Rules limiting the number of art and book vendors allowed at four popular Manhattan parks are constitutional, a New York state appeals court ruled Tuesday. The decision overturns a 2017 injunction against the rules obtained by a group of vendors, including several local visual artists.
The rules cap the number of vendors at four beloved parks—Central Park south of 86th street, Battery Park, the High Line, and Union Square Park—at 100, or 140 on days when the Greenmarket in Union Square is not operating, and space is available on a first-come, first-served basis. The rules were instituted to promote the parks’ natural beauty, provide enough room for recreational use, and prevent congestion. They only apply to vendors selling “expressive matter,” including paintings, photos, newspapers, and books; before the rules were put in place, roughly 300 vendors sold their wares in these parks.
A group of vendors claimed the rules violated their free speech and equal protection rights under the New York state constitution, and that the laws are discriminatory against vendors for whom it might be difficult to compete to secure a spot, be it due to age, gender, or disability. However, Judge Barbara Kapnick called the rules “an appropriate response to demonstrated concerns” about congestion, and said the plaintiffs had not presented evidence of their discrimination claims.
Before the rules were first passed in 2010, a park commissioner claimed in a New York Times article
that vendors were turning parks into “year-round flea markets,” and questioned the quality of art being sold. But affected artists argued against the rules; in the same article, Dario Zapata, a caricature artist from the South Bronx working in Central Park, said: “The First Amendment is protection for artists.”
In 2013, Manhattan’s federal appeals court concluded that the rules were constitutional under the U.S. Constitution, which has a narrower free speech clause than New York state’s constitution.