Washington Square Park Redesign

The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation has begun construction on the renovation of Washington Square Park, the Greenwich Village landmark park. The fountain will be refurbished and moved so it lines up with the iconic arch, the central plaza will be ripped up and flattened, a new playground will go where concrete play mounds now sit, and a four-foot wrought-iron fence will replace the current mishmash of lower barriers around the park.

The newly redesigned park will feature an adventure play area for older kids, a refurbished bathroom house, and a new performance stage. The Alexander Holley Monument will be moved away from the central fountain to create freer walkways, and there will be more benches in some areas, new tables, and lower walls for sitting.

The central plaza and lawns will all be made to the same grade so wheelchairs can get around and so that the different parts of the park feel connected. While the redesign was expected to cost $16 million, paid for by funding by the City, the Tisch family, and New York University (NYU), expenses have increased. In December 2008, it was estimated that the project would now cost $27 million.

Proponents of the plan say that the park is in a state of disrepair and that the large expanses of pavement should be replaced with green space. Opponents of the plans fear that the park will lose its unique character, and they also fear disturbing the burial ground underneath the park during construction. The alleged disenfranchisement of local community members in the planning and design process is of greatest concern to many.

Some also consider the move of the fountain to be a waste of City resources in tough economic times. The City has said that moving the fountain will increase unpaved green space by 20%. During 2005 and early 2006, three lawsuits were filed challenging various aspects of the Parks Department’s renovation plans. All of those suits were eventually resolved in the City’s favor, which allowed construction to begin in late 2007. The first phase of construction is complete and the park reopened to the public in May 2009.

The overall redesign of the 9.73-acre park was approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) in 2005 because the park is an NYC-designated landmark. Approval of the second phase of construction, set to begin in the Spring of 2009 and be completed a year later, has not yet been approved by the LPC.

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