the name is Liberty Park

An article in today’s Daily Gazette makes it sound like Liberty Park has already been officially renamed Gateway Plaza. 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.”

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 
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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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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).

  • NoEvil-seeEven 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.
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?”.
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