BIDs setting alcohol policy at City Parks. The latest at Tompkins Square Park: Want to see the movie on the lawn? Have your bags searched first.

wine bottle picnic at bryant park

wine bottle picnic at bryant park

It would be lovely to openly have a glass of a wine or a beer in a park. New York City Parks technically don’t allow that.

The New York Times reported recently about a certain permissiveness around this in Bryant Park.

I was happy to see a loosening of the endless array of rules.

But, it’s never quite so simple when something happens in a park in New York City, is it?

It seems the “policy” is dictated park-to-park and very often by the local BID (business improvement district) or Conservancy (pretty close in composition to a BID).

So Central Park and Bryant Park – most likely perceived as accommodating a certain clientele – sip their wine but Prospect Park and Tompkins Square Park – perhaps a bit more mixed crowd – get ticketed. Or, in the case of Tompkins Square, people have their bags searched before going on the lawn!

On Wednesday, at Tompkins Square Park, as a requirement to gain access to a spot on the lawn to watch the scheduled movie, private security at a gate began searching every person’s bag. At a public park! This is to keep out undesirable elements and undesirable alcohol. The “private security” is hired by several local businesses which are “sponsoring” the movie nights in the park.

So what is the policy? Who determines it?

The New York Times story (July 16) covered the Monday movie nights on the lawn at Bryant Park and the fact that, despite a no-alcohol “rule” in the Parks, people come in with full bottles of wine, sangria, beer and the like.

The security guard, hired by the Bryant Park Conservancy, told the Times, he “turned a blind eye” on movie nights, “so long as it is covered, like in a bag.”

The article states, “The official line from the city’s parks department is that alcohol cannot be brought into city parks, though in the summer of 2003, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg suggested that drinking wine at concerts was O.K.” (As I recall, at the same time, at a beach in a poorer neighborhood, people were ticketed for drinking beer in public and this caused some controversy in light of the Mayor’s statement allowing Central Park wine sipping.)

The BID’s or Conservancies (or some other business-related facsimile) – private entities allowed to govern our parks by Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Benepe – set the rules.

Will the Parks Department ever stop astounding me by their endless privatizing actions?

However ! The Tompkins Square crowd is fighting back. Join them to protest this bag searching policy by coming to Tompkins Square Park (at gate at entrance to central grassy area) on Wednesday, July 30th, 7 p.m. and … refuse to have your possessions searched.

Read more on this… The full Letter about the incident In the Inbox:

On Wednesday, July 16, the gentrification and privatization of Tompkins Square Park (and the Lower East Side) hit a new low as residents of the neighborhood were told they were not allowed to enter the central grassy area of the park–usually accessible to all–UNLESS THEY WERE WILLING TO HAVE THEIR BAGS SEARCHED by private unidentified “security guards”.

Under the guise of “searching for alcohol” and “keeping out people like the squatters” (an actual quote), a private group that is organizing film showings in the park, hired private security guards who (more…)

City Hall Park Bike Lane Controversy; “Public esplanades” on Broadway?

Squirrel at City Hall Park

Squirrel at City Hall Park

In theory, more bike lanes and more public space are a good thing. But some of the recent efforts by the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) to add more of each are a bit, um, confusing. The most recent is the arrival of a bike path through City Hall Park.

A large swath of City Hall Park that flits behind City Hall was closed for years after September 11th, 2001 for “security concerns.” It was the stick-to-it-ness of a group called Friends of City Hall Park (which ultimately threatened a lawsuit) that got this portion of the park reopened this summer.

They weren’t able to rest for too long.

The Tribeca Trib reports: “In June, the DOT unveiled plans [to Community Board 1] for a bike path connecting Hudson River Park to the Brooklyn Bridge. The proposed path was to run the length of Warren Street from the river to the bridge, with a short, connecting jaunt through the north end of City Hall Park, between City Hall and the Tweed Courthouse. After seeing the plans, CB1 voted not to support the plan. Two weeks later, the path—indicated by markers set in the pavement and several small signs—was installed anyway.”

Community Board 1 did not mince words or sugar coat their reaction. CB1 member Paul Hovitz stated, “Typical Bloomberg. He’s really not interested in community input unless it supports his position.”

The Tribeca Trib quoted Friends of City Hall Park’s Skip Blumberg: “‘This is part of a pattern of disrespect” by the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation.

The main issue is the narrowness of the pathway. Bicyclists cycling through the park mixing with pedestrians are a concern for safety reasons. Friends of City Hall Park would like the DOT to implement a “dismount and walk rule.” The DOT has said they will not do this.

Transportation Alternatives weighed in, telling the New York Times, although they support the bike path through City Hall Park, they would like to see (instead) the addition of a bike lane on Chambers Street. The DOT believes this road is too dangerous for most cyclists.

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Public esplanades along Broadway?

Then, there is DOT’s plan to make “public esplanades” along Broadway between 34th Street and 42nd Street, removing two traffic lanes to do so. It’s hard to imagine this. For some more insight, The New York Times turned to Barbara Randall, the executive director of the Fashion Center Business Improvement District, who said, “I’m envisioning it as a public park on the street.”

The Times‘ reports that the plans include “setting aside the east side of the roadway for a bicycle lane and a pedestrian walkway with cafe tables, chairs, umbrellas and flower-filled planters.”

As with most “initiatives” put forth by the Bloomberg Administration, the Business Improvement Districts play a major role.

The Fashion Center BID, along with the Times Square Alliance, and the 34th Street Partnership, two other area BIDS, are working with DOT “to create the boulevard.” The three BIDS “have agreed to pay for maintenance, which primarily involves buying and maintaining the plants for the planters.” The yearly cost for this is estimated at $280,000.

A local worker, Corey Baker, had a hard time envisioning the appeal of this. He told the Times, “They’ll have carbon monoxide in their tuna fish.”

It all remains to be seen.

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Perhaps if the City would leave our great public spaces alone that actually work as public spaces (see: Washington Square Park, Union Square Park), and not take away parks that are desperately needed (see: Bronx. Yankee Stadium) and not privatize every space in sight (see: all of the above, as well as Randall’s Island), and not cut down thousands of mature trees in our public spaces (reference: all of the above), they wouldn’t have to fiddle in areas that just don’t quite make sense.

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, (more…)