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New York Daily Photo: Lockout
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Friday, 28 December 2007


I joke around about my fascination with prison documentaries, typically entitled something like Lockdown which are presented with great drama. The drama here in the Village is at least as great with a war that has gone on for some time between community activists and the Parks Department and their plan to completely redo Washington Square Park, with activists preferring a rehab versus wholesale reconstruction. All agree the park is in serious need of repair - the last renovation was done in 1967. The details of this battle (which is a replay of previous ones in this activist community) and its raison d'etre has been told blow by blow from the local papers all the way to the New York Times. My previous posting from May gives an overview of the various issues at hand with links and more photos - click here. Lawsuits have been brought against the City of New York (the last of which the city won) and on the week of December 10th, workers moved in, fenced off over half of the park and began construction (which will be done in two phases in an estimated 2-3 years). Phase 1 is larger and includes the fountain area and plaza around it, where most gatherings and activities take place. In the warmer weather it will be interesting to see how the regulars and visitors adapt to the very limited space.
I am a regular user of the park, long-time community resident and have been involved as a close observer of this process. I understand the viewpoints of both sides in this debate and I think it is important to remember that although opponents see the new design as radical, it will still remain a public park with a very similar layout. A radical proposition would have been the construction of high-rise condominiums in the Park's place.
The battle between opposing sides has appeared large but I do not think most residents have really studied or weighed in on this situation at all, leaving the decisions to the powers that be. The number of voices on both sides are actually quite small when viewed in the context of a community with an estimated population of 150-200,00 people. There are aspects of the new design which some feel will substantially change the character of the park, such as a 4-foot high perimeter fence (to secure it at night). It will be interesting to see if the character or mood of the park, its activities and users changes significantly once the project is completed. Architecture alone does not define a place and New Yorkers are adaptable, resilient and strong willed. My prediction in the outcome of this card game is that the character of the neighborhood and will of the users easily trumps the design ...


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