In 1996 Rudy Giuliani‘s notoriously art-hating administration tried to curb the growing number of street vending artists by requiring permits for sidewalk sales. A federal appeals court decided that the art fell under First Amendment protection, and the artists won the day.
Now the Bloomberg administration is planning to set new regulations geared toward reducing the number of vendors that can occupy public park space at any given time. Apparently the goal is to reduce their numbers by as much as 80% in Central Park, Union Square and Battery Park, as well as on the New High Line Park.
The claim by officials is that the vendors take up too much pedestrian space and block sidewalk traffic.
Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe told Crain’s : “It’s a matter of balance. They can vend their stuff, they just can’t do it in uncontrolled droves where park visitors are forced to walk through a gauntlet of vendors.”
You’ve got to wonder what Mr. Benepe’s talking about. Vendors currently number approximately 300 total in the four parks on an average day. They hardly crowd sidewalks or block crucial exits. Yet the city is aims to bring the number of vendors closer to 80.
They want to see as few as 18 vendors in Union Square , which has been known to host as many as 100 artist tables set up on any given day.
With the drastic restrictions, Central Park would allow a mere 49 vendors, and in Battery Park, nine. The High Line, a big draw on sunny days, will only allow five vendors — all on a first come first serve basis.
Of course artists and advocates are worried that such sudden and dire regulation will cause squabbles as vendors who have come to cound on the money they make in the parks, suddenly find themselves in competition for a very limited number spaces.
The Parks Department hearing on this issue is scheduled for next week, but some of the artists are preparing to appeal if the regulations are passed. In order to trump the artists’ First Amendment rights, the city may be forced to prove that the vendors are creating a safety hazard or interrupting with the normal functions of sidewalk traffic.