Volume 74, Number 13 | July 28 - August 03 , 2004

Villager photos by Bob Arihood

Pounding on snare drums and bongos, Brazilian-style drummers and dancers reveled in the south plaza at Union Sq. until 11 p.m. last Thursday night.

Parks: Union Sq. will go from permissive to permits

By Lincoln Anderson

With its recently expanded southern plaza, Union Sq. has become a popular spot for high-energy music and dance performances. However, complaints have been on the rise from residents about noise. In response, the Parks Department says it will now put in place a permit system to reduce the number of music performances.

Last Thursday night, at 10 p.m., a Brazilian drum corps was still going strong, banging out their rhythms in the park’s southern plaza.

Responding to complaints from nearby Zeckendorf Towers, a police officer drove up to the drummers and dancers in a single-seat scooter and with small beeps, tried to proceed through their middle. The group refused to move. “We own the park!” one of them shouted. The scooter retreated to the edge of the circle.

Officer Mangagna from the 13th Precinct, who the youths have nicknamed “Muscles,” posed with them after the event had wound down. Mangagna is said to have a good touch with the youths, sometimes even picking up a guitar and playing along with them. Trying to break up the events can be a volatile situation if mishandled.

Soon, more police from the 13th Precinct responded, including an Officer Mangagna, familiarly known to the drummers as “Muscles.” Still the drummers continued playing, as Mangagna was overheard saying that a woman from Zeckendorf had made “30 phone calls” about the noise. Finally, at 11 p.m., a full-size police squad car drove up to the circle of dancers and with lights flashing and a piercing blast of its electronic siren, convinced the dancers it was time to wrap it up. The squad car then drove up to a group of break-dancers who were performing to amplified music nearby, where arm wrestlers, circled by a crowd of young men, were also competing — $50 if the arm wrestler could keep his arm up for two minutes.

Susan Kramer, co-chairperson of the Union Sq. Community Coalition, said the situation is getting out of hand.

“There’s too little policing of quality of life. It’s basically a free-for-all,” Kramer said. “We know there’s a permit for amplified sound, but every day people are out there using amplified sound.”

Kramer added that vendors have been flooding the area around the new fountain by the Gandhi statue in the park’s southwestern corner, in response to which the Parks Department recently added some benches, which changes the regulations affecting vending.

“There needs to be a balance in terms of use of the park,” Kramer said. “Right now, it’s just an assault, visually and aurally.”

Bill Castro, Manhattan borough Parks commissioner, said the department is aware of the problem and plans to put in place a system requiring the groups to obtain permits, as he said exists at Washington Sq. Park.

“Basically, what we are trying to do is reduce the number of impromptu, unscheduled music events in the park,” he said. “It’s gotten to the point where the number of these impromptu concerts is annoying people.” The end result should be fewer people coming to the park to play instruments, he said.

“The problem is not that these groups are there, per se,” Castro added. “It’s that there are so many individuals.” He said that unpermitted uses should end at 10 p.m. in the park, and that loud, permitted events even sooner, “no later than 9 p.m.”

The new permit regulations will be put in effect over the next month, Castro said.

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