Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Loss of Quality of Life

Key Park Playground looking west towards WSV Sasaki Garden (courtesy of Hubert J. Steed)
In a few months,  I'll be 76 years old.  In 1966, I came to live and work in NYC.  I was hired to develop the payroll and associated personnel and financial  systems for new computing equipment at Columbia University.  I signed a two year lease in a studio apartment a couple of blocks from the main campus of Columbia University.
  My apartment was on Claremont Avenue in Morningside Heights near Riverside Drive and next to the former home Julliard School of Music.  I was single young man about to be 30 years old and beginning a new stage in my life.

Life looked promising, but being alone in the city, I quickly discovered that part of Manhattan had a very limited evening and night life.  So I began to spend non-working hours in Greenwich Village.  One early evening, I was sitting in Washington Square Park and a man walking two dogs passed by me.  I didn't recognize their pedigree and asked what kind of dogs they were.  He replied, "Pembroke Welsh Corgis.  We just got back from a vacation in France."  This led to a conversation that developed into a 40+ year life relationship.

Larry was an adjunct professor at the NYU School of Social Work and was one of the original tenants at One Washington Square Village before NYU took possession of this valuable property built primarily with public funds.  Larry was a professor at New York Medical College at their advanced university affiliated research and treatment Center for Mental Retardation.  He held appointments with several universities that participated in their program.  He lived in a two bedroom apartment at Washington Square Village and invited me to share it with him when my lease expired on Claremont Avenue.

We felt quite privileged to have a very good quality of life at Washington Square Village, but found a marked change in the management of the property by NYU over the years.  Maintenance and "security" of the property became progressively worse with the closing of doorman entrances on LaGuardia Place and the public access to the Sasaki Garden from LaGuardia Place indicated a lack of openness to the neighborhood community.  The question of land use rights for a semi-public garden became a whispered issue.  Also garden and ground maintenance continued to degrade.

For the past several years, the Sasaki Garden has become less attractive and a safety hazard due to the poor maintenance and attempts by NYU to restrict or discourage access for public and private use.  Over the years, a number of plants and trees have died and not been replaced.  The fenced off fountain area has become a longtime eyesore with water jets not working.  The stair well entrances to the garden and the interior paths present hazardous conditions.  Weeds and invasive plants strangle cultivated plants, bushes and trees.

I've photographed the garden for several years and find this condition disheartening.  Now that NYU plans to destroy this unique garden and adjacent playgrounds and park strips with two skyscrapers joined by a network of dark pathways with very few trees and tiny garden patches, I find the quality of life here to be seriously threatened during and after construction for at least the next two decades.  So I plan to move on to greener spaces if NYU gets permission to destroy our Sasaki Garden.         

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