Does your city have a store? Mine does. City Hall augments tax dollars and offsets the cost of renovating and upkeeping by selling New Yorkers city-related stuff. What kind of stuff? Well, for example, if you get married at City Hall, you can pick up flowers, travel tissues, bride and groom rubber duckies, etc. All the essentials, really.
City Hall wedding souvenir
I am deeply conflicted about private/public partnership in this town. On the one hand, we have a beautiful park in the center of Manhattan. You may have heard of it, it’s called Central Park. But the Parks Department can’t afford to keep it fresh-smelling and bum-free on tax dollars alone. That would be a problem if there weren’t so many rich people who love the park and are willing to put their own money into keeping it nice. So they do. And in return, the park has a board of directors called the Central Park Conservancy that oversees official park business. Perfect synergy. Except: the park is also a popular gathering spot. A few years ago, the U.S. wanted to start this never-ending war in Iraq and concerned citizens decided to gather in the park to say NO. Unfortunately, the place they wanted to gather was a grassy lawn recently replanted on the Conservancy’s dime. So the Conservancy said NO, which is kind of scary when you look at it as a private board telling the public they can’t have a public gathering in a public space. Now, this story is not new to most of you and has lots of nuances left out. But it’s an example of the kind of questions this shit raises. Enter Oscar.
The latest product launch at the City of New York Store is a series of stuffed Sesame Street characters dressed as employees of various city agencies. Oscar is a sanitation worker, of course. And the others seem to have been determined by fur color. Cookie Monster is NYPD blue. Elmo is a red fireman. And Big Bird Drives a yellow cab (which, as the daughter of a retired yellow cab driver I have to say is poor casting. Where the hell is that gritty muppet from the Caper?).
Don’t get me wrong, I know there’s a financial crisis going on and that if this were a Gund campaign to save the pandas, I’d be cooing. There is just something that rubs me the wrong way about all these products going on sale to raise money for city projects. Part of the concern is the commercialization. Sesame Street is one brand, Gund is another that’s two companies mixing with the brand of NYC. This new product line, however, comes at a time when the city is greatly expanding semicorporate ventures in the name of development. Gutting and reconstructing Coney Island, for example. There is something unfair about the sentiment that grit defines this city and removing it is wrong, I know. But there is also something sad about these corporate ventures. They feel to me like giving up, like quick fixes for what local government should be able to do on its own and like poorly thought-through plans that can lead to private interest trumping people’s interests. Like the people who live in Coney Island now.
Anyway, this is a subject I am inarticulate and confused about. What do you think? Is it a good thing that Snapple is the official drink of New York and that somewhere in America, there sits a Taco Bell chair in Women’s Studies? All I know is that I really want an Oscar the Grouch sanitation worker doll and that I really don’t want to want one.