Monday, June 8, 2009

Washington Square Park renovation

Washington Square Park was one of my first loves of New York City. I loved the park for its gritty unkemptness, its vibrant patronage, its rare unhurried atmosphere. It was maybe one of the few things that I liked about my school (despite NYU's terrible history with Greenwich Village and its residents), and I made all attempts to cross the park, even if it meant going out of my way, any time I was visiting the downtown campus.

So I was upset when the city proposed to renovate Washington Square Park. I'm a stickler for change, you see, even though I myself am an agent of that change (see: southside Williamsburg gentrification). So when they decided that they needed to give the park a facelift (which included moving the fountain 22 feet to line up with the arch on the north side of the park), I was indignant and worried that such beautification would push out those gritty elements and replace them with the polish of flower beds and tamed lawns. The years of construction could potentially displace the park's patronage, irreversibly changing the culture of the park.

I ended up in the park one afternoon in early May, having left work early in order to take care of some emergency immigration paperwork downtown. Little did I realise that I had quite unintentionally stumbled into the park on its first day after the chain link came down. And the park was brimming with people: a man had wheeled an upright piano to serenade park bench sitters, children were dashing through the relocated fountain as if no time had passed at all, a four-piece ragtime band played while impromptu dancers tried out their cakewalks. It was incredibly heartening, and I hoped it was a sign that all my fears were unfounded.

CONSUMED: Washington Square Park; Greenwich Village (Manhattan)

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