The Union Square “Holiday Market” and Selling Off and Shutting Down Our Public Space

Union Square "Holiday Market"

Union Square "Holiday Market"

Fascinating reading this Sunday’s (December 21st) New York Times City section Cover Story on the Union Square “Holiday Market” which it proclaims “The Jewel Box of Union Square.” Comparing the Washington Square Park City section cover story “The Battle for Washington Square” and this Union Square piece, one starts to think maybe the City section has a great love for the New York City Parks Department despite so much evidence, if given a close look and taken seriously, that would cause that love affair to go real sour very quickly.

The New York City Parks Department sells off a large section of the public space at Union Square for four weeks, at the time of year when it might be nice, important even, for people to actually come together in that space. The space at Union Square Park is unique (like Washington Square Park) because it has a large plaza, people sit on the steps, they watch (and participate with) musicians, performances and political speak outs. And yet that all gets SHUT DOWN at this time of year for an entire month.

Then there is the issue of the harassment of street artists who have won their right to sell art in the parks based on First Amendment protection. During their legal battles with the city – primarily from 1998-2001 – according to A.R.T.I.S.T. President Robert Lederman, “the city claimed that artists were completely ruining the parks by selling art. They claimed that by, ‘commercializing the city’s parks,’ we were denying the entire public their right to use that same public space.” Funny how that doesn’t apply to “Holiday Market” vendors who – if you study the photo above – take up a huge amount of our public space. Though the street artists have prevailed in court, they are still harassed by the New York City Parks Department, and the NY City Council wants to limit their access – in order to open up access for further privatization of public space. Tricky, eh?

But you see, the issue is actually the right of the city to sell the public space, and, while the GreenMarket and the artist street vendors work within the public space, the “Holiday Market” takes over the space – which is much more offensive to those of us who like to utilize the public space.

More from Robert Lederman here. (more…)

Street Artists Protest Gerson-sponsored Vending Bills Friday, November 14th at City Hall

The “Gerson-Quinn Agreement” that NY City Council Member Alan Gerson (Washington Square Park is in his district) and Speaker Christine Quinn (Quinn covers the neighboring Village district) brokered was weak and gained little for the community they both represent.

At City Hall, a few weeks ago during the term limits hearings, Alan Gerson would never state his position on the matter. Yet, it came as no surprise to anyone that the day of the crucial vote he fell in line with Mayor Bloomberg, Speaker Quinn, and voted for the legislation which would extend his own term.

So now Alan Gerson is on the attack of New York City’s street artists.

Info from Robert Lederman, President of A.R.T.I.S.T.:

400 Street Artists Will Protest at City Council Hearing on Vending

Press Conference and Protest: Friday, November 14, 9 AM City Hall (East Gate)

On Friday, November 14th, the NY City Council Committee on Consumer Affairs will hold a hearing on 8 of 21 pending laws concerning vending and street artists pushed for by City Council Member Alan Gerson.

If passed, these laws will make it virtually impossible for anyone to legally sell art on the street. More than 400 street artists will protest outside at 9 AM and then testify inside at the hearing at 10 AM.

Other City Council members to contact to register your opposition to these bills:

* Lacey Clarke, Legislative Counsel Committee on Consumer Affairs New York City Council Phone #: 212.788.7006

* Leroy Comrie, Consumer Affairs Committee Chairman
District Office Phone 718-776-3700
Legislative Office Phone 212-788-7084

Contact: Robert Lederman, President of A.R.T.I.S.T.: artistpres -at- gmail.com

You can get detailed info on all of the newly proposed vending laws at the ARTIST website.

Note: It was impossible to find a good photo of Alan Gerson on Flickr so I resorted to this one. No disrespect meant to Council Member Gerson.

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…)

Artists Being Evicted from Union Square Park


Artists make up a vital part of the fabric of Union Square Park. On Friday, April 4th, they were given word that they are being evicted out of their longstanding space due to Mayor Bloomberg and Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe’s plans to further privatize the Park. These plans, as outlined previously, include expanding the restaurant space in the historic Pavilion for Union Square Partnership member and restauranteur Danny Meyer, thereby reducing the amount of space for artists, the famous GreenMarket(founded by Parks Commissioner Benepe’s father, Barry) and free speech protesters in the Park for TWO years during construction. The expansion for this restaurant, largely unwelcome by the community, will also mean the destruction of 14 stately trees by our city’s Parks Commissioner.

Here is an excerpt from a notice from Robert Lederman who organizes A.R.T.I.S.T., an organization representing, and comprised of, street artists in our city:

On Friday, April 4th 2008. the Parks Department told artists working in Union Square Park that for the next two years they would no longer be allowed to set up in or around the park on Wednesdays and Saturdays due to a construction project at the North end of the park. A restaurant is being built there on behalf of a board member of the Union Sq Partnership. As a result of the construction, the entire Greenmarket will be relocated from the North and West sides of the park to the South and West sides, the exact location artists have set up in for years.

I explained (to the Parks Department) that artists have no problem with the Greenmarket and are willing to reasonably cooperate in making space for the construction project but that we also have NO intention of giving up our First Amendment rights in the park.

Some background: The Mayor deliberately under budgets the Parks Department each year. As a result, the Parks Department must somehow earn hundreds of millions of dollars each year in order to pay the bills for running the vast NYC parks system. They make up for the lack of funds by selling concessions, letting corporations rent public parks for special events and by privatizing public spaces, as is being done in USP with the new restaurant.

They also deal with this deliberate under budgeting by allowing private corporations like the Union Square Partnership, The Central Park Conservancy, the Battery Park Conservancy and the Bryant Park Conservancy to take over most, or in some cases all, of the operations in a particular park. In exchange for the funding, they are allowed to gradually transform NYC’s public parks into corporate run privatized parks, not much different than Disneyland or a private mall.

For more information or to be updated consistently, please contact Robert Lederman at artistpres -at- gmail.com.
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