Union Square Partnership’s Harvest Gala v. Citizen Chefs – Union Square Park 9/18

The people come marchin' to defend their Park

The people come marchin'

Thursday night. Union Square. The setting of Union Square Partnership’s Harvest in the Square, an annual gala held by the ubiquitous BID (Business Improvement District). Although their promotional materials stated the gala would inhabit the “west plaza” of Union Square Park, in reality, they took over half of the south plaza as well, including the area surrounding the George Washington Statue. Billed as the “premiere food and wine tasting event,” tickets ranged from $125 to $400 for VIP early bird event.

The BID — the ones who want to put a private exclusive restaurant in the historic Union Square Pavilion, thereby shutting off more public space — is led by Jennifer Falk. Falk previously worked for Mayor Bloomberg. (Funny how it’s just a game of musical chairs at times.) Co-chair of the BID is restauranteur Danny Meyer.

I don’t think they were prepared for the festive arrival of Reverend Billy and assorted citizen chef/passionate public space advocates who came out to chant their message and bang some pots and pans saying ‘no giveaway of our public space’ – as we watched our public space taken over by the BID for their harvest gala.

Police And Onlookers

Police And Onlookers

Reverend Billy was arrested as was another activist – I believe both charges were “disorderly conduct.” Reverend Billy was addressing the attendees of the gala through a megaphone about the takeover of our public space when he was escorted away. The other activist had the audacity? to crumple up a flyer and throw it over the fence. A random act of (at the most) littering somehow becomes “disorderly conduct.”

People sitting around Union Square all curiously watched and eagerly took flyers which stated “Parks for People – Not for Profit.” We’ve all gotten so buttoned-down in New York. How often do you see such a creative action? All too infrequently.

Oh, and yes, our NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, was there and addressed the crowd at the gala event. I think his speech may have been, um, overshadowed by the sound of the citizen chefs (and their pots, pans, and chants) however. All too fitting.

The BIDs in more recent years have gotten more sophisticated and yet wish to appear ‘just like us.’ A part of the community. The Union Square BID is a 501(c)3 non-profit — something we link with advocacy groups, not organizations trying to promote more shopping. Around Washington Square Park, the BID – previously known as The 8th Street BID – changed its name to the Village Alliance. Doesn’t that sound neighborly?

Rev Billy addresses Gala

Rev Billy addresses Gala

Photos: #1 and 2: Quilty; #3 and 4: Cathryn

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3 Comments

  1. Karen K.

     /  September 24, 2008

    Thanks for the update. There are many more “armchair activists” out here than you think. People like me with crazy busy work schedules which prevent them from hitting the pavement to protest. Instead you can count on us to “hit the keyboards” and send letters.

  2. Tara

     /  September 28, 2008

    Aghh, I hate that I missed it, I’ve been sick (it was a tough move to the city….), but WOW they kicked ass. It sounds like people really know what’s at stake there… Who knows what will happen now that the economy has collapsed. This gigantic budget cut Bloomberg has proposed has to effect what they will be able to do to WSP in the next phases. Parks is bound to take a cut, and that will inevitably effect what they can do with the rest of this redesign. The party is over. The redesign’s total of 30 million is looking more and more outrageous as the veil is lifted on this economic disaster. Should we be spending 30 million dollars on the redesign of a park that just needs to be cleaned and cared for, when it sounds like Police and Fire will be significantly cut in the city? Which is more of a necessity – a guarantee that help will come when you call, or an “undesirables”-free Washington Square Park? Hey, it will definitely add to the character of the park when one part is different than all the rest because they ran out of money before they could finish. It would make the park even more of a survivor, and even more off beat — as it was intended to be. We will certainly see how all of this unfolds…

  3. Tara

     /  September 28, 2008

    “Parks”, meaning the Parks Department, of course… Typing fast:)

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