SQUEEZING THE PUBLIC OUT OF PUBLIC PARKS

Thursday, June 12, 2008   |   Posted by Jim Hightower
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To find a splendid example of “The Common Good” in action, look to our nation’s extraordinary network of public parks – spaces open to all people and available to the community for everything from recreation to public discourse.

But it’s not easy to look at some of our parks, because boneheaded politicians have starved them of funds and let them deteriorate. Now, these same boneheads say they know how to fix these public places: Privatize them! Yes, to save public parks, make them private. This is what passes for genius among boneheads.

Take Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City. He’s got a plan for the historic, enormously popular, people’s space known as Union Square. Innumerable rallies and protests have been held here. The nationally renown farmers market called GreenMarket operates in it. The square also serves the neighborhood as a peaceful respite and a site for everything from chess matches to a children’s playground. It’s a community treasure.

But it’s a dilapidated treasure, for city officials have failed to maintain it. Finally, Mayor Bloomberg announced a renovation –with a privatization kicker. Without any community input, a wealthy restaurateur who is a big Bloomberg backer suddenly surfaced with a private plan. He quietly enlisted Whole Foods, Barnes & Noble, and other chains to get behind his scheme, and this private group intends to remake Union Square into a shiny new corporate space.

The size of the park will be decreased, severely squeezing the space available for free speech; the farmer’s market area will be cut by half; the venerable pavilion – a landmark for public gatherings – will be turned into a swanky high-dollar restaurant, perhaps to be run by the mayor’s buddy; and 14 trees will be chainsawed to expand the restaurant space.

Privatization doesn’t “save” public parks, it turns them into corporate profit centers that shove out the public.

“Email from Deanna Z. from New York City,” May 28, 2008

“Union Square Pavilion Restaurant a No-Go, Judge Rules,” www.gothamist.com, May 7, 2008

“Save Union Square,” www.saveunionsquare2008.blogspot.com , May 26, 2008

“Connect the Dots: A guide to the NYC Parks Department – Washington Sq Park and Union Sq Park “Redesigns,” www.washingtonsquarepark.wordpress.com, May, 2008

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