the name is Liberty Park (updated)

An article in today’s Daily Gazette (Jan. 7, 2019) makes it sound like Liberty Park has already been officially renamed Gateway Plaza.

  • red checkupdate (Jan. 23, 2019): According to an email I received from Gazette reporter Andrew Beame, Schenectady City Hall is arguing that Resolution 2017-178 (June 12, 2017) has in fact already named the land in question Gateway Plaza. [scroll down to the large Red Check for our rebuttal.]

The article, “Nearly New Year’s event deemed a success by its organizers” (by Andrew Beam, January 7, 2019), tells us that the location of the Nearly New Year’s Eve event was “formerly known as ‘Liberty Park’,” and:

GatewayPlazaBirdseye“City and county officials said the name [Gateway Plaza] is fitting since the park serves a gateway into the city. It’s also an area that has several redevelopment projects occurring and is where a portion of Interstate 890 exits into.”

“I’m truly comfortable with the name,” said City Council President Ed Kosiur. 

Of course, only a majority vote of City Council can name or rename a park, and that has neither happened, nor been scheduled for the Council agenda. For instance, here is a screenshot from the Public Workshop portion of the Final Report of the City of Schenectady Gateway Plaza, adopted by the City in 2013, in which the name change question was directly raised and answered:

gp-namingpark

As you can see, the Design Team [led by Mary Wallinger] specifically downplayed the importance of the generic name “Gateway Plaza”, and assured the public that the name had not been changed, noting that “The City Council would have to vote to change the name from ‘Liberty Park’. There are currently no specific plans to change the name of the park.” Wallinger did use the qualifying phrase “currently no specific plans to change”, but did not qualify her statement that the City Council would have to make that change, and not CDTA, or Metroplex, or the City’s Planning Office.

crescenttoveterans The consistent, longtime practice of the City of Schenectady has, in fact, been to hold public hearings before naming or renaming a park. [See, e.g., excerpts from The Proceedings of the City Council of Schenectady, concerning naming Grout Park and changing Crescent Park to Veterans Park.] Thus, before Riverside Park was named, there was a contest and public hearing; and, public hearings and resolutions were also used decades later, both when its name was changed to Rotundo Park and when it was changed back to Riverside Park.

Furthermore, the Resolution of City Council adopting the Implementation Plan [Res. 2013-206] makes no mention of a name change and specifically states that the Plan “proposes an improvement of Liberty Park and an expansion of its confines, now including Water Street.”

That is not surprising, as the Implementation Plan was specifically conceived as the fulfillment of the seminal “Route 5 Transit Gateway Linkage Study: Gateway District Plan” (2010). That Study speaks of a broader, generic Gateway District, and of constructing “Stockade Gateways” that were actually gateways — that is, arches. But the Study never mentions a Gateway Park or Gateway Plaza. For example, instead, at 37, it says (emphasis added):

Liberty Park is improved and enlarged to a rectangular shape roughly four times its current size. The right of way that Water Street occupies, a path of significant historical importance, continues as a pedestrian walk through the park. Liberty Park will be the primary open space for the new neighborhood being proposed for the study area and will serve to connect it with the Stockade in a clear and pedestrian friendly way. The park will be quadrupled in size and the raised berms will be removed to allow clear sight lines.

The 2010 Gateway Study also explains:

48] IMPLEMENTATION PLAN chart
Liberty Park Improvements 
.
Liberty Park would become an attractive, usable, urban park and plaza through this project that would celebrate its location at the entrance to Schenectady from I-890 and the Western Gateway Bridge. It would also form the link between SCCC, the Stockade, and new development in the study area. This project would close Water Street and expand and renovate the park to provide a centerpiece public space for the study area. 

.

Moreover, the figures used to explain/depict the proposal explicitly label the expanded green area as “Liberty Park” (click on each figure for a larger version):

libertypark2010plan

fig3.2newdevelopmentsdetail
.
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Given this background, it is difficult to fathom the rush to call this wonderful, historic spot something as generic, bland, and overused as “Gateway”.  A park should be a destination and its name have significance to the public — preserving a name is one way to assure connection and significance. The replica of Lady Liberty, which gave the Park its identity and name, has significance to a few generations of Schenectadians.
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Moreover, a “gateway” is not a destination, it is something used to reach your intended destination.  In addition, very few if any people will actually use this plaza/park as an entryway to Schenectady. They will in fact skirt around it, mostly in motorized vehicles. Or, unless they arrive by helicopter, will already be in Schenectady on foot, coming from SCCC or the Stockade.
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gp-planschange It is hard not to see a pattern here: The authors and proponents of the Gateway Plaza renovation project and the Final Gateway Park Implementation Plan told and showed the public what they thought the public wanted during the planning and approval process:

.  Their goal, I believe, was to avoid controversy or making a record that showed strong public opinion.

CityHallRubberStampThen, making a mockery of earlier democratic processes and transparency, we are presented with something very different as a Done Deal, fait accompli. (See our posting on ignoring plans and the public.) Public opinion and outcry means nothing, it seems, to City and County poohbahs, who count on the 4-member Democratic rump majority on City Council to merely nod their heads in agreement, usually in silence or spouting platitudes. If official action is needed, the Rump Majority wields a rubber-stamp on any changes, surprises, or unexpected distortions of adopted plans — often, even plans which they themselves voted for in official resolutions. Common sense and common opinion be damned (or at least ignored).

  • see-no-evil-monkeyBlueEven worse, as with the name of Liberty Park, City Council doesn’t even bring these measures up again, letting the Mayor’s Office or Metroplex just go ahead with the changed plans, and getting the media to go along.
  • 316-vector-no-evil-monkeysRred check Follow-up (Jan. 23, 2019): According to an email I received from Gazette reporter Andrew Beame, City Hall is arguing that Resolution 2017-178 (June 12, 2017), has in fact already named the land in question Gateway Plaza. Beame says that is why he wrote “formerly known as ‘Liberty Park'” in his article “Nearly New Year’s event deemed a success by its organizers“. There are many reasons to dispute this claim, among them:
    • 12jun2017agendaNo Notice to the Public. Neither City Council Members nor the public knew that Res. 2017-178 was naming or renaming anything, especially not Liberty Park, and the topic was not mentioned in the Council Agenda [Item #30; click on image at head of this bullet point], or at the Council Meeting by City officials, Council members, or the public.
    • Resolution re Alienating Parkland. The Resolution was rushed through the Council to get a request to the State Legislature before the closing of its Session, for permission to “alienate” parkland at Riverside Park for possible use in constructing a new pumping station. The Resolution proposed substituting the Riverside Park land with City-owned land along Water Street that would be used in the Gateway Plaza project.
    • Liberty Park is not mentioned anywhere in the Resolution or the 8-page appendix that described the lands to be swapped, and is not part of the lands described in the appendix.
I almost hate to make this “compromise” suggestion, since my offering it might make it DOA at City Hall. But, if big egos make keeping the current name “Liberty Park” embarrassing to our Poohbahs, why not just call it Liberty Plaza, or Liberty Park at Gateway Plaza. Being a Smart City means a whole lot more than high-tech lamp-poles. A bit of Emotional Intelligence would go a long way toward earning the respect of the residents of our City and County, and avoiding needless aggravation, and future questions by folks wondering, “what were they thinking?”.
____________________________________________________________

1. Background and History 
The Route 5 Transit Gateway Study lays out a long-range vision for what the Gateway District could become over the next 10 to 20 years. It gives guidance to planners, developers, institutions and public sector agencies as they make decisions about the physical development of the area. 
 
15] Open-Space and Amenities 
The study area includes one park at the intersection of State Street and Washington Avenue. Liberty Park is a small triangular public space with mature trees, benches, sculpture, a historic marker and flowers. It is also one of the main transit stops in Schenectady and the future site of the western terminal of the Schenectady to Albany BRT service. There is currently a large shelter here for bus passengers. Liberty Park is located at an important entrance point to the City of Schenectady from the West and from the I-890 interchange, as well as the western entrance to the Stockade via Washington Avenue. The high level of auto traffic surrounding the park and the major bus boarding location, tend to overwhelm the beauty of this small, but strategic green space. Building on this key location could provide not just an attractive entrance to the city for motorists, but a symbolic and useful center for shopping and services, including transportation, for the local community (Figure 1.5).
 
34]. Historic Preservation 
Historic preservation, not just of specific buildings, but of streets, spaces, vistas, uses, and other elements that convey a strong sense of place in the district. Schenectady is a city with a proud heritage of vibrant urbanism that is still fondly remembered by many residents. 
 
36] Figure 3.1 Proposed Concept 
fig3.1proposaldetail
37] Liberty Park 
Liberty Park is improved and enlarged to a rectangular shape roughly four times its current size. The right of way that Water Street occupies, a path of significant historical importance, continues as a pedestrian walk through the park. Liberty Park will be the primary open space for the new neighborhood being proposed for the study area and will serve to connect it with the Stockade in a clear and pedestrian friendly way. The park will be quadrupled in size and the raised berms will be removed to allow clear sight lines. SCCC students, Stockade and Gateway District residents, and employees of nearby businesses will find it to be a pleasant place to relax and meet their neighbors. Both intersections on State Street, at Washington and Church Street, will have significant pedestrian crossing improvements. See Figure 3.3 for views of Liberty Park and the proposed development around it. 
48] IMPLEMENTATION PLAN chart
Liberty Park Improvements 
Liberty Park would become an attractive, usable, urban park and plaza through this project that would celebrate its location at the entrance to Schenectady from I-890 and the Western Gateway Bridge. It would also form the link between SCCC, the Stockade, and new development in the study area. This project would close Water Street and expand and renovate the park to provide a centerpiece public space for the study area. 
.

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