Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Save Union Square: What's Going On? What Can You Do?:

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, (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,  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 create two more lanes of traffic on 17th street, thereby reducing the space for the Farmer's Market by half, 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, is slated to be turned into a swanky restaurant, 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.  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.

12:52 AM