Ongoing Commercialization and Lack of Transparency Continue at Bryant Park; Community Board has “serious concerns”

This is what the city’s Parks Department and Community Board 2 are forcing on wonderful Washington Square Park – the threat of this:

Google’s “Winter Wonderland” at Bryant Park

From DNAinfo, Google Forced Bryant Park Corp to Hide Event Plans from Public, Critics Say | Community Board Seeks Changes to Parks Events:

Before unveiling its weekend “Winter Wonderlab” event in Bryant Park to promote its new tablet and streaming-video service, Google required organizers and the Bryant Park Corporation to sign non-disclosure agreements, according to officials from CB5.

That stopped them from discussing any details of the planned event.

[Community] Board members say they have “serious concerns” about what they describe as an ongoing lack of transparency surrounding commercial events in public parks and plazas — noting that Google’s efforts to cloak the details of the Wonderlab event is just the latest in a line of corporate non-disclosure agreements.

“The increasing frequency of non-disclosure agreements as a reason not to share with the public any salient event details is absolutely unacceptable, and must not continue to be the way of doing business in New York City parks,” [Community Board 5 Chair Vikki] Barbero and [Parks Committee Chair Clayton] Smith wrote. …

Board members pointed to three denials CB5 issued over the past two months to event organizers in Bryant Park. None of the three applications allowed for “sufficient public review of the use of public space” because the requests either reached the board too late or offered too few details, Barbero and Smith wrote.

Despite these “three denials,” the events, presented to the Community Board at the last minute, went on as planned.

In addition:

“It is time for the rectification of the event permitting process,” Smith and Barbero wrote. “For meaningful public review and input as to the details of the event (duration, footprint, layout, set-up and breakdown, amplified sound, signage, accessibility, and public benefit), we insist that the events come for community board review in the earliest stages of planning — not days before the events occur.”

In typical snarky fashion (read between the lines), the Bryant Park Corporation told DNAinfo via a statement that “it looks forward to working with Community Board 5 to address any concerns its members might have with matters pertaining to this issue, as it has done with a myriad of other issues over the past three decades.”

Are you paying attention, Community Board 2?

(Part III of Private Conservancy Watch post up next! — Friday)

Photo: DNAinfo/Gustavo Solis

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3 thoughts on “Ongoing Commercialization and Lack of Transparency Continue at Bryant Park; Community Board has “serious concerns””

  1. It appears that conservancies, whatever good they could potentially do, are structurally fatally crippled in such as way as to allow commercial interests a giant hole through the net of checks and balances government and public review normally applies to contracting with government.

    Its not surprising. A process set up in the Parks department to nurture volunteers into help groups would never have been engineered with industrial grade ethics, public interest review, and competence checks.

    Clearly, commercial-[joined at hip]-political interests have recognized this gap and are exploiting it as much as they can. They are fighting battles up front too, to get access to the hole in the net at various public assets without any initial questioning.

    Triage: immediately stop any attempts in progress to access the hole in the net. Fix: close the hole in the net for ‘conservancy’ activities at Parks.

  2. The DNAInfo article is pretty amazing in its documentation of where the control lies when conservancies open the door to advertising events, as opposed to events which are simply a commercial organization executing the logistics of a public activity.

    The conservancy is allowed to arrange use of public land for purely promotional activities, as if the park were a billboard. The conservancy is “required” by the commercial firm to sign nondisclosures, because if the activity were known in advance, “it would loose its impact” (so said TMobile in the article). The CB votes rejecting the outcomes are “merely advisory” and are ignored.

    Once the door is opened to using Parks as billboard space, the conservancy model allows it to run amok.

    The vision of Washington Square’s Arch pasted over with corporate logos does not look so fanciful when the activities at Bryant Park to do pure advertising on public land are considered.

  3. Hi GV Reader,

    Nice way to tie in Bryant Park to what’s been happening at Washington Sq Park with a private body recently put into play – it’s so true. Looking at Google’s Winter Wonderland and reading about Conservancy “plans” (never revealed to the public – yes, info coming in Part III!), it’s not that big a stretch at all.

    Thanks for your great comments!



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