Mark Lamster | Essays

Are You Ready for Some Football?

Yesterday afternoon I walked out of the New York Public Library to find that neighboring Bryant Park had been taken over by a video game corporation, which had fenced off the great lawn to run a heavily branded promotional event. I don't think there's anything that bothers me more than seeing public space taken over by a corporation, and on this lovely evening, with the hundred degree temperatures of last week still an unpleasant memory, it seemed to me especially abhorrent. There are only so many days each season when the weather is ideal for sitting out in the park, and this was one of them. To its credit, the Bloomberg administration pushed Fashion Week out of Bryant Park. This was initially met with huge resistance, but it turns out Lincoln Center is an ideal venue for the designers. That should be a lesson. 

I can't help but connect this incident to the present debate about the role of government in our daily lives. The pretense for such incursions of corporate interest into public space is that they provide necessary funding and otherwise bring in the public, if only temporarily. This isn't merely pretense, either; the public-private entities that run our parks do need the money in these days of continual cutbacks and shrinking budgets. Corporations, meanwhile, understand their participation to be altruistic, or at least a service, and not without reason.   

It would seem to me that the maintenance of public space is one of the principal obligations of government, and not to be outsourced to corporate interest, at the price of its branding. 

Get off my lawn.

Comments [3]

Jim Meredith

Mark, I absolutely agree (we in Boston almost got our Patriots venue called "Monster.com Stadium"!), but I'm afraid our ship has sailed. For a whole host of cultural reasons, too many people now see their taxes not as "the dues they pay for civilization," but as burdens to be shirked whenever possible. One hopeful way to view it though:

We might take Lincoln's view that we use Government to do, together, those things we couldn't do individually-- or to extend the argument, to do those things corporations can't or won't do. Bryant Park could only have been BUILT by Government, but think instead of Bryant Park as being PROPOSED by Government. Once it became beloved in the public mind, then there was a constituency-- apart from Government-- for keeping it up. Once that happened, it was perhaps right that it be lifted, at least partly, out of Government's hands.

Another analogy, my University of Virginia. It cold only have been started by Government, and for many decades it was kept afloat by Government. But it now has a large cohort of alumni to whom it is a beloved institution. The University now runs in a manner almost indistinguishable from a private university-- funded by an endowment, research money, and tuition, with a tiny contribution by the state.

Maybe that's a way to be hopeful about this situation that depresses me as much as it does you: public institutions being PROPOSED by Government, and those that win acceptance, asked to stand on their own two feet-- so Government might propose yet OTHER public institutions.
Bill Hubbard

the truth is that bryant park, central park, and many others are ALREADY run as non-profit partnerships with the city government. Perhaps it was a bit unfair of me to pick on bryant park, actually, because for the most part the organization that runs it has done an absolutely tremendous job in transforming it into a desirable space. (and this is the thanks they get for having done such a wonderful job.)
mark lamster

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