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BY RICHARD BARONE | Residents of the West Village are faced with the rare — and perhaps final — opportunity of acquiring for public use a green space, in the form of the triangle site across from the former St. Vincent’s Hospital. The triangle is being designated as a community park, and its unique location at Greenwich and Seventh Aves. makes it a “gateway to the Village.”
By definition, a community park must be all things to all people. But, in the attempt to please all, there is a danger of losing all. For instance, when the discussion moves to the addition of a playground or monument you are no longer talking about a true community park — which should be an “open” space: visually, mentally and emotionally.
I attended Community Board 2’s St. Vincent’s Omnibus Committee meeting several weeks ago, listened to the thoughtful and at times passionate discussion, and commend the committee’s letter to City Planning. The letter is a well-written, thorough document that firmly establishes the community’s concerns for the park and the reuse, as housing, of the old St. Vincent’s facility site itself.
But I disagree with the second point in the letter’s fourth section, regarding the inclusion of a playground. This plan would require a higher, protective fence than the one described in the letter, blocking off and changing the nature of the open space. Without such a fence, the park would be unsafe for children playing because of the constant, irregular traffic patterns around the narrow triangle: One stray ball retrieved over a low fence could spell tragedy. And there is already a successful, safe, designated playground just two blocks west on Bleecker St.
Instead, a slightly elevated grassy area for general use could be integrated into the design as a free space that everyone could enjoy, truly serving the neighborhood’s needs.
As suggested in the committee’s letter, placing an AIDS remembrance outside the park, along the Seventh Ave. perimeter — and, furthermore, making it a universal tribute to the diverse victims, groundbreaking caregivers of St. Vincent’s and historic activists — would keep the inside park space inclusive and uplifting for all.
The first responders, as well as those lost to the epidemic, would be honored with a park within that celebrates the joy of living with understated, natural dignity. Surely, there is no better tribute.
Lastly, we should not rush this process, which is what seems to be the case based on the quickly ticking-away 90-day deadline discussed at a recent C.B. 2 meeting. As with all great parks large and small, a design competition should be held to create a landscaping plan that utilizes the space fully and beautifully, takes the above points into account, and results in a true community park. Future generations will thank us for the foresight we display now.
Barone is a recording artist, performer, producer and author who has collaborated with artists from Lou Reed and Moby to Liza Minnelli, Tiny Tim and most recently, Pete Seeger. The lead singer of the Bongos, his memoir, “Frontman: Surviving the Rock Star Myth,” was published by Hal Leonard Books. Since 1984, Barone has lived in Greenwich Village, where he recently completed work on his fifth solo album, “Glow.”