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Parks Department Finally Agrees It’s ‘Inappropriate’ to Let Drivers Defile Black History Sculpture

2:58 PM EDT on May 2, 2023

Lorenzo Pace, who created the “Triumph of the Human Spirit” monument in Foley Square, can’t believe his eyes. File photo: Gersh Kuntzman

A top Parks Department official has admitted it's "inappropriate" that his agency has allowed drivers to defile a memorial to enslaved Africans by parking on the plaza in Foley Square — but the agency also said it is thinking about a fix, albeit with the NYPD.

The admission and hope of action comes after Streetsblog published a series of articles and social media posts exposing the damage caused by drivers to artist Lorenzo Pace's "Triumph of the Human Spirit" sculpture, a monument to victims of the slave trade and to European colonization of the Americas.

"NYC Parks agrees that use of the plaza for parking of media vehicles is an inappropriate use of the site, and [is] looking to improve the problem in communication with NYPD and DOT," the agency's director of Art & Antiquities Jonathan Kuhn told Pace in a letter shared with Streetsblog.

Kuhn was clear-eyed, however, about the possibilities of regaining the plaza from drivers, who are directed into it by the NYPD during big media events, such as the recent arraignment of former President Donald Trump or the recent House Judiciary Committee hearing (when Rep. Nicole Malliotakis of Staten Island was spotted driving on the plaza).

Here's how Streetsblog covered the disgrace. Click to read.
Here's how Streetsblog covered the disgrace. Click to read.

"The immediate area is often besieged by large-scale public assemblies, and the space in the immediate vicinity is highly contested, making this quite a challenge," Kuhn said.

That's especially a challenge given the role of the NYPD and the media, whose sound and video trucks frequently fill the plaza. In a statement, Parks Department spokesman Dan Kastanis said, "We are exploring both short-term and long-term solutions to the parking at Foley Square, and we are working with NYPD on enforcement" — but he then referred other questions to the NYPD, which declined to comment.

The NYPD also declined to let Streetsblog discuss the matter with new Chief of Patrol John Chell, who has recently expressed concern about NYPD parking practices.

"I take things very seriously," he recently told the City Council. "I’m definitely dealing with it and I am not treating it like a joke,”

Pace said he's trying to stay positive, even though Kuhn said that a budget request for maintenance work on the cracked plaza and damaged sculpture remains unfunded.

"I was just happy to get a response and I think it was because of all that Streetsblog has done," the irrepressible Pace said on Tuesday. "But your guess is as good as mine if anything will happen."

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