Street fairs, concerts, parades and other events large enough to require a city permit are canceled for the summer, Mayor de Blasio announced July 9, though protests such as those for the Black Lives Matter movement are still allowed.
“If you’re just talking about health, we would always say, hey, folks, you know, stay home if you can. But we understand that this moment in history people are talking about the need for historic changes,” de Blasio said on CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.” “This is a historic moment of change. We have to respect that, but also say to people the kinds of gatherings we’re used to — the parades, the fairs — we just can’t have that while we’re focusing on health right now.”
The suspension of events larger than one block, stage or video events that require amplification, street fairs and events in parks that may unreasonably diminish public use, all of which usually require a city permit, will last through Sept. 30. The new rule also restricts events in locations that interfere with the Open Streets or Open Restaurants programs. The executive order, de Blasio said, will help ensure social distancing, allow for greater public use of open space, address traffic flow concerns and allocate city resources efficiently.
Demonstrations, religious events and press conferences are exempt from the permit suspension. Asked if that applies to all protests or just some, the Mayor’s Office reiterated that demonstrations are exempt.
The city will also continue to grant permits for events that are smaller than one city block and do not conflict with Open Streets or Open Restaurant locations. The mayor’s executive order will require all permit applicants to outline their plan to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission at an event site and clean the space both during and after the gathering, as well as address those concerns without utilizing city services, personnel and resources.
“These are our fellow Americans going through so much. And we know, we went through hell,” said de Blasio. “But we learned — respect the unfortunate power of this disease. Pay attention to the science and the data — take things slow and carefully. Look, we’ve been coming back to these very deliberate stages and the message has been we’re not going to take the next step until we’re sure ... It’s not time for those outdoor big events. Take one step at a time and make sure to always do it according to the data.”
In accordance with the executive order, the Downtown Flushing Transit Hub Business Improvement District canceled what would have been its seventh annual Flushing Street Festival, which was scheduled for three different nights in September on 40th Road between Main and Prince streets.
“I think it’s the right thing to do after seeing what’s happening in other states, like California,” said Executive Director Dian Song Yu, noting that other areas across the country have suffered increased COVID-19 cases after reopening too quickly. “We came out of the epicenter and we don’t want to go back ... it’s a short-term thing for a long-term gain.”
The executive order puts Flushing businesses at a disadvantage because the area is not included in the Open Streets/ Open Restaurants initiative and the narrow sidewalks and streets limit outdoor space for them to utilize. The Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce has been pushing for the neighborhood to be included in the next round of locations, set to be announced July 17, but for now Yu advises customers to continue ordering takeout from small businesses in order to sustain them.
“We are concerned about the restaurant space — it’s hard to keep that social distance and keep safety but we have to be careful. We can’t afford it,” said Yu. “If we have a second shutdown, we think over 50 percent of businesses will fail ... now more than ever we need people to be careful in Phase 3. We need to remind people not to let their guards down.”
The Bayside Village BID, located just under 4 miles away, hosts the only two Queens locations featured in the Open Streets, Open Restaurants program — Bell Boulevard from 39th to 41st avenues and 41st Avenue from Bell Boulevard to 214th Place are closed to vehicles to allow expanded seating during select hours. Despite its participation in the program, the BID had to cancel its Sunday Stroll, a day of live music, games, outdoor dining and shopping, scheduled for September.
“It’s disappointing news, but safety has to come first,” said Executive Director Christine Silletti. “I’m so proud of the businesses I represent, all of whom are still struggling financially. Everyone shares the goal of creating a safe space for the neighborhood. It’s a difficult process — what helps one business does not necessarily help another, so everyone has had to compromise to make this happen.”
While noting that the Bayside businesses are fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in the city program, Silletti, like Yu, notes that the responsibility to ensure safety falls on everyone.
“Open Streets is one of our few options for socializing safely. [The Department of Transportation] has been a great partner in rolling this out, but this experiment is also dependent upon our neighbors and customers practicing social distancing and following safety guidelines. Everyone has a part in the success or failure of the program. We hope it continues,” she said.
CORRECTION: This story has been corrected to acknowledge that the Department of Transportation is the agency facilitating the Open Streets and Open Restaurants program combination.