The New York Civil Liberties Union today urged the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation to reconsider its proposal to restrict the number and location of vendors at several city parks on the grounds that the City has not made enough information public to allow for a determination of if the proposed rules run afoul of the First Amendment. Questions also remain as to whether the first-come, first-served approach to vending locations will result in a fair allocation of space, and if the proposed limits are truly appropriate in all of the impacted neighborhoods.
“Parks have historically been recognized as vitally important for social, artistic and political expression,” said NYCLU Legal Director Arthur Eisenberg. “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.”
In a letter sent Friday afternoon to Alessandro G. Olivieri, general counsel to the Department of Parks & Recreation, Eisenberg and NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman outlined three concerns regarding the proposed vendor restrictions:
- That the Parks Department has “failed utterly” to make public data demonstrating that its proposal is reasonable and leaves open ample alternatives;
- That a first-come, first-served system for getting vendor space runs the risk that a few vendors and their agents will obtain more than their fare share of sites for more than their fair share of time;
- And that any restrictions placed should be tailored to their communities as the residents of Greenwich Village, where Union Square Park is located, “can tolerate a level of disorder and energy” that residents near Central Park may object to.
According to press reports, the Parks Department’s proposal will reduce by 75 percent the number of people engaging in the vending of expressive materials.
“The Parks Department has failed utterly to provide the public with the census information and utilization necessary to reach a fair judgment as to whether the limitations contemplated by this proposal are ‘reasonable time, place and manner’ measures sufficient to satisfy the City’s constitutional obligations under the First Amendment,” the letter states.
“So severe a reduction in the number of expressive opportunities will be treated with considerable skepticism by the vendors and by the 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.”
The NYCLU urged the Parks Department to withdraw its proposed regulation until it makes public the data necessary to assess the reasonableness of the limits. It also requested that the Parks Department re-evaluate its methodology for awarding locations and that it reconsider the differences in the aesthetics of each park as it makes restrictions.
“Our artists are part of why New York City is the best city in the world,” Lieberman said. “We must be certain that any restrictions we place on them allows our community to retain its vibrant culture.”