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Marte: ‘More balanced approach’ needed on Washington Square Park

BY THE VILLAGE SUN | Updated Aug. 28, 6 p.m.: Art vendors and buskers in Washington Square Park are being “unfairly targeted and ticketed” due to newly ramped-up enforcement of the park’s rules, according to Councilmember Christopher Marte.

As a result, it’s time for “a more balanced approach” in Washington Square Park, he says. To that end, a public meeting is being organized in an effort to try to reach a happier middle ground.

The goal, he said, is to have a park that is both “fun and safe.”

Marte’s district currently includes the famed Greenwich Village park. However, due to City Council redistricting, after this year it will shift into Carlina Rivera’s Council district.

As first reported by The Village Sun, police have recently been trying to rein in vending in Washington Square Park — cracking down on illegal general vending (such as of clothing, candles or jewelry), pushing artist vendors away from the fountain and ordering artists to furl their oversized beach umbrellas, among other things. In turn, artist vendors have been pushing back, with weekly, bell-ringing protests against the new ramped-up enforcement.

In fact, all of the park’s rules are being enforced more tightly, including the one saying performers must have a permit for amplified sound. Community Board 2 and the Washington Square Association recently called for the park’s rules to be consistently enforced.

There’s no question that vending has exploded in the Greenwich Village park since the pandemic. On top of that, with the legalization of adult-use pot in New York, illegal weed vendors have been cashing in by selling pre-rolled joints in the park — recently also adding psychedelic-mushroom chocolate bars to their menu.

Only licensed dispensaries are legally allowed to sell reefer — though not many of those outlets have opened so far — creating a void that has been filled by the graymarket, including the one that took hold in the park. The 6th Precinct recently has also been increasing its efforts to crack down on ganja vending in the square.

In his recent community newsletter, Marte announced that a public meeting about the park is in the offing — specifically to address the situation with artists and performers. Both artists and buskers are covered by the First Amendment, meaning their artwork, music or dance is considered “expressive matter,” and so is allowed. However, the Parks Department has regulations that apply to the iconic space — such as requiring that vendors not set up within 50 feet of the Washington Square fountain, for example. As for performers, amplified music is not allowed in the park without a permit.

Blurring things, as also first reported by The Village Sun (and more recently followed up by the New York Post), weed vendors have trickily been trying to pretend they are art vendors, displaying artwork, while selling pre-rolled joints from under their tables.

“It’s summertime and Washington Square Park is as alive as ever,” Marte said in his newsletter. “Unfortunately, the increased police presence, which was brought in to try to make the park safer, is now causing artists and performers who have a decades-long history in the park to be unfairly targeted and ticketed. Meanwhile, other residents feel like the actual crimes they witness, like drug dealing and harassment, go ignored. We’ve been meeting with the performers, neighbors, the police and government officials and are working to implement a more balanced approach to this historic park, which has always been the heartbeat of New York City’s art scene. Stay tuned for a public meeting we will have on this important issue.”

Speaking to The Village Sun, Marte stressed that he and his staff have been meeting with local stakeholders not just to discuss the issue of artists and vendors in the park, but a range of other park issues, as well. Long-simmering frustration in the community is high about entrenched problems that persist in the park — from hard-drug use and pot vending to even skateboarding.

“We met with the community board,” Marte noted. “We have been doing work behind the scenes. My office met with the 6th Precinct two weeks ago. There’s more being done and we’re meeting with every stakeholder to address every problem.”

He assured, “The park is going to be left in good hands,” at the time when it leaves his district.

The second-term councilmember said he does not support pot vendors in the park since it undercuts the legal dispensaries that are now opening up for business.

“We’ve heard that that is a key concern of the residents,” he said of the unsanctioned pot purveyors.

On the hand, though, he does not support a sweeping ban on vendors’ use of giant beach umbrellas, noting there might be cases when “someone needs an umbrella.”

On amplified sound, an ongoing thorny issue in the park, Marte said there needs to be “a conversation” about it.

“It is hard,” he said, noting that when multiple musicians in the park use amps, “It can add up, louder and louder. People want to be louder than the next guy.”

Asked if he supports keeping the plaza around the fountain clear of artist vendors and performers, Marte said it’s another thing that “should be part of the conversation” and that some kind of “compromise” might be in order.

“We haven’t had these conversations with the Parks Department yet,” he pointed out.

But one thing that should not be happening — regarding the plaza, for example — is shifting or erratic enforcement of the rules, he said, noting, “It’s important to have consistent enforcement.”

On skateboarders, meanwhile, Marte said he’d like to seem them not use Washington Square Park. Older residents, in particular, fear being knocked over by the skaters, who sometimes send their boards flying when trying to land trick jumps.

“We hear it a lot from seniors who are just trying to walk through [the park],” he said. “We have skateboarding parks in my district that we encourage people to use.”

As for the hard-drug scene on Washington Square Park’s west side, especially its northwest corner, Marte admitted that it’s been a challenge to try to control it.

“We tried a few things,” he said. “Closing down the northwest corner improved it for a few months.” However, he noted that this summer, “It’s gotten worse. We’ve spoken to agencies that focus on it. It could be seasonal — because of summer.”

He added that he’s done walk-throughs of the park’s drug zone with Council colleague Erik Bottcher, police and homeless outreach staffers from Goddard Riverside.

“It’s a drastic improvement compared to where it was in the middle of the pandemic,” he noted of the park’s narcotics scene.

As for when exactly the meeting on the park’s artists and performers will happen and whether he will co-sponsor it with Community Board 2, for example, Marte said those details are currently still being determined.

Artist-vendor activist Robert Lederman, president of A.R.T.I.S.T. (Artists’ Response to Illegal State Tactics), said the meeting offers a chance to revise the Parks Department’s rule changes from 2010— including the “50 feet from monuments” rule — that made it virtually impossible to vend art legally in the park.

“The public meeting that Councilmember Marte is now arranging will be a great opportunity to develop a reasonable solution to the issue of artists and performers being summonsed in Washington Square Park,” he said. “I would suggest that everyone involved in this issue and in the protest try to have realistic goals for what can come out of the meeting. None of the government agencies, the conservancy or the community board are going to agree to Washington Square Park having no rules and no enforcement. Nor will the Parks Department agree to allowing every type of vendor to work in Washington Square Park.

“What could come from the meeting,” Lederman said, “is a plan to modify the rules for expressive-matter vendors, which apply to performers and to visual artists selling paintings, prints, sculptures or photographs, as well as to written matter. That would be a realistic and achievable goal.”


  1. Gerry Gerry September 1, 2023

    Thanks but no thanks, Marte. You ignored us your entire time in office. You are the problem now of the rest of Downtown. I pity the residents of Soho, Noho, Wall Street, BPC, basically everywhere outside of your Lower East Side base. Why, for example, is the Elizabeth Street Garden demolition still going forward on your watch? Why couldn’t you denounce the bodega owner who defended himself against the robber who died (you, the son of a bodega owner)? Canal street and Chinatown are overrun with counterfeit merchandise blocking the sidewalk. Our streets are run by addicts, our stores open for shoplifting and break-ins. We feel unsafe and it’s not just perception.

    You will win again because folks just vote down the Democratic line.

    Elections matter, people! Vote in the primaries. Vote for common sense and for your community. Not incompetence masking as woke and progressive.

  2. appreciative reader appreciative reader August 31, 2023

    Kudos to The Village Sun for now being an even more transparent platform for the voice of the people and a wonderful community publication.

  3. Starship trooper Starship trooper August 31, 2023

    I just want to point out…

    I left the very first comment on this issue

    Everyone needs to know that The Village Sun censored the comment

    Specifically when I stated that Marte was inept and incapable of changing the law

    I was censored….

    This is the kind of thing that our comrades in the USSR would do…with ambition

    You folks that run this publication should stop censoring people

    Difficult to have a discussion when you folks are not straight-forward…or honest

    • The Village Sun The Village Sun Post author | August 31, 2023

      Like most publications, and not just the former USSR, The Village Sun reserves the right to edit letters and reader comments for length, clarity, grammar and factual accuracy — and, yes, to moderate them, as well. OK, so now we have posted your new comment in full. Thank you.

  4. Caroline Caroline August 30, 2023

    A “balanced approach” is bullshit! Support the police and clean up this dangerous mess!

  5. Pc Pc August 30, 2023

    Washington Square Park is a drug infested shithole with crack dealers and two people dead in the park last week. I live a few blocks away and no longer feel safe and am looking to move. And we need a “balanced approach”? WTF. Worst leadership ever

    • The Village Sun The Village Sun Post author | August 30, 2023

      We’ve only been able to confirm one death so far.

  6. Terrell Terrell August 30, 2023

    Honest question: Why now? WSP is in Marte’s district for 3 more months. Before that, he never addressed the issues in the park despite community pleas for help. He did show up for tree lighting and photo-op with Gov Hochel (a man was murdered less then 24 hrs later a few yards away). Is it because he sees a special-interest group – the small businesses calling themselves “artists” targeted by the police ? (he is still a member of the Progressive Caucus that wants to defund the NYPD – many Council folks have left it). We all know the main issue is the hardcore drug supermarket. However the so-called artists have enabled dealers and users to exist among them. They and the other rule breakers – skateboarders, smokers, bikers, etc – have added to the sense of an out-of-control situation where anything goes, no matter the negative effects on others — thus, becoming part of the problem.

    • Sharon Volpe Sharon Volpe September 5, 2023

      No, we do not enable anything. I am a regular vendor in the park. I have a pink table, come by anytime. I can’t tell a drug dealer to leave. Use your common sense. Also the 6th knows who they are and ignore them, but focus on visual artists that have a price list up or an umbrella. And also the park is not disgusting – that’s dramatic.

  7. Long Time Villager Long Time Villager August 29, 2023

    The 6th Precinct is charged with managing a multitude of unique factors with WSP: a landmark area of free expression and a history of liberal, rebellious and at times edgy proclivities, located in an area bounded by tourist attractions, bars, clubs and nightlife venues, a confluence of public transportation, including the PATH train, several major colleges and a myriad of residential and retail establishments. As such, they manage to reach out to the community diligently and perform dutifully, despite budget and staff constraints, a lack of public support from elected and local officials, and the current laws and foolish policies that impede them. Insightful local businesses and residents may see these extraordinary efforts. It would be interesting to hear from the 6th’s leadership what they perceive to be needed to “balance” WSP, providing public safety, creativity and lawful public expression. Sadly, I suspect an honest answer would be colored by the requisite political correctness and recitation of the company line. No secret the NYPD has been constrained. People can’t handle the truth, but deserve to hear it. Moreover politicians would never allow this question to be asked. Given the hand the police are dealt, they are truly doing the best they can and deserve accolades. Bravo to the 6th Precinct. Thus far, no one of authority has put forth a strategic plan to revitalize WSP. Perhaps The Village Sun could host this “discussion,” a moderated public forum in effort to bring clarity to an otherwise obfuscated issue. I suspect there would be a standing-room-only crowd in attendance.

    • lisa lisa August 31, 2023

      Right — unlikely that the NYPD or anyone would be able to be candid.

      The Village Sun provides such great coverage and am very thankful for it.

      If possible (and as safe), would love a Village Sun article interviewing the folks who litter, play amplified music, bike into pedestrians etc — and ask them where they live, why they decided to do their thing in WSP, if there is anything that would get them to stop etc.

      (Not suggesting interviews with drug dealers for obvious reasons)

  8. robert kaufelt robert kaufelt August 29, 2023

    Anytime a politician calls for a ‘balanced approach’ you know it means: a) I’m glad I’m leaving so I don’t have to deal with it anymore; or b) I have no real plan for dealing with an issue of this complexity; or c) it’s too hot an issue to speak out about truthfully; or d) all of the above.

    • R.E. Alist R.E. Alist August 29, 2023

      He never dealt with it, I’ll be surprised if there any addressing it by his replacement. Maybe she should attend??? C’mon, Carlina, show us your vision, you’ll own this soon enough. Marte, send her a public invitation, that would be very “balanced” and the people want to know.

  9. Leonard Leonard August 28, 2023

    A “more balanced approach”? As compared to what? Let’s not forget that throughout de Blasio’s term in office, he tied the hands of the police and the Parks Department in enforcing the laws and the Park regulations that were on the books for years, and are still on the books. Washington Square Park became a free-for-all no-man’s land that frequently led to rioting, chaos, brawls, pandemonium and frequent clashes with the police who tried to restore order and civility in the park. With the departure of de Blasio and his “hands-off” policy, the police — and especially the 6th Precinct — and the Parks Department have done a very admirable job in restoring order in the park and striking the balance among all the stakeholders in the park. The prohibition against amplified music, which has been on the books for decades, with an exemption for those seeking permits. strikes an appropriate balance between those who seek peace, quiet and solitude in the park and those who want to hear music anywhere they may wish to venture in the park. The Parks regulations do not bar the playing of musical instruments without amplification, except between 10 pm and 8 am. From what I have been told and from the amplified music I very frequently hear, permits to use amplification are freely given to those who wish to play during reasonable hours. By law, selling weed is not legal, except at duly licensed venues. Enabling artists to sell their art should be fully promoted, except at narrowly confined areas due to foot-traffic flow and for other reasonable purposes. I believe that de Blasio upset what had been an appropriate balance among all of the park’s constituencies and that the NYPD and Parks are acting in good faith to restore that prior balance, with the emphasis on insuring the safety of all of the park’s visitors.

  10. John W. Sullivan John W. Sullivan August 28, 2023

    Washington Square Park — formerly an oasis in the midst of the Village, now rapidly becoming a full-time —-hole. Thank you, local politicians.

  11. Gina Gina August 28, 2023

    All this noise and attention about expressive matter, artist persecution and vending??? Duh, it’s against the law, deal with it.

    Meanwhile, my kids have to inhale pot/crack smoke wafting into the playgrounds, dodge needles in the grass, step over human excrement and puke, urine and spit on the paths, especially on the west side of the park, and avoid the junkies and dealers daily, who exist with impunity. All that while dodging skateboarders and bikes.

    It’s like the joke where the cop stops a guy for having his dog off leash in the park and threatens a $250 fine. The man complies and leashes his dog. He then asks the cop, “Are we going to address the guy in the playground exposing himself and shooting up?” The cop looks sternly at the man and replies, “I don’t see him having a dog.”

    Maybe the state needs to get more involved since Brad Hoylman (bail reform’s baby daddy) is so gosh darn effective, bring in the troopers and bust the dealers who are roaming free off bail.

    Neighbors, wake up !

    • Clutch My Pearls Clutch My Pearls August 28, 2023

      Hey neighbor, didn’t you hear the news? Crime is down!
      Just don’t arrest or prosecute and like magic the number improve.
      — message brought to you by the people for D.A. Alvin Bragg

  12. Carlina Next Carlina Next August 28, 2023

    Marte will lose responsibility for WSP at the end of this year. He’s done nothing to fight the crime in WSP during his tenure.
    Don’t let the door hit you…


      I totally agree. The Park is out of control, and quite disgusting now.

  13. Robert Lederman Robert Lederman August 28, 2023

    Councilmember Marte is responding to a genuine issue of controversy in his district. He’s not “bad-mouthing the police” by noting that many of the summonses being issued to artists are deficient and that a lot of the enforcement that was intended to eliminate weed dealers has morphed into an effort to harass artists and performers. The controversy is not whether or not there should be enforcement, but whether the 2010 rules for expressive-matter vendors were so restrictive as to make WSP a no-free-speech zone. The community wants a balance between free speech for artists and the need for reasonable regulations. That the Parks Dept. installs huge Holiday Vending Markets with 200+ vendors and corporate promotions in the exact locations where artists were evicted by the 2010 rules (Union Sq Park, Battery Park, Columbus Circle, the High Line, Central Park) shows that privatization and monetization, rather than public safety or aesthetics, was the motivation behind the rules. No one can say it more clearly than the two past Park Commissioners:

    NY Sun, August 14,2002, Parks Commissioner Planning a Crackdown On Venders of Artwork They’re `Out of Control, `He Says
    “But Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe says he sees the permits as a quality of life issue, not a First Amendment one. “The proliferation of private commerce in a public park has gotten out of control,” Mr. Benepe told the Sun. “We’re getting complaints from concessionaires who say their business is dropping.”

    Newsday, 2/26/98, Artistic Licenses; City plans to limit art vendors outside Met
    “While denying that the new permit policy has anything to do with creating additional city revenue, Parks Commissioner Henry Stern said: “These are extremely valuable spaces, and people who sell hot dogs there pay $150,000 a year for the privilege, and may not want to set up next to an artist who is there for free.”

  14. Starship Trooper Starship Trooper August 28, 2023

    This is typical of the current state of NYC

    You have this elected official, Marte, bad-mouthing the police…. In public..

    All they are doing is enforcing the LAWS THAT ARE CURRENTLY ON THE BOOKS IN NYC

    This guy, Marte, wants to have a “discussion “…

    Again, let me state..the police are enforcing the LAW

    If this guy, Marte, was a real public servant…
    He would try and change the laws…

    We elect people to office to enrich the quality of life in the city
    This is done by the process..not “conversation”

    Basically this guy wants Washington Square Park to go back to what it was …a no-man’s land…

    Again, an elected NYC politician is complaining that NYPD is enforcing the LAW

    • Stan Stan August 28, 2023

      Sure. The police are enforcing the “Law.” A law that was an amendment to a reasonable prior law. A law that came about through a heavily perjured court case. A “law” that allows concessions to be wherever they want but says artists have to be 50 feet from things. Calling it a law may be technically true, but I prefer to call it a “law” considering it came about through biased testimony and perjury.

      • Starship trooper Starship trooper August 28, 2023

        Then have it changed…
        You actually made the point for me..

        Change the law…

        • Stan Stan August 28, 2023

          You missed my point. A perjured law isn’t a law. It’s illegal.

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