Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Public space in danger: Washington Square Park

About ten years ago, Giuliani renovated City Hall Park, entirely eliminating New York City's central location for demonstrations. Moving and down-sizing a fountain, he covered the rest of the park with enclosed, inaccessible lawn, invoking a false utopian past of contented gentry strolling in top hats and parasols through paved paths surrounded by untouched and pristine green -- the new fountain even boasts Disneyesque gaslights -- undisturbed by the desperation and frequent violence in the streets of the immigrant ghettos nearby.

An uncannily similar gentrifying of Washington Square is underway -- moving and down-sizing a fountain, limiting people-space.

A kind of participatory guerrilla theater is planned for Thursday in Washington Square Park that will allow people to express their feelings about a place that defined free expression for generations since Jane Jacobs and Eleanor Roosevelt burnt an automobile in front of the arch in effigy. Here is the advertisement from the organizers:

"Do you have an opinion about the destruction and redesign of Washington Square Park? think it's a tragedy? an outrage? a great idea? want to express that opinion in a quick but effective way?
"On this Thursday, March 13th, Washington Square Park is going to be filled with more than a thousand multi-colored helium balloons, each bearing the opinion of a Village resident, visitor or student about the destruction and redesign of the park.
"Between the hours of 12pm and 8pm organizers will be handing out balloons outside of 11 University Place (just North East of the park) and on the sidewalk just off of the south west corner of the park. Participants are given a balloon, asked to write their thoughts about the changes to WSP on the balloon, then carry it into the park, tie it to something and leave it. At 8pm a group of organizers and volunteers will sweep through the park popping all the balloons and removing them, leaving nothing behind.
"Come by on Thursday and speak your mind, make a statement, show the Parks Department that this space is our space and that we have something to say. The powers that be have been playing deaf to the voice of the public. We aim to see if they'll play blind as well.

"If you would like to be more involved than writing and tying a balloon contact Andrew Butler at theglassco@gmail.com. We need volunteers.

"See you there!"

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