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July 1st, 2003

Community Focus and Environment

by SoHo Journal Staff

Several efforts have begun to affect SoHo and its Arts heritage. Activists in the community have been working diligently for a few years in an attempt to bring much needed change on a number of issues. We have been focusing on a few of them for several years in the SoHo Journal as well.

Billboards and Signs

The fact is that Carol Post, the new Director of the Sign Enforcement Unit of the Department of Buildings, has been targeting some of the more offensive locations in SoHo. Progress has been made on that front and there have been coordinated efforts in Councilman Alan Gerson’s office. No changes in the law have been made since our last issue describing the movement to institute Rule 49 ?ɬ but, we are still operating under the last City Council laws passed under Vallone’s tutelage.

On the private front in this war against atrocious building attachments and Times Square-like billboards, litigation has begun against some of those offensive structures. One of the most effective attorneys in New York is handling the legal action. We will continue to report any success on this front and urge all residents to call in their complaints. The new 311 Complaint Line is the best route.

Bob Bolles Park

The triangle at Thompson, Watts and Broome, just west of West Broadway has been the focus of many of our previous articles. The well-known local sculptor, Bob Bolles, had established his numerous iron pieces in that location and they had been unceremoniously removed two years ago. They are currently stored at Randall’s Island.

The Parks Department has finally agreed to return the sculptures on a rotating basis, while assuring us that all of the nearly eleven sculptures will be restored and maintained for this purpose. Through its attorney, the SoHo Arts Council has been negotiating with the Manhattan Parks Department Commissioner to allow 3 or 4 sculptures to be brought to what is now called Sunflower Park on a rotated basis. Thus, the pieces will be restored and maintained and residents and tourists will be able to view all of the pieces over time. There is also the possibility that a plaque commemorating Bob Bolles’ work will be installed in the park on a permanent basis this summer

Planters

Two related issues have also affected SoHo. Both involve trees. One with the tragic destruction of twenty to thirty mature trees that have existed on Howard Street and Broadway. Instead of spending their money to move the trees, Jimmy’s tree service hacked them apart and unceremoniously carted them away. Onlookers were mortified and our local politicians should be hunting down the developer in order to make sure they never again set foot again in SoHo.

The Planter issue is another difficult problem. While some merchants insist they are beautifying SoHo, it seems suspiciously clear that there is yet another purpose. Planting trees should be handled by the Parks Department. Blocking sidewalks to prevent vendors on weekends is not a community friendly answer – it also denies residents clear access to their vehicles.

While the latter issue is a complicated controversy that pitches artists’ free speech rights against the freedom of movement and quality of life of SoHo residents, the answer lies in police training and removal of vendors who are not part of a protected class. Planters are not the answer.

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