The NYCLU, a non-profit organization dedicated to defending civil liberties and civil rights, criticized the Parks Department for its “lack of transparency” in a letter addressed to Alessandro G. Olivieri, the Parks Department’s legal counsel.
Hundreds of street artists protested the Parks Department's plan to restrict the number and location of expressive matter vendors in Manhattan parks, on Friday April 23, 2010. (Photo: Lauren Hillary)
The Parks Department proposal would eliminate roughly 75% of the vendors selling fine art and other expressive materials in four popular Manhattan parks.
Expressive matter vendors would compete for just 18 spots in Union Square, 9 in Battery Park, 5 in Central Park South and 5 on the High Line.
“So severe a reduction in the number of expressive opportunities will be treated with considerable skepticism by the vendors and by a fair-minded public.
"To overcome such skepticism, the Parks Department will need to come forward with powerful evidence and persuasive data to demonstrate the reasonableness of this measure. It has not done so, to date,” said NYCLU Legal Director Arthur Eisenberg in the letter.
Street artists strongly oppose the Parks Department proposal and believe it violates their First Amendment rights.
As a result of successful lawsuits, vendors can legally sell expressive materials-- including paintings, drawings, photographs, sculpture, books and writings-- in New York City's public parks and streets without obtaining vending permits.
“The Parks Department should make every effort to accommodate our city’s artists, poets and authors. It must withdraw its proposal until it can publicly demonstrate it is meeting its First Amendment obligations,” said Eisenberg in a press release accompanying the letter.
The NYCLU’s letter details three legal concerns with the Parks Department proposal.
First, the NYCLU claims that the Parks Department "has failed utterly” to provide data to the public that quantifies the number of expressive matter vendors and competing users at the desired sites.
Second, the NYCLU questions the fairness of allocating a limited number of spots on a “first come, first served” basis.
“Such a system presents the risk that a few vendors or their agents will muscle their way into the most desirable locations and will otherwise obtain more than their fair share of sites for more than their fair share of time."
Third, the NYCLU urges the Parks Department to consider the differences between the affected parks—Union Square, Central Park, Battery Park, and the High Line—when allocating vendor locations.
“Union Square Park is different in style and aesthetic from the southern perimeter of Central Park. On the fringe of Greenwich Village, Union Square Park can tolerate a level of disorder and energy that might be undesirable on Fifty-Ninth Street.”
On Friday, hundreds of street artists protested at the site of the Parks Department's public hearing on the proposed restrictions.
As of press time, Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe has not announced whether he will enact the proposal, either as written or with changes.
The Parks Department has not issued a press release about the proposal or the public hearing.