What would Jane Jacobs say about a Washington Square Park conservancy?

Jane and the death and life of a great American park
June 13, 2013 | Filed under: Talking Point | Posted by: admin
BY CATHRYN SWAN |

The community around Washington Square Park is currently debating whether a private conservancy is a legitimate way to “improve” the park or just a “scheme” for New York University and other private interests to increase their real estate values and take further control of this essential public space.

In her influential 1961 book, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities,” Village resident and noted activist Jane Jacobs wrote of Washington Square Park: “The city officials regularly concoct improvement schemes by which this center within the park would be sown to grass and flowers and surrounded by a fence. The invariable phrase to describe this is ‘restoring the land to park use.’ That is a different form of park use, legitimate in places. But for neighborhood parks, the finest centers are stage settings for people.”

To this day, people come to Washington Square Park because of its history, reputation and a certain charisma that the park retains despite its recent redesign. The park is currently in the midst of Phase III, the final phase of its five-plus years of reconstruction. This included the Bloomberg administration’s obsession with moving the historic fountain 22 feet east to “align” it with the Washington Square Arch at Fifth Ave. — which actually took the fountain out of alignment after 137 years in its previous location at the center of the park.

I started the Washington Square Park Blog five years ago around the time the park’s reconstruction began. For four or five years prior, the community participated in numerous meetings with the Parks Department and elected officials, addressing the city’s overhaul of the park. Park advocates filed several lawsuits attempting to prevent the cutting down of trees, the reduction of public space and limitations on performances and protests. The city incorporated some slight modifications to the plan as a result of public input, but, for the most part, the redesign of the park went on as the Bloomberg administration decreed.

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