West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
Volume 77, Number 10 | August 08 - 14, 2007

Letters to the Editor

Congrats to working group

To The Editor:
After months of deliberating the future of our Pier 40 in the Hudson River Park, the Pier 40 Working Group chartered by the Hudson River Park Trust Advisory Council recently released its detailed, comprehensive recommendations for the pier’s development. I would like to congratulate the group on completing this important, difficult task.

Now that the recommendations have received further endorsement from Community Boards 1 and 2, as well as the Advisory Council itself, I look forward to using the document as the strong statement of community needs that it is, in discussions with the Governor’s Office and the new members of the Park Trust, once they are appointed.

It is not an easy time to be a park advocate on the West Side. These days, the designated parkland on the Gansevoort Peninsula is at risk of alienation, development on Pier 57 has been stalled for more than a year and incursions like the heliport and the tow pound continue to displace promised green space. Furthermore, the most recent New York State budget allocation for the Hudson River Park is significantly lower than in recent years. With the need to develop Pier 40 looming on top of all this, each of these park issues may impact how the others play out. It is important that the community remain vigilant on all fronts, and I pledge to continue to do the same.

As a legislator who represents most of Hudson River Park, as well as parts of Riverside Park and East River Park, I strongly support the goals of the Pier 40 Working Group’s recommendations, and am now working to see them realized as part of our ongoing, essential battle to get the much-needed, community-friendly parkland our neighborhoods deserve.

Thomas K. Duane
Duane is state senator for the 29th District.

Stop Washington Square farce!

To The Editor:
The Villager has published thousands of words about Washington Square Park over the past two to three years. It has described lawsuits, meetings and resolutions and published letters back and forth between protagonists. As chairperson of Community Board 2’s Parks Committee — and of the Washington Square Task Force until recently — I felt constrained to hold my personal views to myself while I worked to build as great a community consensus on the board and in the community as possible.

For all the complicated arguments, the dispute around Washington Square Park can be boiled down to some very simple issues. And the solutions, too, are not that complicated.

After chairing several dozen meetings about Washington Square Park, and having spent a lot of time in the park myself, there is no question in my mind that there are certain basic elements in the redesign plan that are wildly unpopular. Yes, the plan has its supporters, and yes, at some point in the distant past a heavy-handed chairperson of C.B. 2 pushed through an approval of the plan by C.B. 2. But today those who speak in favor of the current redesign plan mainly argue that if we don’t do what the Parks Department wants, we will never get anything. That is not public support. And C.B. 2 has withdrawn its approval of the plan.

There are basically three reasons why the plan is unpopular:

First, Washington Square Park doesn’t need a fence. Washington Square Park with a 4-foot fence is not Washington Square Park. It is Gramercy Park or City Hall Park. We are told that the fence is needed to keep dogs out. But at Father Demo Square, the Parks Department installed a 30-inch fence in order to keep the park closed at night. A 30-inch hedge could create a similar barrier at Washington Square Park and be far more beautiful.

Second, the reduced plaza, as proposed, takes away too much of this historic gathering plaza. I am not addressing only the space between the fountain and the stone seats. I am talking about the entire paved area around the fountain. This is a space which has worked for dozens of years; Parks wants us to trade it for more grass — grass with a chain blocking easy access. But this part of the park is for singing and dancing and running and playing, not sunbathing. Washington Square Park is an urban park, and it should stay that way.

Finally, Washington Square Park is like the Village: nonsymmetrical, quirky, a place where a walk can be an adventure. The new plan is just the opposite. It’s not our Washington Square Park.

It is time for Councilmember Alan Gerson, the principal funder of the park renovation, and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn to say to the Parks Department: “Change the plan, respond to the community, or we will withhold the funds.” For the last year or more, the community, including our elected officials, has begged Parks to be cooperative. It took Herculean efforts by the Council speaker to get Parks to publicly present its bid documents a mere 10 days before the bids were set to go out to the world. The Parks Department’s approach to growing community dissatisfaction and to opposition by most of our elected officials has been an arrogance reminiscent of the worst days of the Giuliani administration. It’s time to move beyond timidity! 

Without a stand on funds by Councilmember Gerson, and support for such a stand by Council Speaker Quinn, Parks may be able to get away with its disregard for the community, for the community board and for our community’s elected officials. Yes, Alan, in the two years you have left, you can create your legacy: not the park redesigned by George Vellonakis, but the park you grew up in and played in; a park cleaned up a bit, replanted, with new plumbing and repaved, with some new benches. A Washington Square Park preserved as the gem it is.

Arthur Schwartz
Schwartz is Democratic state committeeman for the Village, Soho and Tribeca and chairperson, Community Board 2 Waterfront Committee.

Use power of the purse

To The Editor:
Re “Wash. Sq. funds must be pulled, critics cry” (news article, Aug. 1):

After a City Hall hearing last week on the Washington Square Park renovation plan, the Parks Department showed copies of its plan to the public and the community-based Washington Square Park Task Force. Incredibly, after two years, they are still treating the plans like top-secret government information. The Parks officials present refused to answer the simplest questions, like why they cannot find funds to improve the bathrooms and make them disabled accessible. 

The only real check we New Yorkers have on the power of our Parks Department to bulldoze our park with its enormously unpopular redesign is the City Council’s budgetary authority. During the past few years, the Council has avoided using this power over the Parks Department. Many New Yorkers, including those of us affiliated with the Open Washington Square Park Coalition, feel the time has come for our local elected officials to represent the will of thousands of people who use and love this park.

Jonathan Greenberg
Greenberg is coordinator, Open Washington Square Park Coalition

Staying positive on park

To The Editor:
It is with great regret that I could not attend the important meeting of the Washington Square Park Task Force last week. I have every reason to believe that it will greatly forward our work — and I express my appreciation that Speaker Quinn and Councilman Gerson have made this summer initiative.

We share common hopes:

That Greenwich Village will be a place that moves beyond a culture of opposition with the city’s Parks Department, opening mutual channels of communication and opportunity for all;

That Washington Square Park will continue its proud legacy as the premier outdoor performance space in (probably) the world;

That Washington Square Park will continue its democratic openness to a great variety of human beings who come there to “be alone and together” at the same time.

We agree on the principles of openness, democracy, diversity and maximized performance spaces. Let’s not get caught up in the details, so much as be caught by a great spirit of cooperation and hope.

Reverend Donna Schaper
Schaper is senior minister, Judson Memorial Church

Bar crowd beats hookers

To The Editor:
Re “Hookers have been replaced by hubbub and hype” (news article, July 18):

I’m responding to Lucas Mann’s article about the displaced transgender prostitutes. It appears Mr. Mann has a kind of misplaced nostalgia for the prostitute with the “heart of gold.” In truth, the drunken and otherwise excessively affluent patrons of the Meat Market’s stores, clubs and restaurants bring money to the neighborhood and more police protection. The noise and inconvenience in a formerly quiet area, which is zoned for clubs, is unfortunate, but I would think far more preferable than the insidious crime of drugs and prostitutes.

I don’t know if Mr. Mann is a resident of the West Village. If so, he might be far less sympathetic to the transgender prostitute population here, which routinely harasses residents. On almost any early weekend morning or coming back from work, no matter if children are present, we are subjected to menacing and/or obscene comments and behavior. There is also the tragedy of transgender youth soliciting older men, rather than perhaps being channeled into job-training programs. Exploitation is repugnant, whether it’s consenting or not. An alternative to looking the other way in the guise of “tolerance,” is to provide real-life employment opportunities.

Many of the West Village’s transgender prostitutes are transients who don’t contribute to neighborhoods and, in fact, operate to their detriment. That they live without avenues for legitimate jobs is unfortunate. That they make life miserable for working people and bring crime to the area should not be condoned. For those of us who pay taxes and raise children, development is a blessing.
Susan Weinstein

Thanks for ‘quiet days’

To The Editor:
Re “Jerry the Peddler makes pitch for permit, but Parks isn’t buying” (news article, July 25):

I read with interest your front-page article on “Jerry the Peddler” and am afraid that your story missed an important opportunity to educate your readers about the issues that the Parks Department is dealing with in granting permits for amplified events in city parks.

The parks are a trust and their use must be balanced with respect to the quality of life for those people who live around them and use them. As a resident of the Washington Square Park area, I can tell you that the noise from amplified events has ruined the quality of life for those who live in the area and has driven many park users away on beautiful days.

The Parks Department has finally recognized that noise, New York City’s number-one quality of life issue, must be controlled. The department’s “quiet weekends” is an attempt to balance the desires of those who want to put on concerts in public spaces with those who live nearby and those who view the parks as a retreat from an all-too-noisy city.

I am afraid that Jerry and his friends care not about the people whose lives they disrupt by loud and unsupervised amplified events. The type of music or the crowds they draw is immaterial.

Bruce Deitchman

Buses have run amok

To The Editor:
Re “Corralling Chinatown’s cowboy bus business” (news article, Aug. 1):

Certainly, Community Board 3 and our local officials should continue to look for an alternative to buses lining the Bowery. The buses are parked in “no parking” zones, do not fill parking meters, have engines idling and allow their passengers to flood the streets with suitcases. If I did not pay parking meters, I would be issued fines. It is a hazard to try to walk through the streets while dodging people with rolling suitcases. Since when does New York City allow people to form their own “Port Authority” terminal out on the streets? 

I realize the importance of an inexpensive method of traveling for New Yorkers. However, these buses are breaking many traffic laws and should be contained in a nonresidential area.

Karen Pearl

Don’t shirk McGurk history

To The Editor:
The site of 295 Bowery is a very important one in the history of the Lower East Side. It was once the site of “McGurk’s Suicide Hall.” Earlier, the building had housed returning Civil War soldiers. It was also the first saloon on the infamous Bowery to have electric lights and was also the last saloon of its period still standing until it was unceremoniously demolished, to the outcry of the neighborhood. There should be some sort of a plaque at this site so that it will at least be remembered.

John Heliker
Heliker is a former member, Save Poe House, Save Judson House Coalition

City Hall’s other half

To The Editor:
Others may have also noted an error of omission in Gerard Koeppel’s informative column “Manhattan traffic congestion a historic mistake” (talking point, Aug. 1). But here goes anyway.

The design of New York City’s City Hall is credited to two architects, Mangin and John McComb, Jr., not to Mangin alone. McComb was also the architect of Old Queens, the historic Georgian-style building on the campus of Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J.
Ronald Asinari

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