They’re giving Washington’s arch a good clean
Hello. It’s Friday. We’ll see how Mayor Eric Adams’ focus on crime may have clouded his efforts to move past the pandemic and revive the city. But first, what grew on Washington’s arch?
It’s formal. It is imposing. And, as architecture critic Paul Goldberger once wrote, “it pulls you to the square like a magnet.”
It’s Washington’s arch. And it also drives what the Parks Department calls “biological growth.”
Algae. Mold. Mousse.
And invasive plants like phragmites – reeds that grow from seeds deposited by birds on the mortar joining the Tuckahoe white marble blocks. Even the London plane trees which could grow taller than the 57ft monument if not felled as saplings – which they were last week.
“You get roots that are really in the joints,” said Rebecca Rosen, landmark conservation team leader for the Parks Department. “There is a whole ecosystem up there. There are ants crawling.
And, for the next week, there’s Rosen, in an elevator alongside two colleagues, weeding, washing and fixing.
They have already removed the plants and washed the monument from top to bottom, using mild soap and a low pressure water jet to remove the algae without damaging the stone. On Thursday, like a dentist drilling a cavity, Rosen used a small grinder to hollow out the deteriorated mortar before troweling in a new masonry bond.
And at ground level, other workers with paint rollers applied an almost invisible graffiti barrier, which Jonathan Kuhn, director of art and antiquities for the Parks Department, said the association aimed nonprofit Washington Square Conservancy had contributed due to an increase in graffiti during the pandemic.
The arch was once in such poor condition that it had to be fenced off to put some distance between the masonry drop and passers-by in the park. A large-scale restoration in the early 2000s replaced the roof and repointed the mortar joints. Now it’s refreshed every year by restaurateurs, including Rosen, who said she’s worked for the Parks Department for three years and is “filthy for the most part.”
Kuhn said cleaning a monument was, indeed, dirty. “It’s real hands-on work,” he said, “and you come across the whole spectrum of humanity, from kindness to aggression. Some people are very interested. There’s a lot of thanks, and then there’s — it’s New York. There is a range of opinions.
The new administration of New York City Mayor Eric Adams
It’s another sunny day near the mid 90’s. Overnight will be partly cloudy with temperatures reaching the high 70’s.
ALTERNATE SIDE PARKING
In effect until August 15 (Assumption Day).
Mayor Eric Adams seems constantly focused on crime. That’s perhaps unsurprising – he spent 22 years in the police department. But what a mayor says and does attracts attention. I asked my colleague Emma G. Fitzsimmons for an evaluation.
Adams said early on that he wanted to be mayor with bluster. Is this how it is perceived?
There is no doubt that the mayor has charisma and style. He seems to love work and keeps a relentless public schedule.
But I think one of the questions is whether he is a good manager and is he focused on hard work to solve the big problems in the city. His polls aren’t great — in a recent NY1/Siena College Spectrum News, only 29% of New Yorkers rated his performance as good or excellent. Some New Yorkers support Adams and want to give him time to tackle crime, but others worry about the path he is taking us down.
Adams seems to focus on crime. He rushes to the crime scenes. How has this increased the perception that the city is unsafe – and isn’t this perception at odds with crime statistics?
Violent crime has increased during the pandemic, and it’s still higher than in 2019. But shootings and murders are down this year, and crime is nowhere near where it was 30 years ago. Adams talks about crime almost every day and the ubiquity of guns, and I think that has contributed to the perception that the city is unsafe.
The mayor has also come under fire from progressive black leaders who say the tactics he uses to fight crime are too aggressive.
How has his fixation on crime complicated his efforts to pull the city out of the pandemic and get workers back to their desks?
The mayor told us to take off our pajamas and go back to the office and on the subway, but he also said that he didn’t feel safe on the subway because there were too many homeless people and a feeling of disorder. And he urges people to return to bars and restaurants and enjoy the city’s nightlife. But people need to feel safe to take up these activities.
Hasn’t Adams been somewhat inconsistent on the coronavirus?
On time. He says the city is leading the nation in our response to the pandemic, and he’s launched a nationwide first program to deliver the antiviral Paxlovid to mobile testing sites.
But he also quietly removed the city’s color-coded risk alert system that had let everyone know when cases were rising and testing sites closed.
The mayor says the city must learn to live with Covid, and he has resisted bringing back public health measures like an indoor mask mandate to slow transmission. Older people and people with disabilities who are more at risk feel left behind, and others worry about the impacts of the long Covid.
One thing he’s been consistent on is raising money for his 2025 re-election campaign. In six months of work, how much has he taken in, and why now? Election Day 2025 is approximately 1,200 days away.
Adams has raised a lot of money, more than $850,000, in his first six months in office, which is unusual for a new mayor. Nearly half of those contributions came from out of town — he tried to raise his national profile.
The mayor wants to show his strength early on and scare away potential challengers. I think Adams is very aware that he is New York’s second black mayor and that the first black mayor, David Dinkins, did not win a second term.
It was a hot summer night. I was 22 and the boy I was dating had just come back from filming in Berlin.
We had argued over email the entire time he was away, and the fights continued in person when he returned. We walked around Washington Square Park in circles for hours through an incredibly sticky night made even stickier by tears and screams.
At 3 a.m. he finished it off by hailing a taxi for me. Stunned, I dropped into the back seat, a cool, air-conditioned oasis.
Once the taxi sped towards downtown, I lost it. The driver spent the 20 minutes of the ride telling me why I shouldn’t be sad, that the one meant for me would never make me cry like that.
He told me about his happy marriage and three young children, and when we got to my building, he idled there with the meter off until I was able to laugh at one of his jokes.
I knew then that I was home.
Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Submit your submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.