Parks for Sale: Business Improvement Districts and the Privatization of Our Public Spaces

The term Business Improvement District – in short, BID – sounds so benign. Businesses improving their districts ought to be a good thing, right? However, the BIDs, as artist and activist Robert Lederman explores in his piece below, don’t just stay on their side of the street. In CEO Mayor Bloomberg’s New York, their tentacles spread far and wide, amidst the roots of the trees, up through the dirt or concrete, and busting out into our public spaces.

In the last few weeks at Union Square Park, the street artists who display their art have been harassed by Parks Department police. When Lederman sat down with Parks Department officials to question them about this, the Parks Department said there was no change in policy towards the artists at Union Square.

Lederman writes, “This and anecdotal evidence … seems to indicate that it was The Union Square Partnership BID which was directly responsible for ordering the recent harassment, intimidation and attempted eviction of artists from USP. This makes sense since the Park Enforcement officers are paid by the BID and apparently, now take their orders directly from them.”

Lederman continues, “Here is a perfect example of the sinister nature of how privatization works:

A NYC Agency (The Parks Department) in charge of public property held in trust for the people of NYC (all the NYC Parks) turns over daily operation of each park to a BID (Business Improvement District). The corporate- owned media (which are leading board members of all the BIDs) cheerleads for this as a great service to NYC.

Unlike the officials who run NYC agencies after being appointed by an elected Mayor, the real estate and business interests that run the BID do not swear to uphold the Constitution; they have no interest in defending civil liberties; they are unelected and unaccountable. Unlike the Parks Department officials, they are neither overseen by or accountable to the NYC Council.

They run our public property as if it were their private property. In USP, they want to build a multi million dollar restaurant for one of the BIDs board of directors despite virtually 100% of the local community being outspokenly against it.

To these BIDs, street artists are like garden pests; something you exterminate. Our rights are a major obstacle to their privatization agenda.

Their feelings towards political activists, street musicians, Christian preachers or anyone else who uses public property to express a message is identical. They do not even want mothers and children taking up valuable space inside NYC parks that could otherwise be profitably sold to corporations.

Eventually, even the Union Sq Park squirrels will have to wear BID uniforms and hold up tiny ads for restaurants owned by the BID’s board of directors.

The BID does not care what The Parks Department thinks about this, because the BID actually runs the park, pays for its upkeep, pays the salaries of the park workers and park police. As far as they are concerned, they OWN Union Square Park. Even the local residents are mere visitors who are barely tolerated.

This should not be taken to mean the Parks Department is blameless.

On the contrary, they turned all the parks over to the BIDs. Mayor Bloomberg, a billionaire big shot from the Central Park Conservancy, is every BID’s best friend. He would even privatize all the streets if allowed to get away with it. What did you think “congestion pricing” was all about?

By deliberately underfunding all NYC parks, Bloomberg has forced Parks Commissioner Benepe to become the King of Privatization, simply in order to meet the Parks $600 million dollar plus budget shortfall.

From Burger Kings in Parks to toxic plastic turf replacing real grass at an expense of hundreds of millions of dollars, the Parks are FOR SALE to the highest bidder, no questions asked. If crack dealers would bid high enough, they could have a concession in every NYC Park, right next to some nicely designed Park Escort Service stands.”

Robert Lederman, President of A.R.T.I.S.T.

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Leave a comment


  1. Ben

     /  May 7, 2008

    Great post. Thanks for raisingthe point that Doomberg’s “congestion pricing” scheme was really about privatizing public roads – which is why the Bush administration was so heavily in support of it. And sadly it took a non-NYC paper to provide the est coverage of this issue –
    “Letting the Market Drive Transportation – Bush Officials Criticized for Privatization”

  2. Karen Koziol

     /  May 8, 2008

    I am not in favor of the congestion pricing plan and am glad it did not go through this time (I’m not so sure that it will not rear it’s ugly head again)

    I’m also starting to realize just how the privitization of our parks takes away from them, and have become distrustful of this type of funding.

    Keep up the good work reporting on the changes and dangers. KK

  3. anna anderson

     /  May 14, 2008

    keep up the good work. glad to see the eco fair is happening again this year at
    j.j. byrne park.

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