After repeated instances of New Yorkers packing into crowded parks on beautiful warm weather days, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced today that the NYPD would begin limiting the number of people allowed into two parks in Manhattan and Brooklyn: Hudson River Park Piers 45 and 46 (this includes Christopher Street Pier), and Domino Park in Williamsburg. And if it "works" in those parks, de Blasio added that the city would begin to apply the same approach to other parks as needed.
"We see in some places the enforcement is made harder by the sheer physical circumstances," the mayor said at his press conference on Friday morning. "So we're gonna try a new approach...this weekend. We're going to try it a few places where we've had particular problems. It's something we can apply to more and more places if it works."
De Blasio acknowledged that Hudson River Park saw a lot of overcrowding last weekend—"we saw too many people too close together"— and added, "We're going to proactively limit the number of people who can be in a given area right there. We're going to have the NYPD, working with other agencies, from the very beginning of the day limiting the number of people who can get in."
He said the cops would stick around all day to keep an eye out "so the number of people never reaches too high a point," and if and when it does, they will ask people "to move out, make more space, make sure there's turnover." He also said there would also be an increased police presence at Domino Park on the East River in Williamsburg, and cops will "closely monitor" the situation there as well.
He added that he wanted the city to be more proactive about limiting the amount of time people spend in parks: "Why are we doing this? Because it saves lives. If you're going in, you're going in for a limited period of time, we're not going to let it get too crowded."
The NYPD has been criticized for allowing "mostly white park-goers" to crowd into parks without masks while disproportionately arresting people of color for social distancing incidents in other parts of the city. Mayor de Blasio has defended the NYPD's conduct in some of these viral, violent incidents, arguing, "Respect goes both ways."
On Thursday night, however, following a new report exposing those disparities, he tweeted that the breakdown of summonses by race "do NOT reflect our values. We HAVE TO do better and we WILL."
New Yorkers for Parks, a citywide advocate for parks and open space, said in a statement that if the mayor and police are going to restrict access to outdoor space, they need to make sure it will be enforced equitably: "His approach must take into account the fact that there are already many communities suffering from a lack of accessible open space, particularly those where the only open spaces within walking distance are playgrounds, which have already been closed due to the pandemic," said Emily Walker, their director of outreach and programming. "Many of these communities are also lower-income, and have few other resources available for their physical and mental health."
Asked about whether the city is sending mixed messages about social distancing, de Blasio responded today, "We're going to keep making the point: go out, get some air, get some exercise, get back in," he said. "I think we say to people we're going to start putting limits on space in some parks that need it, that are particularly challenged by their layout, it's a way to say 'get what you need and go back.'"