Unsilent Night strolls through NYC – Washington Square to Tompkins Square – Saturday, December 18th

Huffington Post New York reports that Unsilent Night in New York City will take place this coming Saturday, December 18th beginning at 6:45 p.m. at Washington Square Park under the Arch. The event was started by artist Phil Kline 18 years ago. On the Unsilent Night site, Kline explains the event: “Every year I present Unsilent Night, which is like a Christmas caroling party except we don’t sing, but rather carry boomboxes, each playing a separate tape or CD which is part of the piece. In effect, we become a city-block-long stereo system.”

To participate, you can bring your own boom box and get music there in cassette or CD form or download the music in advance at the site and place on your own CD. A limited # of boom boxes as well as cassettes and CDs will be handed out. The group will then proceed through the city streets ending at Tompkins Square Park. Unsilent Night has expanded from its New York City beginnings to cities across the U.S. and the world. In the past few years, several hundred people have walked the stretch together between the West Village and East Village parks holding boom boxes playing the same ambient music. They look very happy! You can see video of the 2008 event here.

Book On Tompkins Square Park; Corresponding NY Times’ story: “East Village, Before the Gentry”

There’s a new book entitled, “Tompkins Square Park” by photographer Q. Sakamaki in which he documents Tompkins Square Park in the late ’80’s through today: the changes that have swept through the Park and its surrounding East Village neighborhood.

It is twenty years ago this week since the famous Tompkins Square Park riots – something that is difficult to imagine happening today (the most famous one was provoked by a 1 a.m. curfew in that Park, seen as representative of massive and unwelcome changes being inflicted on the neighborhood). It’s not that I want that to happen. However, there is an equal amount of social injustice today and anger in Mayor Bloomberg’s New York. It’s hidden behind a societal malaise with a blind eye to the damage inflicted to people amidst the the monumental changes being pushed throughout our city. Yet It’s not just malaise. These changes are obscured from most people’s eyes and wrapped with a bow around Mayor Bloomberg’s “hero to the City” image. They’re hidden behind mammoth glass buildings once inhabited by a diverse mix of people not quite as shiny who are quietly pushed out. There is the attitude: “If you can’t afford to live here, get out.”

The changes to our public spaces, particularly Washington Square Park, reflect this also.

Colin Moynihan writes about the book and its author in today’s New York Times‘ story “East Village, Before the Gentry:”

Twenty years ago this week the neighborhood was also much like a war zone as protesters clashed with police officers seeking to enforce a curfew in the park. Mr. Sakamaki’s book is timed to that anniversary and documents the street skirmishes, yet it is also a kind of manifesto.

“This book focuses on Tompkins Square Park as the symbol and stronghold of the anti-gentrification movement, the scene of one of the most important political and avant-garde movements in New York history,” Mr. Sakamaki writes in an introduction.

Strolling through the neighborhood, he elaborated, saying that he favors safe streets and finds no romance in poverty. But, he said, change that is primarily driven by monetary profit “destroys the lives of poor or weak people.”

As his black-and-white photographs make clear, Mr. Sakamaki found much that was life-affirming amid the conflict and penury. The energy and camaraderie of people who banded together in adversity appealed to him; so did the desire of East Villagers to create their own social order even as they received little help from mainstream society.

See New York Times slide show of photographer Q. Sakamaki’s Tompkins Square Park book.

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…)