Lower Manhattan, with its historic streetscape, sweeping views, and robust access to transportation infrastructure, has long drawn more than its share of walks, runs, festivals, and fairs — all of which share one defining trait in common: They require the temporary closure of local streets.
As Downtown has become ever more popular, more developed, and more crowded, this has evolved into a recurring source of irritation among residents, who find themselves stuck in traffic or competing with crowds for sidewalk space, being cut off from bus service, taxis, nearby retailers, and local parking garages for up to 18 hours at a time — most often on weekends. In addition to drawing large crowds, many of these events also include live music with amplified sound.
Community Board 1 (CB1) seems to have reached a turning point in its tolerance for street fairs. At its March 28 meeting, the panel enacted resolutions opposing four such requests, three of which sought to close a quarter-mile stretch of Broadway, between Liberty Street and Battery Place. It was here that the Ziua USA Cultural Foundation wanted to produce a Romania Day Festival on May 14; the Bowling Green Association hoped to host its Columbus Day Festival on October 9; and the Independence Plaza North Tenants Association was planning Veteran’s Day Festival on November 10. A fourth event, sponsored by Transportation Alternatives, was slated to close Beach Street (between Greenwich and Hudson Streets) on August 29.
While CB1 declined each of these requests, it has also shown a willingness to continue cooperation with festivals that have a long history or close connection to the Lower Manhattan community. Among these are the Downtown Little League 2017 Opening Day celebration (which will close Warren Street, between West Street and North End Avenue, this Saturday), Taste of Tribeca (which will shut down Duane Street, between Greenwich and Hudson Streets, on May 20), and the Tunnel to Towers Run, which will close much of West Street and northern Battery Park City, on September 23.
In separate (but related) development, another major Lower Manhattan street event will not be back this year: the Tribeca Film Festival will not host the Family Fair that for 15 years occupied Greenwich Street (between Chambers and Hubert Streets) for one Saturday each spring. This change came about not because of community opposition, but as a result of a decision by the Film Festival’s producers.
Another event, the Dinner En Blanc outdoor supper that treats it location as a secret until several hours before the first appetizers are served, remains an open question. Although it is supposed to be a moveable feast, the party has alighted in Battery Park City three times, most recently in September, 2016. While it does not require street closures, the event (at which all guests are asked to dress in white) does necessitate temporarily cordoning off large sections of public space, such as parkland. After the most recent Dinner En Blanc event (which took place in Wagner Park), members of CB1’s Battery Park City Committee expressed irritation that the organizers never appeared before the panel to request a permit.
CB1’s authority to grant permission for street events, or veto them, is largely advisory. The ultimate decision is usually made by a City agency, such as the Department of Transportation, or the Battery Park City Authority (in the case of Dinner En Blanc). But the community board appears to be casting an increasingly skeptical eye on such requests.