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 Background:

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.

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

Sat May 24th at Farmer’s Market Union Square

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quiltyusp0021On Sat May 24th a group of us went to Union Square to exchange information and talk with farmers and people attending the Greenmarket. Many thanked us for providing them information, signed our cardboard petition indicating their support, and posted our ‘Keep Union Square Public’ signs in their booths. The impact of the redevelopment is immediately felt by the street vendors whose booths are being uncomfortably cramped, by passersby who know the last thing they want is another upscale restaurant, and greenmarket farmers who cringe, knowing that Whole Foods is one of the members of the BID planning the redevelopment of the park.

quiltyups0056Being at Union Square and talking with people was an important because per recent media citings, many believe that the halt in construction indicates a foretold victory for the community. In fact, to be able to attain these gains, this is a critical time for us to voice our concerns for the park to remain publicly accessible. These voices will reach the judge who issued the injunction on the construction and council members whose leadership can change the course of Union Square to reflect the interests of the community.

May 21st – Making Public Union Square’s History

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quiltyusa0011On May 21, 2008, we–a group of concerned citizens–began our efforts to bring the history forward, to tell the old story inside the new story and above all, to keep the park (all of it!) public. Union Square has long been a site where the history of our present times was shaped, and the Union Square Pavilion was built as a place where people could convene and exercise their freedom of speech and assembly. Figures whose histories are written into Union Square include inspiring notables such as Dorothy Day, Emma Goldman, Norman Thomas, Lucy Parsons, George Washington, Paul Robeson, and others.

To make Union Square’s history public, we tied beautifully crafted cardboard cutouts of historical figures to the fence surrounding the construction and read passages from their writings. One organizer, Savitri, reads from Emma Goldman…

quiltyusa0005A little earlier we were inside whats left of the park, and on the way out we left a little present, George Washington and Paul Robeson arm in arm. As we were calmly tying them to the garbage trucks a parks employee said she had called the police and we better leave because “I don’t want any arrests on my property” about 12 people cried out from the sideline “its our property! all of ours!”

Union Square Throughout History

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African Americans assembling during WW2, monks, an illustration from 1878 featured in Harper’s, and more.monks_union-square-harpers-jan-1878

80 year old elm trees cut down!

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80 year old elm trees are coming down today! This is so wrong. Call Rosie Mendez now 212-677-1077! and email her at rosie.mendez@council.nyc.gov
She said yes to this.

Artists and Greenmarket Farmes Pushed Out by USP

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Miriam West (whose illustration is featured above) is an artist sells her work at Union Square on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, go by and say hi. She, like the other artists, are being pushed out by the Union Square Partnership whose main agenda is to make business more efficient for the big uglies around the park–Barnes and Noble, Whole Foods, forever 21, and Danny Meyer, silent partner in the privatization of Union Square. Consider visiting one of Meyer’s 12 restaurants such as the Union Square Cafe, to let him know you love and support the artists and farmers selling their goods in Union Square and oppose their increasingly constrained space.