The David H. Koch Plaza in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art has finally been unveiled and it is a beautiful addition to New York’s premier cultural attraction. Mr. Koch, a trustee of the museum, financed this roughly 65 million dollar project himself, his gift to the general public as well as to the museum. Many environmental considerations went into the landscaping of the trees - allowing both greater sun in the winter and increased shade in summer. The plantings were also designed to soften noise pollution at a plaza that attracts so many thousands of people each day. Given the very successful completion of this project in a timely fashion, as opposed to other urban projects that have labored under decades of delay and mammoth cost over-runs, we can only scratch our heads at how the city has defiled it.
Bordering the architectural beauty of the new fountains, the handsome red umbrellas, the stone benches, the portable cafe style seating and the verdant glory of approximately 100 additional trees is a veritable wall of about 20 food carts with hardly breathing space between them. Anyone who wants to step off the curb to hail a cab has to navigate between the hot dogs and the shwarma. The odors, fumes and litter attendant to these carts gives this elegant residential stretch of Fifth Avenue the atmosphere of a third-world bazaar. Apartment dwellers who previously enjoyed incomparable views of the museum facade now have this framed by the offensive view of the backs of street carts; neighborhood residents have the omnipresent flashing of the neon crawl advertising the type of food available.
Why has the city allowed this to happen? It collects handsome rent from food vendors at this site, in some cases as much as half a million dollars a year - surely it should determine the maximum number of carts to be licensed. Where is the objection of the Landmarks Commission in this historic district? Where are the environmentalists in the Parks Department who should be furious at this negation of all the principles employed by the landscapers to produce an ecology-friendly plaza? Is the unprecedented line-up of food carts another example of the De Blasio administration’s determination to punish the 1%? We remember the mayor’s decision not to plow the upper east side of Manhattan last winter; when questioned by the media, he asserted that the city plowed the outer boroughs first because that was where “the people lived.” Though it’s true that the 1% lives along Fifth Avenue, the Metropolitan Museum services all New Yorkers and visitors from everywhere in the world.
The impression that is apparent to everyone is that of an administration which has refused to exercise the most elemental supervision of one of the most treasured locations in the city. We send an embarrassing message to the private benefactor of the city who provided the money and wherewithal to build the plaza - this will be a warning to all future philanthropists of how shabbily this administration treats magnificent and generous gifts. Hopefully, it will backfire on those in charge.
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