Friday, April 16, 2010

Out Goes The Baby With The Bath Water?

By Father Tony

(photo by David Goldman for the New York Times)

The city wants to reduce the number of vendors of "expressive media" that clog the sidewalks of its major public parks.

While I agree that they are a nuisance, I think that simply reducing their number is not the best approach. Better would be a change of definition of what is allowed. All the mass-produced stuff ought to be prohibited, leaving only original arts and crafts made by New York City artists and artisans. Photography should be allowed but only if the photographer is the one who has the permit for the assigned spot. Businesses that traffic in identical stuff that is available in dozens of adjacent booths ought to be eliminated.

The same rule change ought to be applied to those scoundrels who sell funnel cake, bedding and fake oriental rugs at all the neighborhood street fairs.

Simply limiting the number of vendors will unfortunately eliminate some local artists who are not backed by a large retail entity that is simply taking over our public spaces and detracting from the beauty of our parks.

These permits to sell stuff are supposed to benefit local artists and artisans, but they don't. I don't think the tourists will miss those endlessly churned out photos of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis.


  1. The difficulty with that solution is that it opens up the city to First Amendment challenges. It turns the agency responsible for enforcing the rule into an arbitrator as to who might be privileged to have access to the right to sell material on public property. And in these dire economic times with the City strapped for cash, lawsuits are probably the last desirable thing on their minds.

    The proposed rule enforces a neutral stance insofar as the City is able to strike with respect to the affected vendors.

  2. Stash,
    All permits are based on privilege. As it stands, there are already restrictions: "expressive material" is permitted. If you wanted to sell a washing machine in Central Park, you couldn't, and that does not offend first amendment rights.

    Good policy setting is the issue.

  3. I agree. If the premise is YOU can sell YOUR original artwork, I have always found it absurd that you could have multiple locations selling machine made reproductions staffed by minimum wage sales clerks. That's a chain store, not an artist booth. Limit each entity to one location and actual hand made items, and I'll bet the problem goes away.