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Neighborhood Guide: Washington Square Park


Few projects in New York City these past few decades have caused such a widespread mix of righteous alarm and general nervousness as the recently, mostly completed two-year renovation of Washington Square Park. Not a surprise, really: after all, Washington Square is not only one of the city’s most recognizable, most cherished public spaces, but it’s smack in the heart of Greenwich Village, where neighborhood advocate and urbanist hero Jane Jacobs faced down, and finally defeated, the once all-powerful Port Authority head and Parks Commissioner (and, not incidentally, car- and traffic-pattern lover) Robert Moses, who in the 1950s, among other urban horrors, wanted to extend Fifth Avenue down right through the center of the park.



Anyway, we’re delighted to report that Washington Square Park has emerged from the renovation, not only unscathed, but also lovelier than ever, and all without losing its essential downtown character. The park’s centerpiece is the fountain, and its surrounding plaza, and here the renovation really shines. Gone is the “pit” which contained the fountain; instead, the entire area has been flattened, with wide marble benches snaking around the perimeter, giving the plaza a refreshing openness. And the fountain is once again a fountain, with soaring, ornamental plumes, all newly aligned with the great Washington Square Arch, anchoring Fifth Avenue. Also new, and much appreciated: grass! Yes, the northwest lawn has undergone a complete replanting, and for everyone who’s picnicked or sunbathed on the park’s hard-packed dirt over the years, that is welcome news indeed. We even like the new flowerbeds that break up the western walkway, heading toward Washington Place. Very European.



A huge part of the Park’s appeal, of course, is its people, and the downtown street theater that plays there, spontaneously or otherwise, all day and well into the night. After several visits, it seems that the Park’s new pleasantness has done little to dampen the energy and enthusiasm of the musicians and puppeteers, the dancers (break- and otherwise) and fountain-waders, the neighborhood kids and NYU students for whom the plaza is their Quad, the crazies and the hippies and the chess-players and the intellectuals and the countless characters that make for some of best people-watching in town. Unlike, say, the sterilization of Times Square, it still feels like the Washington Square Park of old here. Only nicer.


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