There is a "golden age" to everything, it seems. Regarding the Oval, it appears clear that the apex of its charm and beauty has now passed, never to return. When Stuyvesant Town was built, the Oval was bare necessities, with a promise of more luxuriant things to come, as trees and bushes would grow to fill out the plain landscape. In the decades that followed, the Oval still maintained its relative plainness, but was, at the very least, a handsome, peaceful sanctuary from the rest of Manhattan and the city's "rat-race" vibe. In prepping the complex for sale, Met Life made significant upgrades, and turned the Oval into the best it has ever looked. Garden areas at the crescents and near the Oval lawn flourished, and an impressive fountain replaced the Plain Jane that existed there before. Under the reign of Tishman-Speyer, the gardening went through several transitions, some of them positive. More dramatically, however, four amenity buildings were carved out of Oval buildings.
Concern was raised that the amenity spaces were introducing elements into the Oval that should not be there and that, for the first time, a financial resource was being created in this green sanctuary that went against the "free for all residents" tradition of Stuy Town. Yet, even with these four amenity spaces, the Oval still managed to retain a good measure of its sanctuary feel, in significant part because the lush landscaping hid most of these spaces from many points of the Oval.
Tishman-Speyer then introduced a new feature to the Oval: the Sunday greenmarket, which necessitated a loss of a chunk of the southern end of the Oval lawn, made permanent later by a surface of gravel. Food trucks were also introduced to the Oval, sometimes on a daily basis, effectively marring the sanctuary ideal of the Oval. Residents (who cared) made noise about both the food trucks and the greenmarket, and for a while, it seemed as if the pushback to the commercialization of the Oval was working, with the city taking a serious look at Stuy Town's zoning. Then came capitulation, with our councilman Dan Garodnick, who initially made a strong case against the commercialization of Stuyvesant Town, declaring that he was satisfied with city's requirement that commercial spaces were properly zoned if meant exclusively "for residents and their guests." Garodnick considered the matter resolved.
This capitulation meant that the new landlord, CWCapital, was now free to introduce more commercial projects into the Oval (wink-wink "for residents and their guests"), and we got the Ice Rink, a commercial venture that took away a free playground space with artificial turf for many months out of a year.
Recently, CWCapital has gone after the Oval with a vengeance. It removed and ripped out all the lush garden areas of the Oval and replaced them with low plantings placed far apart. Whatever "sanctuary" aspect of the Oval remained was now seriously debilitated and on life support. One couldn't feel separate in the Oval space at any point. Everything, from our project-like buildings to the Oval amenity/retail spaces, was in clear view.
And now CWCapital is taking an aggressive step in the further destruction of the Oval. It is creating, remarkably, a new building, or building extension, at the Oval for the Public Safety department that will, I believe, destroy whatever sanctuary feeling the Oval is still holding onto. The Oval will not be an oasis in Manhattan anymore, but a part of no-space-unused, commercialized, well-trafficked Manhattan. And what will house the amenity space currently being used by Public Safety? If what I heard from a couple of CWCapital bigwigs who were standing near it gets actualized--a retail space, though it may be coated with a different, less abrasive tag. Hmm, maybe we can see a small convenience store, meant for residents and their guests? Or a mini-beer hall that would be popular with our student population? Or, why not a 7-11? They're popping up all over Manhattan, so why not here?
It's obvious that getting the most money out of the Oval is the goal. And has been the goal for a while.
One can say, with considerable despair and regret, that once the changes to the Oval will be finished some time next year, we can declare the Oval dead or at least skeleton of what it once was, a mocking display of the avarice and insensitivity of the landlords who were supposed to be its stewards, but who turned out to be its ravagers and destroyers.