Large events in Madison Square Park
Over the years, Community Board Five's (CB5's) deliberations regarding large events (defined as events that include approximately 5,000 - 10,000 attendees and more) in and around Madison Square Park have been extremely contentious. From post-parade events and the US Open simulcast event, to the Big Apple Bar BQ, the Board's resolutions and recommendations have been inconsistent and, therefore, confusing, very often with nothing more than philosophical differences as the basis for board members casting their votes. Since 2004, not only have these recommendations often been in opposition to the previous year's position, but many of the votes have been close, with just over half the board voting one way and close to half voting another. This raises serious questions about what can be done to deliver clearer messages, cogent analyses and intelligent recommendations regarding future applications for these types of events.
Some of the issues we have struggled with regarding these large events include:
- Size of event:When does an event outgrow its environment?Although we recognize the quality of some of these events, many have grown in popularity to the point where exponentially larger crowds are creating numerous practical and logistical problems.
- Impact on the park and surrounding area:What is the impact regarding noise, litter, property damage, security, etc.?What feedback can be provided by residents, the BID, the Conservancy, the businesses, etc?Does the set-up of an event raise a serious concern since it must be done in as quiet a manner as possible, so as to raise as little disturbance as possible for businesses and those living around the park?
- Pedestrian crossings/subway entrances/sidewalks:What is the impact of the addition of thousands of people on the sidewalks, pedestrian crossings and subway entrances?The corners of 23rdand Broadway and 23rdand Madison are dangerous intersections under "normal" circumstances.It has also been noted that crowd control is needed, particularly near the 23rdand Broadway entrance, often due to this being a stage site.The MTA often has to be involved to provide additional crews to keep the 23rdStreet Station clean during large events and to provide staff to help with directions.
- Traffic and Street Impact: How are surrounding streets affected vis-à-vis traffic and parking?Are buses required to be rerouted and bus stops and double parking monitored? If refrigerated trucks are used, what street can be used that will cause the least negative impact on the residents?
- Sanitation: Is there an unusual abundance of trash throughout the area due to these events and do they require extra collections?What can be done to make sure sanitation issues are properly dealt with and mitigated?What are the costs and benefits of any large event in the park?In some cases extensive power washing of sidewalks has been needed that involves over a day and a half of work (and cost) on the part of the Conservancy.
- Playground:Do the crowds in the playground exceed safety limits?Do security measures need to be implemented in order to ensure that the playground remains safe and properly supervised, especially for smaller children?
- Sound: How is amplified sound handled? Do applicants obtain the required permits, and is the area monitored for noise levels and duration, so as to create as little disturbance as possible for businesses and those living around the park?
- Simultaneous Events: Is there evidence that NYPD resources are available?If so, at what cost?
- Individual Sponsor Considerations:Are some events more size appropriate than others?Do some event organizers do a better job of handling the specific concerns associated with these larger events?Are some larger events less impactful because of the management and oversight employed by certain sponsoring entities?If so, how do we use that information to help all sponsors to do a better job while enjoying the use our public parks?
And there are other issues beyond the logistical and practical as well, including:
- The value to CB5 and the Community:Is the event open to the public?Does the community benefit from this event?Is it something that is supported by the residential community?Do the businesses in the surrounding area, the BID and the Conservancy support it or benefit from it?
- The value to CB5 and the City as a whole:Should special consideration be given to religious, cultural and ethnic groups, celebrating their heritage (from outside the CB5/Manhattan area)?What communities does the event represent?Is it representative of and good for our district?What positive qualities are represented?What is the tradition and success of the event?
- Quality and Popularity of Events: Does the event seem to be growing every year due to its popularity?Is there evidence of quality and success as to how the event is conducted in spite of growth?
- Working Relationship with Community, BID, Conservancy, Residents and Community Board:How successful has each of these events been in addressing concerns raised by any/all of these groups or in response to any questions?Has there been a continued constructive dialogue with the Board, the Conservancy, the BID, etc. in an effort to improve the event?
- Fundraising Component:What weight does this consideration carry in approvals/disapprovals? How does the overall commercial and financial benefit to the applicant compare to the benefit to the conservancy?
- Gathering of Information/Statistics: Do all post-parade events in Manhattan terminate with a street fair and/or is it required for the event to be deemed successful by the organizers?Do they all terminate at a park or at a large open venue?What changes have occurred in demographics around the park since the inception of the event?Does the applicant wish to hold the event in a larger or different venue?
- Purpose of the Park (Philosophical):What do we consider the role of public parks?Are they meant to be a place for large public gatherings?Are they primarily for respite and tranquility, etc.?How are the various roles that parks play balanced in an urban environment, particularly when different people see this issue very differently?
- Cost/Benefit Analysis:What are the problems that can be mitigated by better planning?Are there events and problems that people just have to learn to live with?When does an event become too much to properly handle?When is the overall burden on the community too high when compared to the benefits to the community?
Food for Thought Beyond the Issues Relating to Individual Events:
Additional, but important, questions also need to be answered: When we know that an event will be approved whether or not we recommend it, what should our role be? Do we want to stand firm on those events we believe should be denied, or do we work to mitigate the specific disadvantages and problems on an issue by issue basis? When, if ever, does saying "no" hurt our ability to reduce the negative impact of an event the board has serious concerns about? What is the threshold for saying "no"? What weight do we give to the "tradition" of an event? When, if ever, is it appropriate for the board to recommend broad changes to an application such as a change in location or change of the overall footprint of an event? What signal does (or can) our action really send?
Means to Accomplish CB5's Goal - Forming of Task Force:
The Community Board seeks long term, strategic and meaningful solutions to the issues surrounding large events. To that end, in the next few months, a Task Force will be taking on the responsibility of working with the community, residents, businesses, the BID, and the Conservancy to seek feedback and collect information regarding the many large events that request the use of Madison Square Park and/or the surrounding area. The Task Force will prepare a Report of findings and recommendations that will form the basis for creating guidelines to assist us in reaching consensus regarding these specific applications.
CB5 Action Based on Task Force Report:
We await completion of this Report by the Task Force, its acceptance by the Consents & Variances and Parks Committees as well as the Full Board. At that time, Community Board Five will weigh in on any applications we receive, including the Big Apple Barbecue, that request the use of Madison Square Park and/or the surrounding area for large events.
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