Unemployment in New York is still 10 percent. So why does New York City want to kill the livelihoods of about 100 hard-working artists and immigrant entrepreneurs? Why are we stifling free expression in a city that thrives on its creative class?
The Parks Department has proposed new rules that would lead to a 75-80% reduction in art vendors who currently sell in Union Square Park, Central Park, and Battery Park. Competition for the few remaining spots will be stiff, and more than 100 people are expected to lose their means of self-employment. These include a mobile-maker from Brooklyn, an elderly man selling indigenous art from his native Ecuador, and a young Argentinian photographer.
New Yorkers are overwhelming against this change. The Street Vendor Project stopped 100 random park-goers this week and asked if the art vendors enhanced or detracted from their park experience. Ninety-four of them said the artists enhanced their park experience. Here's a video compiling some typical responses .
Nobody believes that vendors should be allowed to block park walkways or museum steps. There are already rules that should prevent that from happening. For example, a vending table can only be 8 feet long and 3 feet wide, and vendors cannot sell from any sidewalk unless it is at least 12 feet wide. The Parks Department should enforce those rules more aggressively, especially during the most crowded days and times.
But an 80% reduction is unwarranted. Parks commissioner Adrian Benepe has claimed that the art vendors are blocking sidewalks and creating a safety hazard. But that argument rings false. In fact, the Parks Department allows vendors in those same locations, so long as they are paying rent to the city. For example, the popular Union Square Greenmarket (started by Benepe's father) creates much more congestion than the artists. So does the holiday market at Columbus Circle. In fact, at Battery Park, the artists will be kicked out, but eight hot dog vendors will be allowed to stay in the most crowded areas. Our constitution requires that artists be given at least as much protection as hot dog sellers.
More likely, getting rid of the artists is part of a larger trend to privatize our public parks. Benepe has recently proposed, for example, to create a private bubble over the tennis courts in Central Park. Rates charged are expected to be as high as $100 per hour. Luckily, the community is standing up against that plan.
New Yorkers should also stand up against the plan to drive artists from our parks.