Washington Square Park Music Volume: Opinions Build in Crescendo | Report back on Last Week’s Public Hearing

Rich Caccappolo, William Castro
Rich Caccappolo, William Castro

Community Board 2 held a public hearing last week on volume levels of music at the park. This is an issue that C.B.2 has brought up before – although curiously, over the seven years I have been writing this blog, it is only in the last two years that this been deemed an issue of any kind. Where and why did this disruption begin? With summer in full swing, by last week’s June 3rd meeting, chatter about it had built to a crescendo.

General themes of commentary during the well-attended meeting on Waverly Placethe music at Washington Square Park is at times too loud; there are some players who do not respect the right of others; there is no enforcement of existing rules to keep music to a “reasonable” level; PEP (Park Enforcement Patrol) officers need decibel meters; the musical history of the park is important; there is a constitutional right to perform music.

It is apparent that it is a (mostly) “new” influx of musicians who are not so concerned with *playing well with others* — this has caused disharmony for the other quieter musicians and people enjoying the park; some neighbors, primarily at 2 Fifth Avenue, are fed up.

Community Board 2 Parks Committee Chair Rich Caccappolo did an able job of chairing the meeting — though he stated that people were constantly coming before his committee to complain about this issue. It was mostly one person who came to discuss this at their meetings. Washington Square Park Administrator Sarah Neilson was there; she primarily deferred to await the presence of Manhattan Parks Commissioner Bill Castro who arrived later.

Rich Caccappolo said at the beginning of the meeting, “There are rules around amplified music. Things that don’t require amplification – horns, drums [can also get loud]. Those are allowed between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m.” Caccappolo said during the day, the music level has, at times, become an issue for some musicians and park goers, and also for neighbors later at night. This meeting was set up to follow up on the Parks Committee resolution of last July directed to the Parks Department.

DECIBEL… DECIBELS.. DECIBELS….

A gentleman in the audience noted, “There is a [noise code] rule on the books. It is not about time [of day or night], it is about decibel levels.” He said that decibel meters could easily rectify the matter, if the PEP (Park Enforcement Patrol) were utilizing them.

A musician named Scott said, “I play quiet music at the park. I do want to say ‘first they came for the drums …’ [implication: we shouldn’t throw the drummers under the bus.] There are people in the park who still play drums beautifully and quietly.” He agreed that the answer is for decibel levels to be monitored by the PEP: “Give a summons after a warning. I think it’s pretty black and white. I tend to disagree it’s very complex.

Rich Caccappolo responded that there could be a problem determining the levels of music if there were, for example, four drummers playing at one time. Scott said “that would be very unusual” and he also thought it would be pretty clear where the loud volume was coming from.

Central Park “Privatization” Forced Musicians Out, Headed Downtown

A musician, Richard Alvarez, said for 23 years he had played at Central Park but “they are trying to privatize that park and all the musicians that were forced out of Central Park [have now come to Washington Square].” He added, “We have a constitutional right to perform music.”

Caccappolo asked if anyone thinks the music should go longer than 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sharon Woolums, a public member of the Community Board 2 Parks Committee, said, “After 10 o clock are some of the best jams ever, particularly on a summer night.” She said if someone doesn’t have air conditioning, going to the park and listening or performing music is a great place to go on a hot night. She suggested that the music later at night could be moved to the southern side of the park away from the Arch.

David Carter, who identified himself as a writer who has lived in the Village for 25 years, said he had “a right to silence, a right to peace, and that half the time music should not be allowed.”

Someone shouted out, “How would you feel if someone said writing is not allowed?”

Thomas Kopie, Coyote & Crow
Thomas Kopie, Coyote & Crow

Thomas Kopie of musical duo Coyote and Crow said he and his wife perform regularly at the park adding “We are trying to keep the tradition alive. We have a constitutional right [to perform]. The only rational end to this is the decibel meter to control the noise.”

MANHATTAN PARKS COMMISSIONER CASTRO: PEOPLE LIKED THE BOHEMIAN FEEL OF THE PLACE

Manhattan Parks Commissioner Bill Castro appeared, summarizing: “Obviously, musicians playing in Washington Square Park is a long tradition. I don’t know when it started exactly. Folk music has been a big mainstay in the park, of course, and jazz and a variety of music, we’ve had everything – baby grand pianos… that’s been interesting. As the park was renovated – [it was clear that the] public enjoyed this freewheeling park. They like it to remain the same basically. In general, people liked the bohemian feel of the place. But there’s a limit to everything, most people felt it’s nice to have the musicians here. They didn’t want the Parks Department to crack down. [The feeling being] that it’s the park of the village.”

He said, “After the park was renovated, people unanimously practically loved it.”

(WSP Blog Ed. note: Okay, this comment was a stretch but no one booed.)

Castro continued, “I was down in the park last week on Thursday. There was a drum I could hear from the north east side of the park to the south west and they were playing right in the middle.” (Audience applause.) “You go there to listen to a folk group; it’s amazing or a jazz group, most people like jazz, if it has a melody at least. There are many talented people. Parks is exploring now with other agencies what is the best way to address this. We do have remedies to deal with this.

Neighborhood activist Margie Rubin noted that the redesign of the park neglected to take into account how well the previous design worked with regards to the music. She commented that before the park was renovated when the Fountain Plaza sloped down, the music was better buffered; that is not the case “now that it’s flat.” “I think what we are talking about, younger or older people come into the park … horn players [etc.] who have no reference to what’s going on next to them. Now the bangers and blasters are ruining it for everybody.” She also mentioned that, in addition to how the “open, flat surface” was affecting the sound, the fact that the trees keep dying off around the Fountain doesn’t help. She suggested the Parks Department place some “trees in planters” on the Fountain Plaza.

2 FIFTH AVENUE: “People are trying to Sell their Apartments to get Away From the Noise”

A woman who lives at 2 Fifth Avenue, one of the first speakers, said, “I have lived there [at this address] for 40 years. We’re neighbors. We’re part of the community. We cannot stay home. People are trying to sell their apartments to get away from the noise.”

Emily Folpe (she wrote It Happened on Washington Square but did not note that during her comment) noted, “I live at 2 Fifth Avenue. When groups play under the Arch, it amplifies the sound. I can walk through the park, go up to my apartment and I can hear the music more loudly. The Arch serves as an artificial amplification method. I think the Arch is another issue.”

Gil Horowitz, who also lives at 2 Fifth Avenue, was very angry and said, “We need your help. The music is just too loud. The drums are just too loud. I have lived in the village for 60 years. … My windows look over Washington Square Park 24/7. It is just too too loud.” He then gave a subtle threat to the Manhattan Parks Commissioner, “We will go everywhere to get this ameliorated. We will do what we have to do.”

PARK ENFORCEMENT PATROL (PEP) AND … ENFORCEMENT

With regards to the PEP officers, Castro said, “One of the problems has been … there are a lot of people playing music. You need a steady consistent enforcement. We are fortunate now we have six parks enforcement officers. We didn’t really have that before. When the [Community Board] resolution came up before, it was July, but then we didn’t have any PEP to speak of. * Now we have sort of the capability … we have PEP dedicated only to Washington Square Park. I am really glad and grateful to the Community Board to take the leadership on this matter. There are ways to do it. It is a little bit complicated to figure out how best to do it.”

A gentleman commented, “If you spend all day in the park, you are lucky to see the PEP officers. When they deem to come out of the office, they work in a group of three. And if you go them, ‘will you please enforce the rules?’, they get really nasty. If the police are there and you go the police, they say, ‘We don’t write tickets anymore because when they go to court they throw them out.'”

Castro replied, “The problem is that PEP officers sometimes like to bunch up. I have instructed them to split up, told them I want you to say hello to people. It s a problem. I used to run the Park Enforcement Patrol. I ve been around a long time. It is a problem. They also are terrific. They do a great job.”

As far as decibel levels and noise code, Castro stated, “I am very aware of that [noise code] statue, parks rules and regulations. We are looking at how best to enforce the noise code. I will advise the [Community] Board. We are discussing this and trying to formulate this. It can get a bit difficult and we want to make sure it is done the right way. We will get back to the chair.”

For the musicians in the park: “It is a common sense thing. Sometimes people don’t realize it [they are too loud], sometimes they do. First step is to tell people what the laws are. I don’t know the difference in each decibel but difference in 10 decibels is a lot.”

The issue of loud music after 10 p.m. came up. Sarah Neilson had earlier in the meeting said NYPD should be called. Commissioner Castro said, “Call 311, they document calls and they send information directly to us. It also documents it. Lets say 10 people call or 20 people. It gives a record that there is a public concern. If you are in the park [during the day], seek out pep officers but we are not going to be able to send a PEP officer after 10 p.m. We will then get that [311 call info] and say okay, lets put some PEP in earlier or later. We seem to have a problem here, its not going to be resolved in one day. We would also work with the Sixth precinct.”

Castro instructed anyone with issues to either call him at #212 408 0201 or email : [email protected]

Tic and Tac in front of me
Tic & Tac in front of me

TIC & TAC, “PUBLIC ADVOCATES” AND REGULARS OF THE PARK, STIR CONTROVERSY, DEFEND THEMSELVES

A musician at the park commented, “You have Tic & Tac show up in the park five times a day. They have created a venue for themselves. They solicit donations actively and aggressively which is against the rules. The question is what determines a performance that requires a permit and I say when you do something scripted five times a day it requires a permit.”

Later from the audience, Kareem Barnes introduced himself as “One half of Tic & Tac and public advocate of the park.” He said that a “variety of acts have been coming down to the park. I have over 25 years in the park. We [musicians] have always found a way to get along with each other, to try to get along with each other.” He noted “selective policing” by police; he said, “It’s unconstitutional; it’s not fair.”

He said Tic & Tac “try to give people a show with street theatre.”

Someone shouted out, “You could perform without drums.”

Barnes responded, “In closure, I would like to say this [about] the drums … we can perform without drums. … With drums [however], it is [reflects] a black and Hispanic thing. So you are killing culture. We only work two days. Someone said it’s five days… Certain rules are right, certain rules are wrong, we shouldn’t kill one culture because of opinion.”

NO QUIET ZONES, NO BANS ON INSTRUMENTS / HOW PARKS WILL RESPOND TO BE DETERMINED

The idea of quiet / “noise free zones” came up but Bill Castro did not think these would work based on the lay out of the park. The conversation was brought back to, “General consensus [is to] enforce the rules around decibel meters.”

Assuming this is the direction the city Parks Department will go in, the PEP officers should not, in my view, be ticketing everyone once they access decibel meters. They should respond if they note a problem or if there is a direct complaint to them, then come check it out, first issue a warning, and then later a summons. Word will spread, the park will self-regulate. It is curious about the infiltration of the newer musicians who are causing issues – why all of a sudden? And also, a note: There were no women performers speaking out – it is very male-dominated, the music culture at the park, isn’t it?

As far as reaching the widest representation of people about meetings/public hearings with regards to Washington Square Park or any park, the Community Board should consider doing larger outreach. There were no signs about this *public hearing* around the park. Even though the meeting was well attended, to assume that word of mouth and the Board e-mail list are getting the full spectrum of attendance, seems an inaccurate assumption.

*   *   *
* There were supposedly enough PEP officers last summer.

Previously at Washington Square Park Blog:

The Right to Perform Music at Washington Square Park: April 1961 and Now April 27, 2015

All posts on the performance crackdown a few years ago at the park here.

 

Photos: Cathryn

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2 thoughts on “Washington Square Park Music Volume: Opinions Build in Crescendo | Report back on Last Week’s Public Hearing”

  1. Definitely the most comprehensive piece I’ve read about the current state of performers in the park. Thanks for all your work covering this issue.

    • Thank you, Stacy. Much appreciated!

      I have to add in that Bill Castro said he would talk immediately to the PEP supervisor about PEP officers not *bunching* up when walking and being courteous and responding to complaints.

      Cathryn

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