By Michael D. Minichiello
When walking around the northern reaches of the West Village this spring and summer, one couldn’t help but notice flowers blooming everywhere. They were planted along the sidewalks of 13th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues, along Horatio Street, in the triangles at 8th Avenue and Horatio, and a block south at Jane Street, and in various planters in between, all bursting with color. Working with a group of volunteers, this initiative was the idea of Vladimir (Vlady) Oliveros, the new President of the Board of the Jackson Square Alliance and a man who brings a broader vision to the group.
The Alliance is the 501(c)(3) charitable organization that was organized in 2008 in response to a dire situation in Jackson Square Park. Although beautifully renovated by the City in 1990, 18 years later the park had been increasingly claimed by those who used it as a place to consume alcohol and drugs, causing locals to abandon it. At the same time, the apartment building at One Jackson Square was being built. Deciding that something had to be done to preserve this green space, a coalition of business and neighborhood residents formed the Alliance to take over both the maintenance and protection of the park.
Formerly educated as a lawyer in his native Colombia, Oliveros lives in a brownstone on West 13th Street with his partner and concentrates mostly on his art. What made him join the Alliance? “One day
I was passing by Jackson Square Park and I saw some people were lighting a Christmas tree in it,” he says. “Afterwards, I attended a fundraising party they were having. It was there that I became interested in what they were committed to doing. They eventually asked me if I wanted to be on the Board. Little by little I got more involved as we saw new opportunities to make an impact on the neighborhood. Last year, we expanded our efforts to include beautifying 13th Street. I was elected President of the Board in October of 2015.”
In addition to Oliveros, there are 12 other people currently on the Board of the Alliance (including this writer). “We have people from each building that faces the park,” he says. “We also have a teacher from Notre Dame School on 13th Street. That’s because the girls who attend the school are helping us as well. I like to involve new generations in our mission.”
The entire Board is on a volunteer basis except for the gardener, Nancy Matthews, who is hired as an independent contractor and has helped make the park so beautiful over the years.
While Matthews can be seen there almost every day, it’s the seemingly small things the Alliance does that have enormous consequences on the park itself. One is the irrigation system it installed, making it possible to grow plants and bushes. Another is locking up the park every night. And yet another initiative is emptying the trash cans. While the Parks Department empties them once a day in the morning, it’s not enough. By closing time, the trash cans would have mountains of garbage around them, causing an unsightly mess as well as attracting vermin. In response to this, the Alliance pays to have the cans emptied again in the late afternoon and the effect has been dramatic.
Currently, the majority of funding for the Alliance comes from donations. Ironically, in such an affluent area the organization struggles to raise money. “It is very difficult to get donations,” Oliveros says. “I’ve tried to explain to people that the Alliance is expanding its reach by not just concentrating on the park itself but on the surrounding neighborhood as well. I feel that this is a good way to garner more support because our efforts to beautify the area impact a potentially bigger group of donors.”
Today, the Jackson Square Alliance cares for the park itself, more than 100 trees, and thousands of plants. For Oliveros, being at the helm of the Alliance is a challenge but one that’s worth it. “I derive a lot of pleasure from doing this,” he admits. “But I don’t do what I’m doing just for people to come and thank me. We’re improving the environment, the air, and the actual moods of people. When people see what we’re doing they develop a different attitude. We’re helping to instill a sense of community. That’s the point.”
To read up on the history of Jackson Square Park, and to contribute to the Alliance—on both a financial and volunteer basis—please visit their updated and informative website at www.jsa.nyc.