Gale Brewer: NBA All-Star Concert in NYC’s Flatiron District a Misuse of Public Space
By Eric Shapiro
An enormous concert in honor of NBA All-Star Weekend is coming to the Flatiron District’s North Plaza. Whether you like it or not. Judging by her recent letter to the De Blasio Administration, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer doesn’t like it. No, it’s not because she doesn’t like pop star Rihanna, the concert’s headline performer. Setup will entail 3 days of noisy, 24-hour construction and extensive street closures and disruptions to the neighborhood for a televised event that will last less than an hour. The estimated 10,000 attendees are sure to have a good time, but is it in the best interests of residents and businesses in the neighborhood?
Last month, Community Board 5, which represents the Flatiron District, sent a letter to Brewer, expressing concerns about not only the event itself a but a broader lack of community input in the application process for public plazas. Brewer, also apprised of the event by the Flatiron BID, was more than sympathetic. In a letter to the De Blasio administration (click here for the full text of the letter), she wrote, “large-scale, national programming brings great visibility to New York, but I am concerned by their impact on local businesses and quality of life for residents.” She also pointed out that the NBA concert could “set a precedent for future events that are oversized for their sited pedestrian plazas.”
Brewer revealed that she had met with officials from the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Street Activity Permit Office (SAPO), which currently dominate the event application process for pedestrian plazas. She agreed that community boards, attuned to the potential impact of out-of-scale events on their respective neighborhoods, should play a greater role in the process.
“I have fought throughout my career for open and community based dialogue that create transparency and compromise on controversial topic that impact New Yorkers. I would welcome the opportunity to further discuss how SAPO can engage with the Community Boards, BIDs, and other stakeholders moving forward.”
Although she offers no formal solutions, Gale Brewer’s call for greater dialogue demonstrates an understanding of the need to allow community boards and BIDs greater say over the use of a vital new form of public space. When it comes to deciding whether an event is good for a neighborhood, it simply makes no sense to shut out the institutions and individuals whose job it is to know that neighborhood best. It’s up to the City Council and the De Blasio administration to change a policy that places the needs of corporations like the NBA ahead of New Yorkers. Furthermore, it’s up to New Yorkers affected by inappropriate, out-of-scale events to attend community board meetings, contact councilmen and make their voices heard.
The dialogue Brewer proposes can only be effective if citizens participate. Community board members and a borough president cannot compel an entrenched bureaucracy to change without the support of angry voters. After all, the money of corporations eager to use public plazas without regard for the people who live and work nearby speaks a lot louder than a strongly-worded letter from CB5 or Gale Brewer. Only a harsh and sustained outcry from taxpayers is likely to make a substantive difference.. But will New Yorkers do this to avoid a few days of considerable, but not unbearable inconvenience? If nothing else, the answer to this question will tell us something about civic engagement in New York City circa 2015.
New Yorkers can direct questions and comments about the upcoming NBA all-star concert to the following: