At 11 a.m. on Friday, more than 90 vendors selling art packed Union Square Park, creating a colorful gauntlet for visitors. But the scene could be drastically altered if the Department of Parks and Recreation is allowed to amend its regulations for people selling printed texts and visual arts. If that happens, just 18 vendors will be approved, according to the New York Times.
Some see such an outcome as a victory of parkgoers, a long-overdue effort to unclog the pathways and sidewalks of the city’s precious greenspace. But others, namely, the artists and vendors in the parks, see it as an effort to hurt their incomes while curtailing their freedom of speech.
No wonder this has been one of the more contentious issues in the city going back to 1982, when a sentence protecting the vendors was added to the general vendors’ law. The rule has been interpreted to include all vendors of “expressive matter” under the First Amendment’s right to free speech.
The proposed regulations would cap the number of vendors of “materials or objects with expressive content, such as newspapers, books, or writings, or visual art such as paintings, prints, photography, or sculpture,” in congested areas of specific parks. Vendors would be limited to designated spots apportioned on a first-come-first-served basis. The rules specify the dimensions of a seller’s table and the table’s proximity to public property like benches, transit stops and monuments.
If they are put into effect, expect lawsuits to follow.