Mayor Bill de Blasio remains adamantly against closing the parks and reluctant to close playgrounds, even though as the city has admitted, equipment isn't cleaned regularly. But this week, he did unveil a new density reduction plan to try to create more space for New Yorkers to go outside during the coronavirus pandemic. Starting today and running through Monday (for now) a few blocks in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx will be closed to vehicular traffic to allow people to roam more freely.
We sent photographers around the city today to see how much the open streets are being used, and what kind of police presence is at each of the locations. And what they found was that the pilot program barely seems to be making any impact so far. Which is probably good, since everyone who is able should be staying inside anyway.
Photographer Scott Lynch was underwhelmed by what he found at the Manhattan and Brooklyn locations: "So as anyone could have predicted upon seeing the random stretches of road they opened, both the Park Avenue and Bushwick Avenue Open Streets were mostly empty," he said. "Bushwick especially, but also, that part of Park Ave is mostly office buildings with a few luxury residences." He noted that there were more NYPD officers than civilians at both locations. "Open up Broadway between 96th and 72nd, or Fulton Street, or Court Street in Brooklyn and it might be a different story."
“It’s been quiet," said Officer Valentin, who was out patrolling Bushwick Avenue. "A few people jogging, a few people riding their bike, but otherwise not much.”
This just seems to reiterate the inherent flaw in the open streets plan as it stands: if people don't show up, as they haven't so far today, then police resources are being wasted.
Additionally, the Manhattan and Brooklyn locations in particular do not seem strategically smart—neither area is dense with people.
But more troubling than any of that is if people do start showing up in droves this weekend, it only exacerbates the problem we're seeing in parks around the city, which is that people are clustering too much in small areas. If dozens of these locations had been opened up around the city, especially in areas furthest from parks, it could have theoretically relieved some of the density. Instead, the city came up with a flawed plan that addresses none of the real concerns.
And as it is, people are already taking matters into their hands in more productive, guerilla-style ways:
On Brian Lehrer this morning, Mayor de Blasio said he wished he could create a lot more space so “people would have a new place to go and they spread out and that’s great and that wonderful.” But he went on to defend what they had come up with:
But the flip of that is you create a new place for people to congregate but it doesn’t have enforcement unlike, you know, parks and defined areas where we know we have to enforce. So what we’ve done working with the City Council is define a small group of streets to begin, add in enforcement to them — and remember, every time you have to go and enforce something else, you’re stretching your resources. If it works well, we can keep adding to it. But what I’d hate to see is we think we’re solving a problem and we’re creating a brand new problem of a place for people to hang out that doesn’t have a police officer or a parks officer to keep people separated.
“It’s a waste of time," said Alex, a bodega owner at Varet and Bushwick Avenue. He added that business was already way down, and this isn't helping. "I don’t know why they picked here. It don’t make no sense. It’s not gonna help out.”