Two of New York’s grandest and most important landmark buildings - The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The New York Public Library - have now been trashed by commercial food and tchochke vendors. According to their mandate, The Landmarks Preservation Commission is charged with being “responsible for protecting New York City’s architecturally, historically and culturally significant buildings and sites by granting them landmark status, and regulating them once they’re designated.” The officers of the commission deserve impeachment for their dereliction of duty in what are undoubtedly, the two most significant examples of great civic architecture and cultural purpose in our city.
The New York Times has finally noticed what’s happened in front of the Metropolitan Museum but what they failed to report in their Nov 6th coverage of the 20 food carts that despoil the facade is that the carts remain in place long after the museum has closed and the neighborhood has reverted to being strictly residential. There are no comparable examples of multiple carts with glaring neon signs blinking in the dark along the stretch of Park Avenue, Central Park West or West End Avenue, to name just a few other great residential streets, and none in front of Gracie Mansion, residence of our mayor. In addition to adding a visual blight, the carts blare music and deposit their trash into corner sidewalk pails which are filled to overflowing and litter the street until pick-up the following day. They invite transients to come into a family neighborhood after dark when there is insufficient crowd or police presence to make that area feel safe.
If you haven’t been to Bryant Park lately, you may not be aware that it has been occupied by Bank of America’s Holiday Shops - 125 purveyors selling Christmas ornaments and other holiday gifts in what are described as “jewel box” kiosks lining the walkways and terraces of what is still called a park, though the remnants of green are hard to see through the density of these boxes. The statue of William Cullen Bryant, America’s great poet and newspaper editor, sits imposingly at the eastern terrace of the park, now looking out onto a field of shoppers and eaters instead of a beautiful swath of lawn and shrubbery. Far from being a peaceful and natural extension of the library - a place of contemplation and quiet enjoyment of the outdoors, Bryant Park has become another place for fast food and consumerism, no different than 42nd, 34th and 14th streets. Who was it who decided that what the library needed more than a park was an outdoor shopping center sponsored by a bank and some cafes shrouded in weather-proof plastic to offset the elegance of the Beaux Arts architectural gem of Carrere and Hastings? And who allowed it to happen?
If you live in a landmarked neighborhood, you need the approval of the Landmark Commission in order to change a window in your apartment, yet a park that has always been the verdant backyard of this singularly imposing library has been cheapened and converted into a honky tonk souvenir market. In a Walt Disney movie, Prudence and Patience would have sprung to life to protect their turf. The sidewalk fronting the Metropolitan Museum with its glorious new Koch Plaza has been turned into a garish and smelly strip whose only equal would be Times Square or some third world bazaar.
New Yorkers must demand answers to who authorized these changes and action to eliminate or severely modify them. The Board of the Landmark Commission that allowed them to materialize owes us an apology for their capitulation to commerce in our few remaining places of beauty - along with their resignation.
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