October 3, 2011

Amongst The Core of the NYU 2031 Plan

Image: Existing condition (circled), Washington Square Village courtyard, NYU 2031 (source)
The existing condition of Washington Square Village's central garden - the 1.5 acre Hideo Sasaki-designed garden and green roof -- in Chapter 6, "The Core" of the NYU 2031 plan is illustrated (above) and described as "while extensive, is elevated above ground level and accessible only by means of the former Wooster and Greene streets, which remain as semiprivate drives isolated from the public realm by the existing buildings through which they pass.  Other green spaces are fragmented and often publicly inaccessible."

Image: Aerial view of Washington Square Village courtyard, annotated (larger image)
The NYU 2031 description and illustration are misleading.  The plan illustration only depicts north-south views but there are west-east and diagonal views. From two points on LaGuardia Place you can see the garden.

Image (#6 on aerial): Looking south on Wooster from West 3rd Street
You can also see the garden from West Third Street (at what once were Wooster and Greene Streets).

Image (#4 on aerial): Looking west from the garden
Image (#3 on aerial): Looking west from the garden
Especially as you approach the western edge of the garden you can see LaGuardia Place from the northern and southern steps on formerly Wooster Street.

Image (#2 on aerial): Looking east from LaGuardia Place

Image (#1 on aerial): Looking east from LaGuardia Place
The reality and perception of limited access is due to several factors.  One is the gates which the university's master plan acknowledges "obscure" the garden.  There are five gates around the garden and two that separate LaGuardia Place park from Wooster Street.  The gated entries on LaGuardia Place are chained closed.  Staired entrances on the west and east side of the Sasaki Garden are gated (the gates are chained closed at night).

Image (#5 on aerial): Looking east from Wooster Street

The only mobility-impaired access point to the garden is a ramp on its southeastern edge, off Greene Street.

Instead of razing this 1.5 acre Hideo Sasaki-designed garden (also "one of the first parking structure roof gardens in the country") to fix problems of accessibility, the university could retrofit the garden and the courtyard space: open/remove the gates, improve the pathways between LaGuardia Place and Wooster Street, redesign the staired access points to the garden as well as provide a mobility-impaired access point on the western side of the garden.  Landscape maintenance appears to have been deferred and thoughtful garden management could improve sightlines within and through the garden.

In addition to design changes to the gates and garden entrances, signage could be installed to indicate the name of the garden and its hours of use.  The garden does not have a formal name in the university's master plan nor is it indicated on the university's way-finding signs, but several community groups refer to the garden as the "Sasaki Garden" at Washington Square Village.  The university often incorporates images of the city-owned Washington Square Park; perhaps it should do the same for the Sasaki Garden.  (At a recent garden meeting, a volunteer suggested a tree-related logo for the garden.)


On one hand, NYU 2031 states that "[o]ther green spaces [in the Washington Square Village complex] are fragmented and often publicly inaccessible" and on the other it describes the proposed design intent as "break[ing] the vast interior of of Washington Square Village into smaller and more intimate spaces, promoting a park-like atmosphere."

The Key Park playground could be considered publicly inaccessible; it requires a key card but "residents of NYU housing and community members living in the Washington Square neighborhood" can obtain a key via an application.


Of course, the statement about fragmented could be referring to the two grassy areas just west of the garden one of which houses the Grow, Cook, Eat, Learn (GCEL) greenhouses, a community garden project of the NYU Graduate Program in Food Studies and the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.  Well into a game of bocce on the other lawn area last spring, we prematurely ended our game when a doorman told us to "keep off the grass".  The lawn areas are "fragmented" by the driveway of the university's mail service office.  Would the university consider using LaGuardia Place for deliveries to create a more cohesive green space?


Or, the lawn areas could be left as is, in there existing "intimate" size and the university could provide bocce balls and moveable tables and chairs to heighten the park-like experience.  Boston's Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy provides bocce balls in one of the Wharf District Parks but the university does not have to look that far for examples of moveable tables and chairs.  Union Square Park has them.


Finally, as for the "semiprivate drives" of the former Wooster and Greene streets, the university could not only return these roadways to their one-way street status -- the streets are one-way streets south of Houston -- (and expand the growing areas for the London planetrees and install sidewalks), it could petition the city to install crosswalks or other infrastructure where Wooster and Greene intersect Bleecker to signal a pedestrian and publicly-accessible realm.

Read our previous essays on NYU 2031 and the Sasaki Garden:

Tree Walk: 13 Endangered Shade Trees at Washington Square Village playground

Washington Square Village in the NYU 2031 Plan

Hideo Sasaki's Garden in Washington Square Village

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