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Thursday’s Headlines: Washington Square Park Is Alive Edition

Washington Square Park on Wednesday night, looking at the arch as people mill around it and the cops watch over it.

Washington Square Park on Wednesday night. Photo: Streetsblog

On Wednesday night, the young people who have flocked to Washington Square Park over the past several months to dance and sing and party outnumbered the older residents of the neighborhood at a public forum to discuss the park's future. Last month, the NYPD's 6th Precinct held an "emergency" meeting to address the residents' complaints about noise, drug use, and general lawlessness. Younger parkgoers were literally locked out of the meeting when the room reach capacity, and the NYPD continued to physically enforce a 10 p.m. curfew with officers in riot gear and arrests. But on Wednesday, the youth were at the Community Board 2 parks-committee meeting in force.

"If you go to the park you should be getting your word in. Don’t let these Karens and Kevins voice their opinions and keep us silent," said JB, a 21-year-old from Brooklyn who told Streetsblog that he started to come to Washington Square Park a year ago. "It’s really like a vibe, going to that park. I just enjoy the community. It’s much more alive than any other park that I’ve been to."

Will Morrison, the deputy administrator of the park for the Parks Department, began the meeting noting that tensions have eased since May and June; there is less drug use, and fewer people sleeping in the park every night. He credited a stepped-up police presence, and also a team of social workers sent by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer who walk through the park every day and try and connect homeless people with services or a place to stay. "Since July 5, the park has been relatively calm place," Morrison said.

Capt. Stephen Spataro, the head of the 6th Precinct, confirmed that major felonies and 311 complaints were down significantly. When a CB2 member asked him if that meant the police could ease up their presence in the park, and remove the metal barricades that surround the Washington Square Arch, Spataro said it was "too soon." (The previously barricaded, northwest corner of the park is open for children's programming, and should be to the general public soon, Morrison said.)

"To pull back now would be to give up some of the gains that we’ve covered and achieved," he said, adding that there have been "countless" incidents of vandalism on the arch and that it must be protected. "It is a landmark and we take that very seriously."

Then it was the public's turn to speak.

"If the park is a spot of free expression I would really like to know why harmless amps are being shut down in the park," musician Madelene Gallon asked Spataro, to cheers from the audience. "As precious as the arch is, music is precious too." 

Spataro responded that they had to be "consistent" with enforcement and couldn't make any exceptions. "We enforce it because the biggest, loudest people, the group most willing to demonstrate their power, they are going to be the one to control the space" to the detriment of others.

“'Oh we must protect the arch!' It's just a little paint, you can wash it off or paint over it," said Mimi Fischer, who identified herself as a native New Yorker. "That is not what this fucking city is about!"

Bill Warren, a tall man with grey hair, tried to appeal to the younger people that their late-night parties were too loud. "We got young people who don't know about reasonableness," he said, to grumbles from the audience. "Your right to swing your arms ends where the other guy’s nose begins. You can't take a crap on anybody’s table. You cant go into some stranger’s place and practice tuba. It’s a public space we’re all in this together."

"We are reasonable, sir!" someone shouted back.

At one point, a leader of the We Outside Group, which holds events in the park, addressed the handful of older residents.

"Artists have been flocking to this park for decades," he said. "You live in the greatest city in the world. If you cannot accept that this community is not going to leave [the park], then you'd better leave." The crowd roared as he continued. "If you don't like it, move to the suburbs!"

In other news:

    • firm called Mobileye is testing two cars outfitted with self-driving technology on the streets of New York, with plans to bring that number up to seven, The Verge reports. Mobileye is the only company in the state to take Gov. Cuomo up on a license to test the technology. "I think for a human it's very, very challenging to drive in New York City," the CEO of Mobileye said. "Not to mention for a robotic car." Here's some data based on decades of New York City driving research: Take mass transit instead.
    • Speaking of utopian capitalism that will ultimately hasten our demise: the LA Times has a devastating report on how California's leadership on electric vehicles has spurred a race to the bottom for pollution-emitting battery companies, some of whom literally are scraping the ocean floor for minerals.
    • The Christian Science Monitor has a sweet look at the adults taking Bike New York's class to learn how to ride: "The camaraderie of this is amazing!"
    • Tax exemptions for employer-paid parking should be replaced with tax exemptions for people's bicycles, apartments closer to work, anything other than parking! All it would take is adding 22 words to the tax code, Bloomberg CityLab reports.
    • Only 43 percent of NYPD personnel have been vaccinated, NBC New York reports.
    • Bret Stephens had lunch with Eric Adams and was deeply smitten with Adams's pro-police platitudes. "His mission is not to let New York go the way of Portland or San Francisco," Stephens wrote, which is funny enough when you realize that he lives in a fantasy where those cities are hopelessly lost to crime, but even funnier when you realize that Adams has promised to make New York more in line with Portland or San Francisco when it comes to bike and street infrastructure.

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