CB5 hopes to curtail promotional events on plazas

One of numerous promotional events to take place at the Flatiron Pedestrian Plaza last summer (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

One of numerous promotional events to take place at the Flatiron Pedestrian Plaza last summer (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot
Since the city’s pedestrian plazas made their debut in 2009, along with being a peaceful destination for those seeking a place to sit outside – albeit inches from traffic — they’ve also become big business for companies looking to hawk products to passersby.

That ongoing commercialization of the public spaces is the source of some contention for representatives of Community Board 5, who, after hearing about a concert planned for the Flatiron Pedestrian Plaza that’s expected to draw a crowd of 10,000, made their displeasure known to the mayor.

The event is planned for February 12 at the north plaza and will require setup for three days prior to it taking place.

This was the topic of discussion held at a CB5 Parks Committee meeting last Monday, according to Jack Taylor, a member of the committee who attended and said he was against it, and that the rest of his fellow members spoke against it as well.

“It stunned everybody,” said Taylor. “They are planning for an audience of 10,000 people largely in but overflowing from the pedestrian plaza on the west side of Madison Square Park. It’s very alarming and massive and if it’s as described or proposed, it’s going to be very hard for pedestrians and drivers and just about anyone in the district.”

Exactly a week after the meeting, CB5’s chair, Vikki Barbero, along with Clayton Smith, chair of the Parks and Public Spaces Committee, penned a letter to the mayor to ask why community boards don’t get any say in the arranging of such commercial events. Meanwhile the city’s Street Activity and Permit Office apparently has sole discretion.

“The Department of Transportation created the pedestrian plaza network and is the city agency responsible for their oversight,” wrote Barbero and Smith. “The area BIDs were chosen to activate, administer and protect these plazas. Why, then, has the Street Activity Permit Office been given the sole discretion to make final determinations of what special events are appropriate for these public spaces?”

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