Tuesday, February 7, 2012

What Role For A Memorial Park?

New York has chosen a design for an AIDS memorial park titled “Infinite Forest” in Greenwich Village.  Located on a triangle bordered by 7th Avenue, Greenwich Avenue, and West 12th Street, the park is located on the former site of St. Vincent’s Hospital, home of New York City’s first AIDS ward in the early 1980s. The design by Brooklyn firm a+i will incorporate a birch grove surrounded by walls on three sides.  The interior walls of the parks are mirrored, and the exterior walls are covered in slate to allow people to write messages on the walls in chalk.  The site became available when St. Vincent’s went bankrupt in 2010 and the former hospital campus was bought by a development company for a luxury housing complex.  

The competition, run by Michael Arad, the designer of the National September 11 Memorial, selected the winner on January 30th after receiving 475 entries.  The competition design, which may replace the developer’s original design, received both positive and negative reactions from the community.  The developer, Bill Rudin, may not go forward with the design because prior plans have already been approved by the City Planning Commission and other groups. 

Some opposed to the new design said it was “dreadful” and would attract graffiti.  The new design also appears to conflict with what neighborhood groups originally asked for in a park—a community space, not a “destination.”  The President of the Greenwich Village Block Association said that design “looks like it was by people who don’t live in the neighborhood and don’t have any idea what the community wants.” 

Although small, the space has the potential to provide greenery in the dense West Village, a place to sit outdoors, and a place for families and children to play outside.  The neighborhood-park model centers on having a place where members of the community can interact and reconnect with each other in a shared space.  The new design is short on these features, and the fact that it is surrounded by walls on all three sides doesn’t contribute to a sense of openness or availability. 

On the other hand, the park’s location seems to be an ideal location for a space dedicated at least in part to commemorating the AIDS epidemic.  St. Vincent’s was the largest AIDS ward on the East Coast and was referred to as the “ground zero” of the AIDS epidemic.  The park is also next to the LGBT Community Center, where early AIDS advocacy/support groups, like ACT UP began.

The park and the AIDS memorial have certainly raised questions about what the primary purpose of the site should be—a place to memorialize people lost in the AIDS epidemic and to remember the work done at St. Vincent’s, versus a community green space designed for those living in the neighborhood enjoy.


Susan Kraham


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