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The most controversial component of the plan by far is the four-foot fence to be installed around the Park’s perimeter, which would be locked at night. Opponents contend that this is anathematic to the history and tradition of Washington Square Park, and besides, will deprive couples of a place to make out in public after midnight. The principle behind it is that with the Park locked up, drug dealers will be locked out. While true, the fence idea does not take into account the facts that a) they will just move onto the streets of the Village to ply their wares, and b) they may start dealing actual drugs instead of the oregano they push now. Apparently the Board thinks closing off a famously open recreation area a more appropriate solution than, say, having the cops that are perennially parked on Washington Square South do their jobs.
Debatable as the merits of the proposed alterations are, they are not even the real issue. Consider the following: For a long time there’d been an undeniable need for the Arch to get an extreme makeover. Yet ten years ago, when the renovation was originally slated to start, it wasn’t in nearly the state of disrepair it had attained by the time the work got under way, after sitting behind a fence as the needed monies were raised. There is every indication that the same fate is about to befall the Park in its entirety.
Of the $16 million the overhaul will require, just over $6 million has actually been raised. As the project will proceed at the beginning of June, unless the Open Washington Square Park Coalition prevails in its fight to forestall it, the Parks Department and Community Board will have about a year to come up with the other $10 million. By all admission, most of that will be coming from private donations — or not coming, as the case may well turn out to be.
Everyone is united in the belief that Washington Square Park needs some work done. It would be nice to have a bathroom handy, and a welcome change if patrons didn’t have to share their Park with rats, regardless of their similarity to those miniscule dogs one sees riding in Louis Vuitton bags. Yet the radical proposal, which will be so disruptive and costly, could be better effected in smaller, more manageable segments. There seems to be a needless rush to accomplish what many in the community see as overreaching at best, and pointless at worst. The proposal first saw the light of day in February, was voted in by April, and will commence by June. This has not allowed proper evaluation of its feasibility, necessity and logistics.
Those who stand against the plan as it is now are not obstructionist for the hell of it, nor do they disagree with the fundamental need for work to be done. Their point is that if there’s a lack of funds, a lack of consensus on the redesign and a lack of need for the Park to be closed off in halves for three years, why isn’t more time being spent on review, and why aren’t alternatives being considered? Section by section, the Park could be renovated while still allowing it to remain what it has always been — the Big Top of the Greenwich Village Circus.