Volume 79, Number 28 | December 16 - 22 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Letters to the Editor

The future of Pier 40

To The Editor:
Eleven years ago, I had the pleasure of helping craft the Hudson River Park Act, which enabled the creation of parkland along the West Side Highway. This legislation enabled a once-forsaken area to become valuable parkland and bolstered our community. 

Five years ago, a part of the park, Pier 40, was revitalized and transformed into ball fields that have become wildly popular and vital to the city. However, these beloved fields cannot be taken for granted as evidenced by a public survey recently released by some members of the Hudson River Park Trust that asks if the community is willing to accept alternate uses on Pier 40 including “hotels,” “riverboat gambling” and “motorized aircraft facilities.”

Understandably, this survey has caused alarm for members of the community who participated in hours of discussion, community debates and public hearings that led to true recreation space with consensus on limitations of commercial uses. No one wants to see this process repeated.

Because Pier 40 is designated in the park legislation as one of the park’s “development nodes,” it has the burden of producing revenue for the operating budget of the park. In fact, the two-and-a-half blocks of the park that Pier 40 represents has consistently generated more than 40 percent of the park’s operating funds. At the same time, the Trust always assumed that a large-scale development at Pier 40 would shift the burden of infrastructure repairs to the developer, and that the developer would then recoup this investment through significant development.

While the public understands and has accepted this reality, the public also has consistently supported Pier 40’s current recreational uses, as evidenced by a public rally that drew more than 700 people less than two years ago. I had the honor to speak at that rally and was taken with how many of our neighbors, parents and their children were passionate about preserving the experience of playing sports inside the “donut.” The day of the rally was a cold and blustery one, but inside the “donut” the strong winds abated. This allows for a much longer playing season than would be possible if all the fields were on the roof, as has been suggested by some. In its current configuration, the pier is a recreational treasure for this community and for many coming from elsewhere.

The Lower West Side, even with Hudson River Park, is a community bereft of green space. The future development at Pier 40 must ensure that existing park space is protected. Ideas that have been rejected for the past 15 years have not aged gracefully. Reinventing the wheel is not always a good idea. The community has voiced its needs repeatedly, and it would be negligent to ignore the hard-fought struggles of the past.

Deborah Glick
Glick is assemblymember for the 66th District

Community board? No thanks

To The Editor:
Re “The High Line and art” (editorial, Dec. 9) and “Saying he’s being railroaded, artist is arrested again” (news article,  Dec. 9):

Street artists very much appreciate The Villager taking a strong editorial position on this issue. However, we disagree with the notion that local community boards should help decide the outcome. While community boards have a legitimate place in some decision-making, they are not in a position to decide anyone’s First Amendment rights.

The purpose of the First Amendment was to protect the public from the government, not to protect the community from public speakers.

With all due respect to Community Board 2, which over the years has had many fine individuals on it, the historical fact is that this was the exact community board that started the street artist arrest policy in 1994, by demanding that Mayor Giuliani and the New York Police Department eliminate street artists from Soho — even though all parties fully knew the arrests would be illegal. It is hardly surprising that the anti-street artist Parks Department would suddenly want to turn to a historically anti-street artist community board for “guidance” on this issue. More likely, it wants to use the community board as protective cover for its anti-street artist policies.

According to the U.S. Constitution, it is not up to each local community to parcel out freedom of speech as they see fit. The Federal Appeals Courts already decided the street artist issue over a period of 16 years of lawsuits. Let the Parks Department enforce the existing rules for street artists who vend in parks — that is all that is needed to protect public safety.

Those rules severely limit the size of an art display, say where on a sidewalk or path it can be located, how wide that sidewalk needs to be, and also protect the plants and park property, etc. The detailed rules, which are in writing in a Parks Enforcement Patrol memo given to all PEP officers, are very similar to the many restrictions that exist for vendors on the streets.

What the community board should look into is why the Parks Department allows the Friends of the High Line to offer no-bid contracts to corporate food and souvenir vendors and keep all the money from the concessions. The controversy is not: “Will we allow vending on the High Line?” The question is: “Aside from the various corporate vending concessions that the High Line is planning, will we allow the full exercise of First Amendment rights by artists?”

The board might also ask, if a few street artists are such a potential threat to public safety that false arrests are needed, how is it that the Parks Department is installing gigantic “Holiday Markets” in New York City parks? These are non-First Amendment-protected vending markets that create thousands-of-times-worse congestion than all of the city’s First Amendment-protected vendors combined.

Robert Lederman
Lederman is president, A.R.T.I.S.T. (Artists’ Response to Illegal State Tactics) 

Artists fight for rights

To The Editor:
Re “Saying he’s being railroaded, artist is arrested again” (news article, Dec. 9):

The streets and parks are the true remaining places for free speech to reign as it was meant to in any true democracy. And still these government thugs attempt to circumvent the laws and Constitution to suit their own agendas. It is truly sickening.

I’m a retired art teacher and will continue to set up my work for sale, within the legal boundaries, at the designated parks and street locations; I am eternally grateful for, and fully support, Mr. Lederman and his efforts that enable me to do so. That I can continue to augment my retirement on weekends with my artwork is essential and necessary during such terrible economic times. That any city government powers could even attempt to bypass the law to prevent me from this right is appalling and repugnant!

I pray Robert will sue and again win this most vital representative case for freedom of speech in the streets and parks of New York City. And may it set an example to any other city in the world that this is the most vital place for freedom of expression to exist in any democracy. Thanks again, Robert.  

P.R. Smith

It’s about money and clout

To The Editor:
Re “Saying he’s being railroaded, artist is arrested again” (news article, Dec. 9): 

How does the Parks Department expect the citizenry to respect the law when its Parks Enforcement Patrol officers themselves sometimes do not respect the law? The arrest of Robert Lederman is a good example of these officers not respecting the law.

Then what is it that the Parks Department and its enforcement officers respect? Money and clout. What is it that the Friends of the High Line has that an outdoor artist lacks? Money and clout. 

Unfortunately, the officers who respected money and clout more than the law may have to pay with their jobs. While the artist who did respect the law will be richly rewarded when the upright courts rule in his favor.

Thelma Blitz

Rights, not sights 

To The Editor:
“Saying he’s being railroaded, artist is arrested again” (news article, Dec. 9):

It’s not about “visual pollution,” Ms. Woolums. It’s about the First Amendment. 

Thank God for Lederman. He’s in the right, and I’m so glad to see him in the news again.

Beth Sopko

A use for Lederman’s lucre

To The Editor:
Re “High stakes on the High Line” (Robert Lederman, letter, Dec. 9):

In his letter to the editor, Mr. Lederman discusses the possibility of a lawsuit against the city for false arrests in High Line park. In doing so, he mentions the dynamic of a financial award that may come from such a legal action. Mr. Lederman was said to have been awarded monetary damages per each illegal arrest in a previous legal action, and when you are as active as he is in getting arrested (more than 40 times), it can really start to add up. 

Therefore, I challenge Mr. Lederman to place the lion’s share of any court-awarded damages for these absurd High Line arrests into an “artists’ trust” as a way to help all street artists. Since these legal actions focus on the constitutional rights of all street artists, it is most appropriate that all street artists are involved in the outcome as well. Artists could decide if the trust fund should finance the promotion of the street art scene, or help pay for collective healthcare, or studio space, or legal assistance, or housing, or emergency funds, or international artist exchanges and so on. 

However, if Mr. Lederman simply pockets the court’s award as he has in the past, then it would appear to be just a practice that pays pretty darn well — but only if the struggle goes on and on and on and on and on.
Lawrence White

Tree-mendous outrage

To The Editor:
Re “The root of the matter at Washington Square Park” (talking point, by Sharon Woolums, Dec. 2):

Now New York University wants to cut down trees on Thompson St. so it can build another monster building on Washington Square. N.Y.U.’s outrages continue unabated.

N.Y.U. already cut down a beautiful grove of trees on Mercer St. to create a so-called “green” facility.  Has anyone ever heard of anything more ridiculous than cutting down natural greenery in order to create man-made “greenness”? We have lost numerous mature trees that provided beauty, shade and moderation of the temperature in the summer in an area of the city that has among the least amount of green space despite its name of Greenwich Village. 

It takes decades to grow trees to the height of those cut down, and now N.Y.U. wants to do it again — this time for an interfaith center. And what will be practiced there? Evidently not an appreciation of God’s handiwork. No, let’s eliminate that, so N.Y.U. can raise another monument to someone’s ego while diminishing our quality of life here in the Village and glorifying itself at the expense of the neighborhood.

It’s bad enough that at least 14 mature trees were cut down in Washington Square Park, so we can have in the center an oversized, hideous hardscape around the beautiful fountain. On hot days it is uncomfortable to walk through the center of the park, and on cold days, painful with the wind whipping through and no trees to slow it down and provide protection. This huge expanse of hardscape exactly repeats the problem of the former plaza at the World Trade Center and the previous redesign of Washington Square Park decades ago. And more trees in the park are scheduled for the chopping block.

It wasn’t enough that Grace Church cut down gorgeous trees in its yard so it could build an underground gym for the students at its school. It broke my heart to see the machines chewing up those beautiful branches, which had lent such grace to the streetscape at that corner. I understand private property has its rights, but the community should have a right to some kind of consideration. 

And now N.Y.U. wants to cut down more trees, or as it tried to portray its plans at the meeting of the Community Board 2 Parks Committee on Dec. 2, N.Y.U. wants to dig up these mature trees to save them and hopes to replant them somewhere else.

Does this sound familiar? Does anyone remember destroying the village in Vietnam in order to save it?  Are we now going to let N.Y.U. destroy Greenwich Village? How much are Villagers going to put up with before they put their foot down?

Linda Myers

Trials and tribulations 

To The Editor:
Re “The terror trials” (editorial, Nov. 25):

Your editorial states that “the U.S. Attorney General’s Office in Lower Manhattan is the most experienced and successful in the country prosecuting terrorists.” With the incalculable expense that security will cost in securing Downtown Manhattan, and disruption to small businesses that you outline, why can’t the Attorney General’s Office hold the trials in another New York venue, one that is not so densely packed with businesses and residents?  The A.G.’s Office could just as easily hold the trials in Brooklyn, Queens, Washington Heights or Yonkers, for that matter.  

“It is most appropriate to give the people who were hurt the most an opportunity to witness an open, public trial.” Just how public will it be? How many people will actually be able to physically witness the trials? 

The editorial correctly lists the negative aspects of holding the trials Downtown, noting they “will cause economic pain to small businesses, inconvenience Downtown residents and workers” — and, I agree, very importantly, “be a burden on the New York City budget.”

Downtown Manhattan has suffered enough; straining an already-overstrained community for the sake of symbolism or misguided righteousness is a disservice to everyone.

Dianna Maeurer

The Bitter truth

To The Editor:
“Village Gate stars thank D’Lugoff for faith in them” (memorial, Dec. 2):

In your article about the memorial for Art D’Lugoff, you refer to one Paul Colby as the founder of The Bitter End. Simply not true. Its founder was Fred Weintraub in 1962, and Mr. Colby, whom I never heard of till the error in The Villager, by his own admission took over some 12 years later — somewhat after the folk music craze had ended. 

I remember Weintraub’s Bitter End as a major contributor to the folk music scene, as I also remember Mr. Weintraub’s genius in filming “Woodstock”!

Lois C. Schwartz

E-mail letters, not longer than 250 words in length, to news@thevillager.com or fax to 212-229-2790 or mail to The Villager, Letters to the Editor, 145 Sixth Ave., ground floor, NY, NY 10013. Please include phone number for confirmation purposes. The Villager reserves the right to edit letters for space, grammar, clarity and libel. The Villager does not publish anonymous letters.


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