Monday, May 30, 2011
Sunday, May 29, 2011
Then the waiting began again. The park goers and tourists who are these artists' dedicated fans and customers don't really begin arriving in any substantial numbers for about 5 hours. A long day gets longer with the new park rules.
Yesterday I noticed the camera was gone. I could have been gone for a while as I don't take these stairs nearly as often as I once did. One reason why is coming up in a future post, but if you are familiar with the 116th St. stairs you might know why.
Mr. Boyd holding seven of his summonses. (Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) Click on images to enlarge.
City officials began blitzing street musicians with nuisance summonses and posted a "Quiet Zone" sign last week at the beloved Bethesda Fountain in Central Park, where virtuoso performers have been making beautiful music together for over a century, according to the New York Post.
On weekends, baritone John Boyd, 48, would belt out spirituals backed by a choir including six of his nine children and fellow classical buskers. But two months ago, Parks police descended on the Bethesda Terrace arcade with a message: Muzzle the music.
Last week, they posted a Quiet Zone sign banning Boyd and other serious musicians from playing in the arcade where world-class performers offer their talents for free to ordinary New Yorkers.
Bethesda Terrace Arcade. For more than a century, the area around Bethesda Terrace has been one of the cultural centers of Central Park. It has been home to thousands of talented musicians and street performers who contribute to the cultural fabric of New York City and complement the area's inspiring views.
The silky baritone's clash with officials started two months earlier.
"The Parks Department cops came and said the rules will be revamped," Boyd told The Post. "A month ago they started issuing me summonses because I would not stop singing."
After being hit with five summonses totaling $2,300, the former choir director from Detroit was arrested by Parks cops Wednesday and hauled in handcuffs to the Central Park police station.
"I have a right to free speech," said Boyd. "When I sing, it is expressing what I believe in. I told them, 'You are not chasing me away.' "
Classical harpist Meta Epstein, 59, of Mill Basin, Brooklyn, won first prize at the Paris Conservatory of Music in the 1970s. But she's afraid to play in the park.
"It was very intimidating. It was a patch of dirt. They told me I was destroying the ground, but there were picnickers right there. Now I'm afraid to play, especially in the fountain terrace," she said.
Double-bass player Vasyl Fomytskyi, formerly of the Cairo Symphony Orchestra, has been playing his beloved Bach near the fountain for two years.
"If I play softly by myself, [cops] still have threatened to arrest me and confiscate my instrument," he said.
Newcomer Shigemasa Nakano, 31, a classical guitarist and opera singer, says he's disappointed because acoustics in the arcade are superb.
"But . . . I don't want to get a ticket," he said.
On Friday, passer-by Rhonda Liss, 63, of Yonkers, asked Boyd if she could join him in an impromptu duet.
"You have such a beautiful voice," said Liss, a onetime Met opera singer and "Phantom of the Opera" cast member in Toronto. The pair tossed off a jazzy rendition of "My Favorite Things."
"Is this what they want to arrest people for -- singing joy to the people?" she asked incredulously.
When asked about the music crackdown, a spokesman for the Central Park Conservancy, the cash-flush nonprofit that runs the park for the city, said: "The fountain is a place for quiet reflection."
Saturday, May 28, 2011
Thursday, May 26, 2011
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
The Parks Department's Park Enforcement Patrol (PEP), whose responsibility is to ensure "the safe use of parks," is severely understaffed. Over the last six weeks alone, there have been five shootings, including four deaths, on park land. It is no secret that having a uniformed officer present acts as a deterrent. Unfortunately, in today's political climate only a few chosen parks in wealthy neighborhoods are being afforded this "privilege."
In 2010, crime in parks grew 24%, yet the mayor's budget includes just $11.3 million in city funds for 151 PEP positions. The number of full-time officers has declined dramatically from a high of 450 in the mid-1990s. This is alarming, considering they are responsible for securing more than 29,000 acres (14% of the city's land). It is important to note that crime is tracked in only 30 of the city's 1,700 parks and playgrounds.
At full strength, only seven full-time dedicated PEP officers are available to patrol more than 6,700 acres of parkland in Queens, five for 6,970 acres in the Bronx, seven for Brooklyn's 4,336 acres, and five for Staten Island's 7,400 acres. These numbers drop further when you factor in vacations, sick days and days off.
And that's the good news. During the summer these numbers decline dramatically as the majority of PEP personnel are deployed to beaches and pools.
Over the next few weeks, Queens will lose three officers, the Bronx two and Brooklyn five. This leaves the vast majority of city parks completely unprotected. Some days there are no officers available for patrol. These numbers are shocking considering the tens of millions of people who use our parks annually.
By sharp contrast, an increasing number of public parks - almost exclusively in Manhattan - have a dedicated security presence, some 24/7. More than 50% of PEP officers are now permanently assigned to "contract parks" - parks run by select private nonprofits, or other government agencies that buy what are supposed to be a basic city service. A few shell out more than $2 million annually. Contractually, these parks are required to have a minimum number of officers deployed.
For example, Battery Park City has more than 40 officers for 35 acres, Hudson River Park has more than 30 officers for 150 acres. Madison Square Park has three, plus seasonals for 6 acres: Bryant Park spends $900,000 annually for 22 private security personnel, including 12 patrol officers for its 6 acres. The Bloomberg administration has assigned 11 full-time officers to the High Line's 2.8 acres.
Central Park also has multiple PEP officers assigned, in addition to having its own police precinct with more than 125 officers.
These numbers highlight the enormous disparity between publicly funded parks and those that receive substantial private funds. The city's increasing reliance on these schemes has resulted in a vastly unequal distribution of service. Experience over the last 20 years has proven that private subsidies to individual parks have created an enormous gap between the haves and the have-nots, while ignoring the real problem - that our parks are not funded as an essential city service.
Compounding the problem, the city has repeatedly tried to mislead the public on the deployment numbers.
It was revealed at a recent City Council hearing that the number of PEP officers hired from city funds fell far short of the amount adopted in the budget. A senior Parks official said this was to due to a hiring freeze. That is not accurate. There have been four PEP academy classes over the last year. However, the officers hired have been diverted to contract parks.
Investing in PEP also makes financial sense because it costs considerably less than deploying NYPD officers to park patrol, and PEP frees the police for more pressing issues. There are also 8,000 fewer NYPD officers available for patrol than a decade ago.
All communities deserve safe, well-maintained parks, not just those that can afford to pay extra. This is a basic quality-of-life issue. We need our elected officials to allocate the necessary funds and to make sure they are distributed equally.