come back tomorrow and there'll be a lovely restaurant here instead
(Emma Goldman speaks to garment workers about birth control in Union Square, 1916)
Some folks have the strange idea that Union Square Park, historically (and continuingly) the site of social and political activism in New York, should remain the park of the people. Others have been trying for years to reduce or eliminate the "troublesome" more open public plaza areas to the north, west and south of the greener areas of the park. These same people also think some of its public space should be handed over to private business. These operatives include tin-pot mayors, tin-whistle police, certain tin-eared planners and a number of tin-horned businesses.
It's about Free Speech, as much as or more than anything else.
In the past it was basically only about controlling the rabble; the latest campaign to destroy the park appeals to "gentility" and comes supplied with the irresistible attraction of money as well.
New York's public parks have become Business Improvement Districts [BIDS], or at least that's true of those located wherever there's real money; the others are just left neglected and dangerous, since they are viewed by both public and private authorities as "unprofitable",
The City and the Union Square Partnership Business Improvement District plans a costly renovation plan for the north end of Union Square Park. The plan, currently being held up because of a lawsuit filed by the Union Square Community Coalition would take away thousands of square feet of potential playground, community and free assembly space to accommodate an exclusive year-round restaurant.
This amenity would be located only steps away from dozens of eateries of every description already serving the neighborhood. Union Square represents nothing like the isolation of much of Central Park - as if the hugely-embarrassing model of the ridiculous Tavern on the Green weren't disgusting enough to put a stop to this proposal long ago.
The mayor supports the BID plan, but the opposition doesn't come from Leftist heirs of the Emma Goldman, Paul Robeson and their like, the people who helped make the park what it stands for today. Opponents to the privatization plan include the familiar New York names of Carolyn Maloney, Tom Duane, Dick Gottfried, Jack Taylor, Sylvia Friedman, Deborah Glick, Carol Greitzer, Eadie Shanker and Scott Stringer. This is establishment.
So why is it still a live issue? Because there's so much money pushing it. The courts may still allow the alterations which the community opposes to proceed, but a greater visibility (I mean direct action and attendant media attention) will surely effect the resolution of the case.
There's a demonstration tomorrow, Thursday, at 5pm near the northwest corner of the park (17th Street and Broadway).
I expect it to be pretty colorful, and tuneful: The announcement I'm looking at asks us to:
Join George Washington, Dorothy Day, Emma Goldman, Paul Robeson, and Lucy Parsons. Join The Stop Shopping Gospel Choir and The Rude Mechanical Orchestra. Join Reverend Billy. Join your fellow citizens for a 90 minute festival of freedom at Union Square Park!
Save Union Square 2008 promises to be at this same location every Wednesday
at 5, performing, recruiting support, and urging passersby to sign an online petition
and to contact local Councilperson Rosie Mendez
[image from historycooperative]