The 411 from the Feline

Hideo Sasaki.

GARDEN STRUGGLE: Ralph Swain, a nephew of the late Hideo Sasaki, designer of the Sasaki Garden in the courtyard of Washington Square Village, is flying in to New York to testify at Friday’s City Council hearing on N.Y.U. 2031. Washington Square Village tenants desperately fighting the university’s plan to raze the garden and erect “Boomerang Buildings” in the courtyard gave us Swain’s phone number in Arizona and urged us to call him. A semi-retired history professor, he said of his uncle’s 1950s W.S.V. work, “I think it could be considered one of the first rooftop gardens above a garage in the United States.” He praised the “Zen-like quality of this space in the center of the hubbub of the city.” Ruth Rennert, chairperson of the Save W.S.V. Sasaki Garden Committee, told us, “We’ve been working on this for five years! We’re completely dedicated. We’re against the whole plan — but specifically are for the Sasaki Garden. Rennert, a non-university-affiliated resident, said N.Y.U. in 1999 intentionally plugged up an opening in the retail strip on LaGuardia Place by putting in a mailboxes store — which, along with metal fences added to the sides of the retail strip, has sealed the garden off from public access. Annette Evans, another committee member, said the so-called Philosophy Garden N.Y.U. proposes to replace Sasaki with just won’t do, and that, furthermore, the university’s renderings of how much open space there would be are blatantly deceptive. “If you look at the renderings, they have been stretched,” she stated. However, Alicia Hurley, N.Y.U. vice president for government affairs and community engagement, said, “The garden, while wonderful, was built more than 40 years ago in a structure that was meant to serve as a private area for the residents of Washington Square Village. Our plans call for a much more user-friendly area that can be enjoyed by the residents of W.S.V. and the broader neighborhood.” Meanwhile, though we know intense negotiations between all parties are currently ongoing, we asked Councilmember Margaret Chin for an official statement on N.Y.U. 2031. Her position will be critical when the Council takes its vote in mid-July. From the sound of it, she’s hearing what the community is saying — and feels that residents’ concerns “come first.” “Right now, I am focused on bringing the best possible proposal in front of the Council,” Chin told us. “This is a give-and-take process, and N.Y.U. needs to modify their proposal. I have made it known that the amount of density that has been proposed is out of scale with the surrounding community. I want a plan that residents can live with first, and that N.Y.U. can live with second.”