Volume 23, Number 7| The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | June 25 - July 1, 2010
The Rules: New limitations on art vending in city parks
BY Albert Amateau
The Bloomberg administration established new rules last week for vending “expressive matter” in sections of Union Square, Battery Park, the High Line and Central Park, but the drastic reductions originally proposed for vending locations were eased in the version published Friday in the City Record.
In Union Square Park, where as many as 200,000 people visit on a summer day, the new rules for vending art and other First Amendment-protected material call for 18 spaces daily, with 40 additional spaces on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays when the Greenmarket does not operate.
At a hearing on the rules in April, the Department of Parks and Recreation proposed only the daily 18 spaces for expressive matter vending in Union Square Park.
The new rules call for five locations for selling expressive matter on the High Line and nine locations in Battery Park, the same number as proposed in April. For areas around Central Park, the new rules designate a total of 68 expressive matter vending locations, 19 more than proposed in April.
Parks and Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe and officials in charge of the four parks have said that limits on art and related vending locations were needed to relieve congestion and ensure public enjoyment of the parks where those vendors currently set up without restriction. The new rules are to go into effect July 19, and vendors who do not comply will be subject to summonses, seizure of material and arrest.
Warrie Price, executive director of the Battery Conservancy, said on Monday that it was important that the new vendor rules go forward. “We hope they will permit the park to be enjoyed by everyone,” she said.
But the ink was scarcely dry on the new rules on June 18 when Robert Lederman, president of A.R.T.I.S.T., a group representing street artists, filed a suit in Manhattan federal court to enjoin enforcement.
Lederman has already won federal cases, one that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, that stopped a previous attempt to restrict selling art and written material in the parks on the grounds that the restrictions violate the First Amendment.
The new lawsuit by Lederman and Jack Nesbitt, a member of A.R.T.I.S.T., says that expressive matter vendors are already subject to rules that govern all vendors.
Lederman said in an e-mail that the “real causes of congestion and the real threat to public safety … is clearly the Park Department’s own vending concessions: greenmarkets, giant corporate promotions and holiday gift markets featuring hundreds of non-First Amendment-protected vendors that are the problem, not artists.” Those sanctioned concessions “are allowed to blatantly violate every single one of these new rules,” Lederman said.
Under the new rules, the locations in the four park areas will be awarded to expressive matter vendors on a first-come first-serve bases, with no formal permitting. In other areas in the parks, art and similar vendors will be allowed if they do not block paths or seating. “This allows ample alternatives to artists for expressing themselves and it also protects the public’s right to free access to the public park,” said Benepe.