Volume 78 - Number 45 / April 15 -21, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Villager photo by Isaac Rosenthal

Materials for paving and new seating in Washington Square Park.

Seating alcoves doubled in Washington Square plan

By Albert Amateau

The Landmarks Preservation Commission on Tuesday unanimously approved the Department of Parks plan for the redesign of the southeast quadrant of Washington Square Park that includes four alcove seating areas.

After the issue of alcove seating provoked intense debate among neighbors at a March 17 Landmarks hearing, when the plan called for two alcoves, the Department of Parks arrived at the April 14 meeting with two alternatives. One plan called for three alcoves, and another plan provided four alcoves.

Parks Department designers indicated they preferred the three-alcove option, but Roberta Brandes Gratz, a Landmarks commissioner, recalled “the passionate testimony last month about the use of the alcoves.”

Gratz, a Village resident, said she has always seen people sitting in the alcoves, most of which have seats arranged facing each other. She predicted that the four alcoves would be frequently used in the new plan.

“Washington Square Park is not like Gramercy Park that has kept a traditional design,” she said. “It has been evolving, and we need to respond to people who use the park.”

Nevertheless, there was also testimony last month that the alcoves fostered antisocial behavior and were used for sleeping by homeless people.

But last week, Marilyn Dorato, executive director of the Greenwich Village Block Associations, a coalition of Village associations, said in a letter to the L.P.C., “A park is not merely a place to walk through or view from the outside as a tableau. It is successful only when it fosters neighborhood interaction and social engagement. G.V.B.A. does not believe that the fears of a few should spoil the enjoyment and comfort of so many.”

After the L.P.C. vote on Monday, Gil Horowitz, representing the Coalition for a Better Washington Square, said he was disappointed that the alcoves were included in the approved plan.

The plans for the phase-two renovation of the park, which is to begin later this year, also include a new music stage that is lower but a little larger and in a more central location than the current stage.

The new stage will be 28 inches tall compared to the present one, which varies in height from 36 inches to 25 inches.

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