“Bidding adieu to BIDS” — on the Business Improvement Districts in New York City

The Brooklyn Paper takes a look this week in an editorial, “Bidding Adieu to BIDS,” at the formation in the ’70’s of the Business Improvement District, an entity which has become increasingly popular in Mayor Bloomberg’s New York. According to the weekly, there are 60 “quasi public” BIDS, as they are called, throughout the five boroughs.

As I’ve written here before, these organizations play a complex role in neighborhoods, taking over services the City itself should be providing, while spreading their tentacles outward in ways that are never quite as harmless as they may seem.

One newly formed BID — which is experiencing a mini-revolt amidst local business owners — is along Fulton Street in Fort Greene and Clinton Hill in Brooklyn. The businesses are being asked to pay a second “new city tax that would fund enhanced sanitation, policing and other basic services.” From the Brooklyn Paper editorial:

Taxes on business owners within the so-called “BIDs” raise $80 million — on top of the taxes already taking a bite out of Mom and Pop.

We’re not naive as to why BIDs were created two decades ago. The city was not — and, indeed, is still not — doing a good enough job providing sanitation and security along some of our busiest commercial strips. With the city abrogating these most basic of services, business owners jumped into the breach, taxing themselves to make up for the failure of our elected leaders to ensure clean and safe streets.

In the case of Fulton Street, another issue is arising in the debate. The anti-BID merchants argue that a BID’s cleaner and safer streets actually speed the gentrification process. … In a sense, the business owners forming a BID would actually be paying to speed their own demise.

… We agree with the BID renegades on the issue of who should pay to keep our neighborhoods clean, safe and vibrant. To us, this is solely a city responsibility.

Although the Brooklyn Paper almost comes out in favor of gentrification in their Editorial, claiming it’s all about “change,” the rest of the information is on point.

For more on the Business Improvement Districts and their negative consequences, see previous WSP blog post: Parks for Sale and the Privatization of our Public Spaces by Robert Lederman which looks at the Business Improvement District, the (purposefully) mildly named Union Square Partnership, which oversees – and has total control over – Union Square Park.

For more on the Business Improvement District around Washington Square, the also benignly named Village Alliance (formerly the 8th Street BID), see recent WSP Blog post here.

What we need are COMMUNITY Improvement Districts!

NYC Arborcidal Waterfalls “Public Art” Ended Yesterday

Public Art "arborcidal" Waterfalls Brooklyn Bridge

Arborcidal Waterfalls as Public Art

I received a bulletin from outside.in which led me to Gothamist which announced that the “arborcidal” NYC Waterfalls ended their much-publicized killing spree of Brooklyn Heights‘ trees yesterday.

Despite our Mayor’s much hyped “love OF trees,”* the artist, Olafur Eliasson “received an award for the exhibit’s contribution ‘to the public environment‘” from Mayor Bloomberg, according to the Brooklyn Paper.

I suspect the only tangible thing the NYC Waterfalls truly contributed to the public environment was dying trees in Brooklyn Heights.

Mayor Bloomberg stated initially that Eliasson’s Waterfalls would bring $55 million to the City’s economy. Not that I think that’s what public art is about but since Mayor Bloomberg does… how’d they do? When asked, our CEO Mayor’s spokesperson pointed to an increase in sold-out boat tours. $55 million = a lot of boat tours. We can expect an accounting from the city’s Economic Development Corporation but since they most likely report to the Mayor … I’m sure we can anticipate a positive outcome.

For WSP Blog previous coverage when the arborcide first occurred, click here.

* Related post: “How do you define hypocrisy, Mayor Bloomberg? 14 Union Square Trees Scheduled to be cut down.”

Photo: Wally G

Stop the “Arborcidal Waterfalls:” The Latest on NYC Public Art

Waterfalls Left; Brooklyn Bridge; Dying Trees

Waterfalls Left; Brooklyn Bridge; Dying Trees

The Brooklyn Paper reports on the “NYC Waterfalls,” the Public Art project by Olafur Eliasson installed in four NYC river locations, which has become “arborcidal” (tree-killing) in Brooklyn Heights.

The Brooklyn Paper is always a bit over the top and yet it captures the essence of the situation. Arborcidal waterfalls…? Perfect. (The Villager has great reporting and articles but it’s, um, pret-ty serious. In Brooklyn, the weeklies have a bit of fun with it all. It’s also effective.) The problem is that the salt water from this nearby “public art” project is spraying its mist on the surrounding trees and causing them to decline. Residents and business owners are trying to get the project to end early – by Labor Day.

Sponsors The Public Art Fund turned to the NYC Parks Department for a solution (a “solution” which seems akin to the Parks Department watering the artificial turf to keep it from reaching scorching temperatures – at times, it can get twice as hot as regular grass – at 165 degrees instead of reconsidering the actual use of it). “Every morning, arborists from the Parks Department now rinse the trees and leaves along the Promenade and in the River Café’s garden with fresh water and flush salt from the soil,” the paper reports.

In looking into the Waterfalls a bit deeper, I experienced a revelation. Here, I was thinking Public Art was about Public. Art. until I read the press release and realized in Mayor Bloomberg’s New York, it, like everything else, is about the economy. The press release informs that The Economic Development Corporation (EDC), “estimates that the Waterfalls, funded with private support raised by the Public Art Fund, will contribute $55 million to the City’s economy.”

(How do you figure they figure that estimate out anyway?)

Isn’t the creativity and inspiration of people the main goal once in awhile? (Or… Not. At Washington Square Park, the aspects of the Park that inspire were slighted by the designer and NYC Parks Department in their redesign “plans.”)

I do appreciate the artist’s intention: “In developing The New York City Waterfalls, I have tried to work with today’s complex notion of public spaces,” said Eliasson. “… I hope to evoke experiences that are both individual and enhance a sense of collectivity.”

However, upon viewing from the F train, I agree with the Brooklyn Paper assessment: “in reality, the project’s scaffolding and weak water streams look more like a giant Erector Set from the borough’s shores.”

So… What do you think? What will win out? Saving trees or boosting (allegedly) the economy?

Currently, the project is set to run until October 13th.

Brooklyn journalist challenges NYC Parks Commissioner Benepe at Red Hook Park food vendors “return” ceremony

The Red Hook Park Latin food vendors were operating their food carts for over 30 years in that location when the NYC Parks Department threatened to remove them and replace them with more corporate, shiny entities (think Shake Shack-like). Local and political uproar (Senator Chuck Schumer, included) caused the Parks Department (which has oversight over the Park and vendors) to reverse course, a rare and welcome occurrence.

However, the City insisted they get new trucks (costing up to $50,000) and meet other regulations while moving them out of their original location. The vendors had to bid on the location of the spots they’d occupied for three decades when they were “under the radar.” Before Ikea and Fairway were moving into the neighborhood.

Gersh Kuntzman of the Brooklyn Paper, who has been covering the issue, challenged Parks Commissioner Benepe recently at the ceremony commemorating the return of the vendors to Red Hook Park.

Kuntzman writes:

…When I went to the “Welcome Back” press conference, I was ready to listen to the speeches, get a few benign quotes, and chow down.

But Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe treated the vendors — and the media — like such children that I lost my appetite. First, Benepe laughed about all the red tape he and his agency forced the vendors’ main organizer, Cesar Fuentes, to cut through.

“We really put him through the ringer,” Benepe joked. “When bureaucrats get together, they can make almost anything impossible. I’m surprised he didn’t give up.”

Many did. Only six of the original 13 vendors were back — now consigned to the street outside the park, rather than inside the fence next to the soccer fields where they belong. And those vendors complained bitterly — though certainly not to Benepe — about their added expenses and the needless three-month delay in getting their final approval from the city bureaucrats who hold too much power over their right to earn a fair day’s pay.

Read the full story and see video (of the event) from the Brooklyn Paper.