West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
Volume 77, Number 25 | November 21 - 27 2007

Washington Square Park renovation: Fiction vs. fact

By Elizabeth Butson, Judy Paul, Maria Passannante Derr, Anne-Marie Sumner and Rocio Sanz

Now that the bid review process for Phase I of Washington Square Park is almost complete, it is important, now more than ever, that our community receive accurate information about the proposed design. After two and a half years of discussions, community board resolutions and Landmarks Preservation Commission and Art Commission decisions, we should be ready to move forward with the renovation of Washington Square Park.

A project of such magnitude needs vision. It is not possible for this vision to be shared by everyone in the community. But no great park of such historical, cultural and aesthetic importance has ever been designed by committee. We have had extensive community input. We now need to allow the experts — Landmarks and Art Commission and Parks Department — to proceed with the vision they have created for our community.

We are five individuals who possess a great love of and commitment to Washington Square Park and have followed very closely every issue generated by the proposed renovation. We have collected almost 2,000 signatures in support of the proposed renovation, and, in doing so, we have been made aware of some mistaken beliefs held by many people.

In response, we have drafted below a clarification of several points raised by members of our community. We have taken great care in determining the accuracy of all the major points of contention and want to share our findings.
We fully endorse the renovation of Washington Square Park without further delay.



FICTION: Washington Square Park will be a gated park closed to the public. 

FACT: Washington Square Park will continue to be an open park. There will be a partial fence, less than 4 feet tall, allowing the park to maintain its character. Furthermore, the presently unattractive, internal fencing will be eliminated and will be replaced by a “post and chain” system so as to be more open and inviting. The standard fence for all New York City parks is 4 feet high and most parks in the city have higher fences. Newly renovated parks, such as Tompkins Square Park and Abingdon Square Park, have 4-foot fences as well as gates. Both of these parks are well liked by the community. The park will continue to be closed at 1 a.m. and secured with moveable police barricades, as currently exists.


FICTION: The walkways will be narrowed or eliminated. 

FACT: Currently, at the area between the Holley monument and the plaza, there is a small path of approximately 20 feet. Under the new design, there will be two parallel paths, each 18 feet wide, on either side of a 15-foot-wide, at-grade, “planting bed.” The other walkways will remain the same. There will be no raised planters.


FICTION: Washington Square Park will have more concrete and be less “green.”

FACT: Washington Square Park will be park-friendly because there will be 20 percent more green space with less concrete areas. The overall design provides for more lawns and green areas that people can use for passive recreation, such as sunbathing, reading and picnicking. The concrete retaining walls will be eliminated from the chess area and Teen Plaza. More important, the current retaining and seating walls will be replaced with granite seating walls, with additional niches under the trees for more seating, thus creating a more open and inviting space. The paths will be asphalt with pavers and are designed to be more park-friendly to users, including joggers.


FICTION: The park will have fewer trees.

FACT: Currently nine trees are being removed. An additional seven trees will be evaluated by the horticulturalists during construction. Thirty-nine new trees are scheduled to be planted during Phase I construction. It is necessary that unhealthy trees be removed. Dying and diseased trees should not be in a public space posing a danger to the public. More trees are scheduled to be planted than eliminated. Even though replacement trees may be, initially, smaller than the trees that are removed, they will insure the park’s long-term sustainability.


FICTION: There will be fewer game tables in the new design.

FACT: A Scrabble plaza is being constructed in Phase I. (Chess tables will be replaced, in Phase II, and the number will remain the same.) There will be eight, multiuse Scrabble tables in the park’s northwest quadrant — designed by a committee composed of community members — which will be A.D.A. compliant. 


FICTION: The park will have inadequate lighting.

FACT: The park will have improved lighting and more light poles with comprehensive illumination so as to eliminate any “dark spots” on the pathways.


FICTION: It is more costly to move the fountain than to repair it in its present location.

FACT: The fountain sits upon a brick foundation which has settled and produced cracks in the historic stone. Twenty-five percent, or more, of the stone must be recarved. The restored fountain will be placed on a new concrete foundation. It is necessary to dismantle the fountain in its entirety (including the badly damaged plumbing) so that its components can be restored. There will be no additional costs incurred to relocate the fountain. The renovated fountain will be the same design, including the interior steps, as the current fountain, as approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission and Art Commission, and will be completely restored.

Although the fountain is being shifted 20 feet, it will remain entirely within the footprint of the park’s original and larger fountain (which occupied the spot from 1842-1870) and remain within 75 percent of the current fountain’s footprint. Moving the fountain 20 feet creates more open, green space to the west. The fountain’s symmetrical positioning creates a portal, viewed from the performance space, to the north on Fifth Ave. In addition, the fountain’s relocation increases green space west of the plaza that surrounds the fountain, thus improving pedestrian circulation.


FICTION: The fountain steps are being eliminated and the fountain will be one level.

FACT: The steps are not being removed from the fountain and its current design will be preserved.


FICTION: The fountain water plumes will prohibit performers. 

FACT: The water plume design is copied from pre-1970 documents and replicates the current system. The plumes’ height is adjusted throughout the day. Performers will be able to continue to gather in and about the fountain as they have for many years.


FICTION: The plaza’s size will be substantially reduced.

FACT: Currently, the plaza design is divided into the inner circle (the sunken area) and the outer circle (the walkway). The inner walls will be removed and will be replaced by granite. The grade will be level with the outer circle or the walkway and will contain asphalt, pavers and granite benches. It will feel bigger and more open because there will be one level. Pre-1970, the plaza — inner and outer — was one level.


FICTION: The restrooms will not be A.D.A. compliant.

FACT: Washington Square Park will be New York City’s first 100-percent, A.D.A.-compliant park. There will be A.D.A.-compliant restrooms, drinking fountains, ramps and seating. The fountain is not required to be A.D.A. compliant.


FICTION: There will be less dog run space than currently exists.

FACT: On the contrary, the small dog run space will be enlarged. There will be no reduction in the large dog run’s size. In addition, there will be amenities, such as dog drinking fountains and a drainage and irrigation system that will clean the dog runs nightly.


FICTION: There is not enough money to complete the Washington Square Park renovation.

FACT: Phase I construction is fully funded.

Butson is The Villager’s publisher emeritus; Derr, Sanz and Paul are Community Board 2 members, and Paul is also co-owner of the Washington Square Hotel; Sumner is the Washington Square Association’s president.


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