Bryant Park

Free events multiply in NY neighborhoods

June 30, 2014
Valentina Cordero, Crain's

New York City is famous for its thousands of free summer events, allowing residents and tourists to see any number of world-class acts including music, theater and dance. Some neighborhood business improvement districts are expanding their offerings this summer.

Bryant Park Corp., which has over 600 free events throughout the summer, has added new events for this year, such as Dancing in Bryant Park and Bryant Park Presents Modern Dance. The number of free events reaches more than 1,000, including daily sports and arts events.

"There is an influx of office workers, and the park is busy fifteen hours a day. And now we have program (events during) weekends and evenings," said Dan Biederman, executive director of Bryant Park Corp.

The growth in free events follows the reduction in crime, said Mr. Biederman, which changed the face of entire neighborhoods in the city. Bryant Park in the 1970s was in fact a dangerous place, habituated by drugs dealers. "Crime disappeared (in Bryant Park)," he added.

Mr. Biederman also noted that it took 25 years to get to the level the area is today—busy, clean, and safe. "Our idea of Bryant Park goes beyond the concerts, dance events, and classes," he said.

"The growth in free events is a testimony of ... how safe (New York City's) public spaces are," added Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance, saying that the events reflect the spirit of the city and help to create both a sense of neighborhood and community. "The growth of the international audience has made it ... part of the world experience," Mr. Tompkins said.

For the organizers, the goal of these events is to drive traffic to their neighborhoods and local businesses. "People shop in stores and they dine in restaurants, so we do think that increasing the foot traffic is helpful," said Jennifer Brown, executive director of the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership, adding that it would be hard to compare New York City's public events in so many different neighborhoods with other cities in the world.

Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership is hosting more free outdoor public events this summer as well, following the success of the tech classes it has held for the past two years.

Before the summer of 2012, there were no public program in the Flatiron Public Plaza, according to the organization. This is why it started hosting three tech summer classes in partnership with General Assembly, the urban campus for design and technology.

But some say that the main reason why more events are scheduled this year is because a survey of the Flatiron community, conducted between September and November of 2013, revealed that people wanted more outdoor events. For instance, of the 195 respondents who responded when asked what amenities, events or services they want to see in the Public Plaza, 31 said they wanted to see more public art or music. The organization this year is hosting not only fitness classes, but also performances by the Peoples Improv Theatre.

"Plazas are very popular and crowded when the weather is good during the summer, so we just want to make sure that there is a little bit of something for everyone," said Ms. Brown.

Ms. Brown said she thinks it's important to have free community events where people who live and work in the neighborhood can come and enjoy the public space. "The creation of new public spaces is because people really want to create activity in the communities and things that are fun for people (to do)," she said.