Here’s the skinny: after letting the pavilion building fall into disrepair for over a decade, the city government was finally ready to pony up the cash to repair the building and return it to public use. Before the city could even complete their own plans, the Union Square Business Improvement District, or BID, going by the euphamistic name “The Union Square Partnership” (led by corporate chain stores such as Barnes and Noble and Whole Foods) got involved, dangling wads of extra (anonymously donated) cash, and before you know it the plans that emerged took on a decidedly unfriendly tone, particularly if you happen to be an artist selling your work, a farmer selling food, a child looking for a place to play, or any citizen who might want to just sit down in the park without having to purchase a $5.00 latté.
What’s Going On?
THE CURRENT SITUATION is that a judge will make a ruling very soon (we are desperately trying to find out when) that will determine whether or not the Parks Department will be required to put their plans for a restaurant before the state legislature.
This succinct Gothamist article sums up the situation quite well.
A really sharp analysis of the situation can be read here
The BID plan will widen the street on the west side of the square by approximately 12 feet, and put up a wide concrete barrier and a line of trees on the north, greatly reducing the space for the Farmer’s Market forcing them to push into space previously occupied by artists (this is the divide and conquer strategy, as old as Machiavelli). Furthermore, the Pavilion, an icon of free speech and free assembly that was most recently used as a children’s play area, is slated to be turned into a swanky restaurant (with extensive outdoor seating that will further encroach on the open area at the north end of the park). This is just about the last thing this particular neighborhood needs. In combination, these two developments will pretty much eliminate Union Square North as a viable place for public assembly. Without public space to peaceably assemble, the First Amendment is meaningless. Furthermore, this area of the city has the least amount of playground space in the entire city. The Pavilion should be used as children’s play space AND for community activities, including music, art exhibitions, and free theater. Instead, the BID and Bloomberg plan on giving us another pricey restaurant in a neighborhood that’s full of them. How did this happen?
Mayor Mike’s buddy, Danny Meyer, the owner of the Shake Shack at Madison Square Park, as well as Gramercy Tavern and Union Square Cafe, is the head of the Union Square Partnership. He is a primary backer of this plan. Meyer and his backers found willing partners in the offices of the corporate chains that surround the park. And why not? Fewer farmers means more business for Whole Foods. Fewer artist-vendors means more knick-knack sales for Barnes and Noble. We suspect that the “anonymous” donation that greased the wheels of this back room deal came from Danny Meyer, or from one of his backers. We also suspect that the future swanky restaurant in the Pavilion might just be run by Mr. Meyer himself. But of course this is all speculation, because THERE IS NO TRANSPARENCY IN THE PROCESS. We don’t know how such a crap plan got put together, with no meaningful community input. We just know that they were able to get it passed, and that they even got Rosie Mendez to sign off on it. They bought off her and some of the opposition by promising to expand the children’s playground, a classic bait and switch tactic to obscure the reality of this plan: they are decreasing the size of the park, giving it over to cars and to private businesses.
What we want to see is a park FOR THE PEOPLE. A bigger playground for kids sounds great. How about opening up the courtyard to the south of the Pavilion too? How about using the Pavilion itself as a museum to the very important history of Union Square? Or maybe an indoor daycare center? Or maybe both? Let’s have a transparent, public process to determine the future of this important public space.
And who in their right mind wants to see two more lanes of traffic on the north end of Union Square?
If you want to find out more, check out http://www.revbilly.com/blog