Bloomberg L.P. “Summer Party ’08” Takes Over Randalls Island (A “Public” Park?) This Past Weekend for Gala Event – Oh My!

The Bloomberg Summer Party \'08

Despite articles written about the not-so-ideal work conditions at Bloomberg L.P., Mayor Bloomberg’s company, I gather they make it up to their employees once a year with a gala event every summer to show us city folks who is boss. After all, it’s not many city parks that get closed off to the public for private parties for weeks at a time (includes preparation) yet somehow Bloomberg L.P. is able to swing it!

Connections? Parks for Sale?

The dubious and overwhelming presence of private-public partnerships in our city parks, lauded by NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe and Mayor Bloomberg, registers as only more apparent when it comes to the issue of Bloomberg L.P.’s “Summer Party.”

Held this past weekend, the event consisted of: a ferris wheel, a merry-go-round, flying swings, roller skating rink, human foosball (I’m trying to picture that), salsa dancing, a classic car showroom, miniature golf, espresso bar, a Burger Shack (any relation to Shake Shack?), kid’s camp, and more!

Needless to say, it takes over two weeks to set up.

Perhaps if it was one day, that would be one thing – still questionable – however, closing off a large majority of a public park (the rest is under construction) for weeks at a time for a private corporation is a bit, um, outrageous.

Juan Gonzalez wrote in the Daily News (note: the article appears to no longer be on the Daily News web site) last year, that for over two weeks,

“East Harlem residents who crossed the footbridge into Randall’s Island hoping to enjoy the park were confronted during those days by an unusual police presence, metal barriers and signs that read: ‘Private Event – Do Not Enter.'”

Gonzalez continued:

Randalls Island Sports Foundation officials refused this week to answer questions about how much the company paid to use the park or what the foundation’s policy is for private parties on the island. And there in a nutshell is why such a fury has erupted in recent weeks against the way Randalls Island is slowly being transformed into a playland for our city’s privileged and well-connected.”

And then, of course, there was that deal (still on the table) that was made to “give 20 of Manhattan’s richest private schools exclusive use on weekday afternoons for the next 20 years to most of the more than 60 new ballfields that will soon be built or renovated on the island.” All under the private-partnership mantra that this will help pay for the renovation. (No questions ever asked about why our parks are not adequately funded.)

If you were looking for a clue as to why New Yorkers, Mayor Bloomberg, think New York is going in the wrong direction, I think you could start right there at the site of your company’s lavish party on Randall’s Island, New York City “public” parkland.
Lights! Camera! Bloomberg! Summer Party \'08

Mayor Bloomberg This Week in the News

Bloomberg Sign in London*Bloomberg L.P. has taken over half of Randall’s Island not under construction (for those ballfields for private school kids) for their annual private party which includes “several weeks” of preparation. Parks for Sale? The event will take place next weekend, and “in years past has included an indoor ice -skating rink, exotic animals, belly dancers, amusement park rides, a casino and a temporary beach made from trucked-in sand.” Metro NY’s Patrick Arden has the story.

*New York Times reports 33 trees in Central Park didn’t survive last week’s storm. David W. Dunlap writes: “It would be a sad census in any case, but the tally of trees lost in Central Park to high winds during the storm on June 10 comes with particular ill grace in the middle of the Million Trees NYC campaign.” Amazing how pervasive the Million Trees NYC hype is despite the true facts surrounding Mayor Bloomberg and his Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe’s tree destruction in our city’s parks.

*”Money for Needy goes to Wealthy Schools, Report Says,” an article in today’s New York Times which notably leaves out any mention of Mayor Bloomberg. (And they wonder – see below – why people don’t like the direction the city is going in yet don’t link him to it?)

*The New York Times also conducted a poll about the city and Mayor Bloomberg. Although many read it as validation of Bloomberg’s “popularity,” it was a bit more complex. While “approval” of his job as Mayor is at 67%, according to this poll, 56% of the people polled feel that “things in New York City have gotten seriously off track” vs. going in the “right direction.” (7% didn’t respond or weren’t sure.) Basically, a group of people believes Bloomberg is doing a good job but they don’t link him with what’s wrong. Yet, they are “hard pressed to point to any particular accomplishments of his administration.” Could his high rating be because of stories like the one above in which is name is omitted thereby erasing any links? Yes, people should put these pieces together for themselves but the media is very powerful in shaping impressions.

This Week In the News: Toyota gets naming rights to an East Village park… NYPD wants precinct in Flushing Meadows Park… Randalls Island ruling allows athletic field construction… Privatization and Parks

Toyota Park*Toyota gets its own park in the East Village! Curbed and the New York Times report on the Toyota Children’s Learning Center (photo) on East 11th Street. The landscape architect told the Times, “The notion of the Toyota Garden is of learning and discovering.” But as Curbed noted, “Discovering the joys … of driving a Toyota!” In addition: “The park was spearheaded by Bette Midler’s New York Restoration Project, and the opening was accompanied by a VIP gala in Tompkins Square Park.” The New York City Parks Department hands oversight of certain parks and community gardens over to New York Restoration Project. I read the The New York Times article first and there was no reference to Toyota’s monetary involvement so I naively sat there pondering … could this park really be named for Toyota, the car company? Then it was confirmed that, yes, it is.

*The New York City Police Department wants to place the 110th Precinct IN Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens. As the New York Sun reports, this is NOT to oversee the park but the whole district – to take the place of the precinct currently on 43rd Avenue. It’s hard to imagine there is no other location in Flushing, Queens that the NYPD could utilize versus putting a police precinct within a park, which should be open, public space.

*At Randalls Island: The New York Times reports that despite a court ruling last year stating that NYC – against the wishes of Mayor Bloomberg and NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe – could not “grant [20 private] schools priority in using the [athletic] fields in exchange for $45 million,” construction of the fields continued. Now, a new ruling states that the city can continue building (even though they had been – ?) but they still can’t utilize money from the private schools. Where the money for the construction is coming from, no one knows. Commissioner Benepe stated, “We are pleased that today’s decision lifts a cloud over this important endeavor.” The NYC Parks Department seems to have a lot of clouds over their endeavors since most every project they put forth encounters a lawsuit by communities attempting to stop them.

*Reverend Dr. Donna Schaper, Senior Minister of Judson Memorial Church and author, writes about privatization and parks in “When is a Gate Not a Gate” in this month’s Brooklyn Rail. She relates an experience she had ‘sneaking’ into Gramercy Park (which is a private private park — the park is only ‘accessible’ to the nearby neighbors whose buildings line the park). In discussing how Gramercy Park is open three days a year to the public, she comments that sometimes it doesn’t even open on those days, much to the confusion and disappointment of those awaiting these brief opportunities.

Reverend Shaper writes: “I wondered about the privatization of parks. Gramercy is the gold standard. But Bryant Park is also a new “public/private cooperation.” Soon Washington Square Park will have the Tisch Fountain at its center, although the movement grows to name it the “People’s Fountain.” Let the Tisch’s pay for it if they must. But giving them the name and the privatization feels like more than the fountain, which is nearly priceless, is worth.”

NYC Parks Department: No record of number of trees felled at Randall’s Island

Metro NY reporter Patrick Arden reported Monday that New York City has no record of the number of trees felled at Randall’s Island for the “controversial sports fields” run by private corporations they are pushing to place there. The city is currently in court over this issue. It is estimated that thousands of trees were destroyed on Randall’s Island.

“Contractors are required to have forestry permits issued by the Parks Department before removing trees,” the article states. This information is provided by Henry Stern, former NYC Parks Commissioner prior to Adrian Benepe. Current Parks Commissioner Benepe seems to take any opportunity to cut down trees, particularly if it provides a way to privatize public space.

Metro has been trying to obtain the forestry permits but the Parks Department has refused their requests.

At Washington Square Park, the document that went out for contractors’ Bids had a blank space where the Forestry Department’s sign-off was supposed to be. Eleven 50-to-100 year old trees have been cut down at Washington Square Park thus far. No one knows what the total number will be.

Doesn’t this call for oversight of Mayor Bloomberg’s Parks Department? There needs to be a moratorium on their tree destruction and some careful thought as to how we utilize our public space — in ways that benefit people, not corporations.

In the news: MillionTreesNYC Month, NY City Council, Randall’s Island

In the News Today …

  • Metro new york covers Mayor Bloomberg’s hypocrisy in declaring April “MillionTreesNYC Month.” Metro writer Patrick Arden follows the Parks Department’s seemingly endless acts of arborcide across the five boroughs. Perhaps we’re all missing the point – maybe Mayor Bloomberg’s actual goal is to chop DOWN a Million Trees in NYC?
  • New York City Council Parks Committee Chair Helen Foster (Bronx) received her own bit of press today in the New York Times, “Conspicuous absence on Congestion Pricing Vote.” She is cited for being the only City Council member absent for this “important” vote on Monday(3/31).

Although the Times says that Council Member Foster stood up to the Mayor on the Yankee Stadium deal (which gave away Bronx parkland), it’s not exactly the full story. Ultimately, she came out against it, but, in what was a key measure early on, she introduced the legislation before the Committee on State and Federal Legislation which gave Albany the “go-ahead to alienate the parks.” (Metro NY, “How the South Bronx lost its parks to Yanks,” March 14, 2006)

The Times’ article takes a shot at the City Council when they state that council members “have provided little resistance to the mayor’s initiatives in recent years.” Could that be linked to Christine Quinn’s emergence as Speaker of the Council?

  • Apparently, thousands of trees have already been sacrificed on Randall’s Island but at least people will be able to play tennis. (Randall’s Island is run by the Randall’s Island Sports Foundation, another example of the “public-private partnership” of which Mayor Bloomberg, and Giuliani before him, is such a big proponent.) There are 100-150 fewer tennis courts in Manhattan than there were in the ’70’s, according to the managing partner of Sportime, the private corporation “breaking ground” tomorrow(4/3). He does not delve into how many fewer trees there are.