The Parks Department leaders celebrate after the rubber stamp Art Commission meeting
Big Wheel, Keep on Turnin'
On Monday, January 9, the Parks Department and the Art Commission continued steamrolling over the desires of the citizens.
The Art Commission didn't even listen to the issues of the musicians and performers. Despite clear explanations by a number
of people, the "debate" after the 4 ½ hours of public testimony centered on the height of the fountain and performers
at the fountain. While musicians played at the fountain in the 1960's, most performances now take place at the outer ring
of the circle. Parks outright lied when they described the seating area as too high for most people. We yelled out that it
was a three-level seating area as described in this site, but were ignored.
Parks made their standard statement that people still performed in the '60s without the seating areas we have now. This
is true, but the next redesign that took place was designed with performers in mind, to improve the acoustics and isolate
The new fountain will recirculate rather than fresh water draining out as it is now. Because of this, one more of the
features of the Park will be lost, that of being able to sit in the fountain in summer. Wading in the pond will be prohibited.
And yet, the Parks people were doubletalking about people being able to be in the fountain when the sprays were off. They
even talked about having a ramp for the disabled to get down there. A "temporary" ramp. Does this mean that the
fountain will not be a complete circle and have a break for this ramp? Will there be a ramp up and a long roll down? Will
this temporary ramp be ADA compliant? What will the noise level of the motors used for pumping these sprays? Their answers
showed that no planning or thought had gone into these issues and they were virtually making it all up on the spot. These
critical questions were not resolved, and yet the Commission approved the plan.
Concerning performances at the fountain, the "debate" also questioned the height of the fountain versus performers
there. The new fountain spray will be 45 high at the center, with 4 other jets from the outside of the fountain towards the
center. Even now, the spray occasionally reaches the outer performance circles. The combination of even more height and a
smaller cirle will make this even worse. When Parks was questioned about this height and the spray on performers, they started
dancing around the questionable assertion that there would be someone available all the time to adjust the fountain. When
that was questioned, they came back and said that if the musicians got permits, they would adjust the fountain. Once again,
answers made under pressure with no previous thought given. And yet the Commission approved the plan.
On the political front, new Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and State Assembly member Deborah Glick sent official
testimony against the fountain move. State Senator Thomas K. Duane and City Councilman Alan Gerson also testified strongly
in person against the moving of the fountain.
The disabled community was out in force, attacking the Parks Department's exploitation in their using the disabled as
a major reason for their mutilation of the Park. One after another, they pointed out that work could be done to increase accessibility
without leveling the entire Park. Once again, they were ignored. Considering the Parks Department's dismal record of ADA compliance
(see link below), this excuse was both dishonest and insulting.
It was disappointing that Marjorie Kouns, whose Chess Pieces project has been in the Park for much of 2005, testified
strongly in favor of all the changes. Perhaps there was a quid pro quo in the second extension of her exhibition until April?
Filmmaker Karen Kramer, who made the recent film "The Ballad of Greenwich Village" testified about the loss
of Washington Square Park's current status as a major film location. She mentioned that over 100 film permits were granted
last year, and predicted a large drop with the changes being planned. We wonder why they will continue to use the Park, when
some generic park in Vancouver will do just as well.
A representative for Project for Public Spaces testified somewhat noncommittally about the fountain move, despite their
findings that the vast majority of Park users preferred the basic design of the Park the way it is. The organization that
paid for their report, Washington Square Park Council, who are grooming themselves as the new Park conservators, were conspicuously
Also absent were NYU and the Tisch Foundation, who between them are contributing about 20% of the cost of the redesign.
In regards to the movement of the Garibaldi staue, the curator of the Meucci-Garibaldi Museum in Staten Island gave a
spirited talk on why the statue should not be moved to a less conspicuous position, or the direction it faces changed.
A large engineering firm testified strongly against the move of the Holley Statue to a spot farther from the center.
One bright spot was that the Commission rejected large urns that were planned to be placed atop the posts of the fountain.
And so the Parks Department's planned March to the Sea continued....
Preserve Washington Square Park's Testimony At The Hearing
The following text was presented as testimony at the Art Commission hearing for this website:
Good morning, President Menshel and members of the Commission. My name is Ray Brizzi. During the late 1990s and 2000,
I used to get out of work early on summer Fridays and would often walk from Herald Square down to Washington Square Park.
I liked the Southeast corner of the Park kiosks for reading. Coming down Fifth Avenue, it was impressive the way the Arch
framed the World Trade Center in the distance. When I left that job in early 2001, I stopped coming down to the Park regularly.
After 9/11, a friend and I kept putting off going down to see the Towers site. We finally decided to go in mid-October.
It was upsetting to see the destruction, and we decided to come back to Washington Square Park to clear our heads. We started
talking to one of the musicians, who invited us to sing along. I'd recently picked up the guitar after 30 years, and he suggested
that I come down and play sometime. I did, and I've been playing and listening and watching in the Park most weekends from
Spring through Fall. I estimate that I've spent well over 2000 hours in the Park over the last four years. When I heard about
the plans to mutilate the Park and turn it into yet another homogenous viewing garden, I became upset, and started the preservewashingtonsquarepark.com
website, which is both fighting this renovation and celebrating and promoting this wonderful Park.
I've missed the view of the World Trade Center through the Arch. In October, there will be groundbreaking for the new
Freedom Tower. At the same time that this memorial and vital building will be constructed, the Parks Department plans on moving
the Fountain to line up with the Arch, effectively blocking the clear view to the Tower. This will be a lost opportunity to
magnify the memorial aspects of the Freedom Tower through the monument to the father of our Country, George Washington.
Yogi Berra once said, "You can observe a lot just by watching." In the times I've spent in the Park, I've observed
the way that the Fountain and the Garibaldi and Holley statues are the physical and functional centers of the Park. They anchor
it, and paths radiate away from them to all the corners and exits.
Besides the world-renowned acoustic and social aspects of the natural amphitheatre, the two statues are also smaller centers
of entertainment. The Holley statue area tends to be most used by jazz performers, and the benches there are usually full
during these performances. The Garibaldi statue area tends to be used by performers with unusual instruments, usually soloists.
Over the years I've seen giant gramophones playing wax cylinders of new music, organ grinders, multi-necked string instruments
and vibraphones, as well as saxophones and other solo instruments. Moving the statues to the outside will also make the corner
areas less quiet and conducive to reading or contemplation.
This musical center of the Park is about to be marginalized by an ill-conceived plan to completely change the flavor of
the Park. Plans are being presented to shrink and place lawns on a large part of the current amphitheatre area. If as much
care is taken with these new areas as the current lawns, we can expect them to soon end up as mostly bare patches, followed
by long periods where they will be closed off by chicken wire fencing.
My last observation concerns me a great deal about the proposed fountain move. Ripping up the ground and digging up areas
that were once cemeteries from historic epidemic periods is both disrespectful and dangerous. To compound the risk, at the
same time, other areas of the Park will be dug up, releasing the rodent population into disease-ridden cemetery grounds. This
risks spreading disease throughout the city. In an age when we are bracing for a world-wide flu epidemic, this is truly a
foolish thing to do.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen
and philosophers and divines." President Menschel and Committee Members, please do not let the little statesmen of the
Parks Department ruin our Park with the foolish consistency of lining up the Fountain with the Arch and moving the statues
away from the center. Thank you.