We’re pleased to report that the Times Square Alliance, in collaboration with several other public and private stakeholders has developed a proposal (download here) for treating the issues associated with the ever-popular “Desnudas” and other forms of unwanted solicitation that interrupts the enjoyment of public spaces in and around Times Square by the general public.
The authors of the plan point out that while the public spaces which were created in 2009 provide for new and creative ways for enjoying Times Square, the laws that regulate the public’s use of such spaces are antiquated and don’t treat modern challenges.
The plan stresses the need to create new legislation that supports regulatory action by law enforcement officials, while achieving balance between the interests, rights and freedoms of a broad range of public space users. To that end, the plan calls for the creation of a legally defined area known as “Times Square Commons”, within which the following three zones would be created:
The plan seems like a practical, common sense approach to addressing the concern of all parties involved. It also appears to be a suitable workaround for maintaining the First Amendment claims made by panhandlers and other actors in the public cash collection business, without completely dismissing the rights and wishes of all others that seek to enjoy public spaces.
Could the plan for “Times Square Commons” also serve as a template for achieving balance, between the general public and those engaged in the practice of “urban camping”? In some cases, this form of camping out, could be better described as the “annexation” of public amenities on the part of those who are unable to find temporary or permanent housing or who maintain a commitment to street life as a personal choice or with the intention of preying on others who are “on the street”.
In the case of those who are unable to find permanent housing, despite their desire to do so, too often those who manage public spaces are left to deal with the problem on their own, without the support of proper legislation or policy alternatives. To allow this environment to continue is problematic for managers and does nothing to support those who fall within one or more of the four, federally defined categories of homelessness.
In short, cities and local agencies, including Business Improvement Districts are left “holding the bag” for a highly nuanced issue that in some cases requires federal and state policy development and funding (legitimate homeless) and in other cases, requires proper legislation and enforcement. It’s time for those who manage public spaces to stand-up for placing common sense limits on the degree to which public spaces are left to become defacto homes and shelters for the at-risk population.