So today's Post-Gazette offers some clarity on the great treehouse dispute, and I'll try to further flesh out matters below.
First off, it's worth noting that city councilor Doug Shields is now acknowledging that a staffer said something "inappropriate" to Amy Ambrusko in a phone conversation -- something he denied, sort of, in comments to me earlier this week. And while Shields was of the impression that the treehouse proposal was a "done deal," a Parks Conservancy spokesperson tells the paper, "I'm not sure why there was a perception that there was a memorial ready to go ..."The truth is that we're so early in the process that there was very little to share."
I spoke to that spokesperson, Michael Sexauer, this morning, and he stressed the preliminary nature of the treehouse proposal. In fact, he said, "Part of the confusion is using the word 'treehouse.'
"That was a working title, and we felt it was a good one. We didn't want to call it a 'memorial,' since that's a word people associate with statues." But for starters, he says, you shouldn't be envisioning "a treehouse in the tradition of something several feet off the ground." (Any proposal would have to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, after all.)
The RFP for the proposal does assert that "the primary vision ... is that of a tree house, which both chilldren wished for before their deaths." And designers were encouraged "to creatively interpret the notion of a tree house." But there are months of discussions and planning ahead, and there's no guarantee about what a final design might look like -- or where it might end up.
The Conservancy is engaged in a broader attempt to add facilities throughout the park, an effort to replace the Frick Environmental Center that burned down several years back. It's possible, in other words, that the treehouse-that-isn't-a-treehouse could go in another location. A June 7 meeting on the proposal will begin to gather feeback, but that will be just the start of a series of discussions. It's very much up for grabs.
And that's what makes this all so "unfortunate," Sexauer says. ""People are passionate on both sides, but it's premature for anybody to pass judgment. The wonderful thing about the blogosphere is that it's a great way for people to share their thoughts. But we're seeing this week what can happen when there's not much information out there."
Indeed, there are some unedifying comments attached to my earlier post about this subject, in which Ms. Ambrusko is accused of "arrogance." And the rhetoric on the other side hasn't always been ennobling either. Witness, for example, Twittered accusations that Doug Shields suffers from a "hatred of dead children." [Editor's note: The author of that Tweet says he was being sarcastic. So it's a bad example. Use this one instead: "I am still murderously furious at these horrible, insensitive excuses for people who had a problem with a mom honoring her children."]
There's no shortage of confusion and dissent in Regent Square either. Today's P-G story, for example, certainly delivers on expectations that neighbors would have head-scratching reasons for opposing the park. Resident Barbara Hicks confirmed that while parking was a major concern, she was also worried "the playground might become a haven for drug users, noting that the site has drawn such activity in the past." The paper quotes her asking "If you have a treehouse, what better place to hide the drugs."
I can think of a LOT of better places to hide drugs ... though of course I work at an alt-weekly, so maybe I have an advantage here.
In any case, I've already heard from other active members of the Regent Square community who say they are baffled by this claim. They aren't aware of any criminal activity in the area to speak of.
But some of them also tell me that the online rhetoric from project supporters has been disheartening too. They fear the June 7 meeting -- which was planned as an attempt to gather feedback and explain the (limited) progress made so far -- will end up being a "shouting match."
Seems like everybody involved deserves better than that.