by saying bars are making the area safer. No one can say what is going on is an “improvement” to the neighborhood — unless because maybe the person interviewed is someone who only moved here in the last two years because of the bars.

Also, I would offer that those people are new to the neighborhood: anyone walking around here now, seeing the “police surveillance signs” in the windows and vestibules of places like Cafe Charbon and Darkroom (which warn that the dealers and thieves are being filmed by hidden cameras that had to be installed) knows that there is still plenty of crime and drug activity going on now inside of these bars. It is just much more of a white-collar crowd doing the drugs, and they have more places than ever to score them. Let’s just call a spade a spade. I myself have seen more crime down here in the last three years — including witnessing a man bleed to death on my block moments after being stabbed, and getting held up at gunpoint on Avenue A recently — than I did in the first 11 years. Say what you want about the “old drug days” of the Lower East Side — but things are not better now.

There is one bottom line and one unavoidable truth for people who live on the Lower East Side: what is going on now, no matter how you look at it, is not an improvement from the problems of the past. In order for people to seriously call the bar proliferation that is going on an improvement, they would have to be able to declare that our quality of life has improved. It has not. Being kept awake against your wishes till 4 a.m. is not an improvement. Watching three of your friends move out of the neighborhood in just a few years, despite their love for their homes and wanting to stay, is not an improvement. Having local shops where you used to get supplies shut down just for a third, fourth, fifth bar to open on your block is not an improvement. Watching the neighborhood become less and less diverse culturally and ethnically is not an improvement. And watching neighborhood-valued cultural hubs like Nada close down to be replaced by generic drinking holes is not an improvement.

This is not an issue of being anti-bar. It is an issue of simply too many bars in one place, and not enough being done to control the crowds. Anyone can walk by Pianos from midnight onward most days of the week and see that the crowds are not being dispersed. Not much is being done. They are all just being allowed to hang out there indefinitely, as loudly as they want.

I am not anti-bar; on occasion, as a musician, I have to play gigs in bars, though I am currently, by choice, not gigging on streets like Ludlow where I have been really pretty turned off to see how my friends and neighbors are treated by the S.L.A.’s indiscriminate practice of handing out unlimited numbers of liquor licenses in this once-unique neighborhood. There are too many bars there, and it is clear how detrimental it is for most people who live there (unless you are the lucky stiffs in the back of the building, and even then that doesn’t always help you.) And that dude in the article, who said it was easier to get a cab? One has never had a shortage of cabs only a block away on Houston St. — where many cab drivers go for lunch — or two over, on Allen St., where tons of cab drivers park to go to the local prayer center. I don’t think we should all be the victim of the S.L.A.’s reckless policies just so that dude can get a cab on his doorstep. If he were a true Lower East Sider, he wouldn’t tolerate seeing the neighborhood’s poor and low-income, longtime residents being abused just to have such a ridiculous, yuppie convenience.

P.S.: I hope The Villager/Ms. Keohane also got to see the front page of Pianos’ Web site recently: For their third anniversary, they actually boasted on their homepage that they “flooded” Ludlow St. with noise complaints. I can forward you a screen shot, if you like — the message might still actually be up there.

Rebecca Moore
Moore is a member of LOCO (The Ludlow-Orchard Community Organization)

Hey, The Villager’s good!

To The Editor:
Re “C.B. 2 process on Wash. Sq. has been flawed” (editorial, Nov. 2):

A longtime Villager, I am rediscovering The Villager and find it wonderful. Much good info, well written. I send to you my congratulations and a conviction of my desire to read on.

Richard S. Heddleson

Disabled advocate chides designer

To The Editor:
At least I can say I was there when Community Board 2 made a giant step toward selling Washington Square Park to N.Y.U. during a coup at last month’s full board meeting led by Aubrey Lees, friend of Vellonakis, during the period of the meeting when discussion by the public was not allowed.

After seeing a black male protestor thrown out and told not to come back, it was clear a deal had been struck by certain board members to give away the park.

Chairperson Derr refused to allow the new board members to hear what had changed between the April and October votes: the Parks Department had been hiding the January 2005 $2.5 million dollar fountain-naming contribution from N.Y.U.’s benefactor, the Tisch real estate family, for Vellonakis’s infamous “phase one” privatized deconstruction. A FOIL request forced the July release of the information.

Park repairs could have gone forward at any time in the last few years but Castro/Vellonakis/N.YU. were waiting for a private funding, lump sum in support of flattening the park for graduation and other ceremonies for the benefit of N.Y.U. Flattening has nothing to do for people with disabilities because Vellonakis is refusing to ramp the steps into the fountain. When we last spoke, he was refusing to platform the ramps in front of the gates to the playgrounds, and has yet to provide Americans With Disabilities Act-compliant, easy-opening gates — instead of the chain fencing that he favors — to allow people in wheelchairs access to grass and other areas off his rigid sidewalks within the parks.

If in the democratic process the community’s input is put aside in the beginning of the political process by the community board, who will speak for me?

Councilmember Alan Gerson said he will see that I am included as an advocate for the disabled when the Washington Square Park Task Force is re-formed. If true, I will continue to bear witness for the community.

Margie Rubin
Rubin is a member, Disabled in Action and the Disability Network of NYC

L.E.S. spirit is undying

To The Editor:
On lower east eide streets, “the sunnyside of” is always a choice, and every block there are children with glory in their voice.

The century-old tenements testify, “I will survive,” and the housing east of “D” has the sunrise in its eye.

The pocket-gardens of eden grow old and grow new, transformation and renewal is undeniably true. Tho “buy and sell” has invaded and could seem greed and excess won, that can’t touch our Spirit — we breathed-in and carry lives of 911.

Gail Wilcox

A vanishing resource

To The Editor:
Re “Remembering a time when the Village was affordable” (notebook, by Patricia Fieldsteel, Oct. 19):

This is an interesting article. I bet there are a lot more people in the Village with similar memories that would make good short articles for your paper. A lot of them aren’t going to be around that much longer; and getting something down on paper would make an interesting history of the Village, even though it would necessarily involve a bit of repetition.

Paul Linfante

Exposé was long overdue

To The Editor: 
First, we compliment The Villager for its coverage, though belated, exposing the ongoing and extended Lopez/CoDA malfeasance. But why has it taken eight years to finally bring this to light? It must be politics. We are glad that the spotlights of both media and the government have finally exposed the corrupt practices we get when a political machine, like CoDA, elects people by removing opponents from the ballot. Amazingly, a Nov. 9 letter to the editor (“Is Mendez more of same?” by Enzo Titolo) has also accented this fact about the “Three Musketeers.”

We sincerely hope that the matter will not pass from the light of day as a result of the current election. Putting a new name and face in office should not prevent the truth about CoDA, or Rosie’s actions, from being front-page news. We deserve better from our elected officials than what we have gotten to date.

A TV sitcom of yesteryear, made famous the Jose Jimenez line “is not my job.” Rosie (minus the accent) now uses that line for deniability. All concerned, including the lawyer, deny everything, by pointing fingers in other directions. Campaign Finance is being excoriated for doing its job. We hope they will press this matter firmly to conclusion. The lawyer wants names, not facts. Add in Scientology as a part of the money mix. But, strangest of all, is the fact that records have vanished. How are we supposed to trust anybody connected with the CoDA/Lopez/Mendez machine?

When an elected office is so mismanaged that records are not available or “lost” or stolen, how can we, as citizens, expect that they will function properly on our behalf? When they cannot deal with the basics of business, even so simple a matter as keeping accurate and ongoing records of finances and expenditures, how can we trust them to deal with budget matters in the City Council?

Whether in Iraq, Vieques or the rest of the world, why have outside issues been more important to the councilmember than local issues like the proliferation of bars or spending resources outside of our community? They shouldn’t do that to us!

It remains to be seen what Rosie will do. She publicly stated at a forum, that a bar owner was her friend and her predecessor was a mentor and a person of unquestioned character and commitments. Their record which, until recently, was only commented on and not questioned by the press, is being exposed publicly for what it really is, a complete and total failure of ethics and trust, as well as a slap in the face to the community that elected them. To echo CBS, “Shame, Shame, Shame on You.” We have had enough of crying, lies, deceit and misdirection. If Rosie gets cozy in her seat, we will be there to point out her glowing failures and inability to serve us and we hope The Villager will be there to front-page the continuing rerun of the past eight years wasted by M-Lo.
Roberto Caballero

PEP’s need to be peppier

To The Editor:
Re “Yes to Blutreich; no to guns” (letter, by Michael Gottlieb, Nov. 9):

In his letter to the editor, Michael Gottlieb describes himself “As a bicycle rider along the Hudson River bicycle path…” and then writes of his encounter with a PEP officer trying to enforce the no-riding rule.

Apparently Michael Gottlieb is not really a rider along the Hudson River bicycle path, which the powers that be went to great effort and expense to construct so that riders could have an unhindered place to exercise (and complain if people have the temerity to walk on it), but one of an increasing number of riders riding on the Hudson River no-bicycle path, where people are walking, running, pushing strollers, strolling with dogs, taking pictures, chasing kids and generally trying to avoid bicycles.

Exactly what part of “please dismount bicycle” do these people not understand? Is “dismount” too big a word for them? Is it because the signs (conspicuously posted) don’t say “positively”?

He complains the officers are carried away with their own power. I think the opposite is true: They don’t do enough. If they feel up to it, and if they’re not too busy sitting in their carts reading magazines — This actually happened: Me: “Is bike riding permitted here?” PEP: “No.” Me: “Then why didn’t you do something about the guy who just rode past you and almost hit that kid running around?” PEP: “I didn’t see him.” — they will ask a rider to walk. But as no tickets are ever issued for the offense, the offender is back on his bike as soon as the PEP is gone.

And the next day it starts all over again. I imagine these are the same people who ride on sidewalks getting outraged if asked to please use the street instead. I thought the park was supposed to be a place where people could enjoy the outdoors without having to dodge cars or bikes. Kids have their playgrounds, dogs have their runs, bike riders have their own paths.

How about some space for the rest of us?

Stephen Levine

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