The year is 1826. New York City just adopted The Commissioners’ Plan, which ruled that all of Manhattan above Houston Street will be parceled into blocks with a grid system. City Hall purchased a piece of land by Minetta Creek, flattened it and named it the Washington Military Parade Ground, which soon became one a favorite destination for New Yorkers. Established as the third park in New York City — after Battery Park and City Hall Park — the neighborhood surrounding the then-called Washington Military Parade Ground instantly became desirable. New Yorkers’ love affair with Washington Square Park goes way back. After the park’s first five years, a new attraction enclosed and dictated the area around the park — NYU. After all these years, the NYU population should rethink their loose ownership over Washington Square Park, or as surrounding residents lovingly call it, “WaSquaPa.”
WSP has hosted many notable events, including a civil rights movement led by preservationist Jane Jacobs. The movement stopped vehicular traffic from entering the park. The park continues to be a gathering place for many political rallies in New York City. None of these historical moments have anything to do with NYU.
Here at NYU, however, not only do we take WSP for granted but we also claim many of its assets as our own. The Arch, perhaps WSP’s most recognizable landmark, is frequently used as a symbol of NYU’s identity. Our promotional photos include it. Our publications display it. It is printed inside our acceptance letters. In fact, WSN, this very publication, is named after the park and uses it as the featured image of its Editorial Board.
The rationale behind taking WSP, especially the Arch, as a part of our identity is understandable. Unlike traditional colleges, NYU lacks a typical campus setting, and WSP is the closest thing to a quad for NYU students. It is often used by Tisch School of the Arts’ Film and Television students as a backdrop for film projects, and the student body in general loves it as a leisure space. Perhaps, this is all justified for the fact that we don’t have any other open space. But even under these circumstances, we should keep in mind that WSP does not belong only to us.
Maybe it is enough for NYU students to know that WSP is indeed a public park. The current usage of the Arch as a central part of our campus symbol can be highly misleading and causes confusion for some newer students and people unfamiliar with New York City. It is reasonable to brand WSP as a recreational space enjoyed by the people of NYU, but we definitely should avoid marketing it as a symbol of our campus.
Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.
A version of this appeared in the Monday, January 22 print edition. Email Wayne Chen at [email protected].