Stay Free! | 12 March 2002

Carrie McLaren carrie at
Mon Mar 11 20:49:25 EST 2002


Below is an op-ed I wrote for Newsday about New York's
plan to sell corporations naming rights to city
parks. I'd urge you all (especially New Yorkers) to write
the mayor's office yourself and tell him what you think of
this plan. Background:

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg
City Hall
New York, NY 10007
ph  212 788-9600 (public comment answering machine)
fax 212 788-7476
Email via web:
(note: snail mail is taken more seriously than email; do both!)

Incidentally, similar plans are being considered in Minneapolis.
Here is some background on that story (thanks to Phil Vanner):

- - - - - - -

March 1, 2002 Friday

HEADLINE: Let's Park the Naming-Rights Plan

BYLINE: By Carrie McLaren; Carrie McLaren is editor of
"Stay Free!," a magazine about commercialism and
American culture

BODY: New Yorkers are a little like Texans: We brag
about the place we call home and swear there is no
place quite like it. But where Texans take pride in
their land and theirtough-guy independence, New
Yorkers lay claim to an exceptional civic spirit, a
commitment to diversity and a rich cultural life.

So when Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced his proposal
to offer corporations naming rights to city parks and
other facilities, it was only natural for many New
Yorkers to recoil in horror. The mayor's plans also
call for selling space in city parks - including pools
and recreation centers - to advertisers. The budget
crisis New York faces is indeed a serious one. But
these attempts to mend the city promise only to do it
harm. Some people may wonder, "What's the big deal?"
When you look at any instance of sponsorship
individually, the harm seems trivial: "What's wrong
with a few more signs? Or a ShopRite recreation
center?" Only when considered cumulatively are the
deleterious effects of commercialism visible. Part of
the problem is that advertising invariably leads to
more and more invasive forms of advertising. The
current budget plan, which focuses on new parks and
developments, does not endanger Central Park - but
what about in five or 10 years, when another crunch
presents itself?

Our parks are one of few respites New Yorkers have
from the whirlwind buy-and-sell of city life. We go to
them to get away from working and shopping.
Commercialization will make the parks a little less
"ours" and more like what we are trying to escape: the
familiar slogans, expensive brands, and scantily clad
models that line the subways and, for that matter, the
outdoors of the rest of the country.

Though the mayor cites Sept. 11 as a catalyst for the
proposal, efforts to commercialize the city have been
under way for years. The board of education has long
been trying to establish an advertising-funded Web
portal; Coca-Cola signed an exclusive contract with
Prospect Park over a year ago; former Mayor Rudolph
Giuliani once rented Central Park to American Express;
and, in fact, plans to commercialize the parks were
drafted by the Giuliani administration well over a
year ago. The parks' shortfall stems from a lack of
priorities or chronic underfunding, not Sept. 11.

New Yorkers should, of course, applaud corporations
that donate money to the city. By all means, let's
give them a plaque and engrave their names on a wall
at City Hall. But philanthropy shouldn't be about
branding and kickbacks. There are clear costs with
corporate sponsorship. And though the mayor deserves
respect for wrestling with difficult decisions, one
gets the feeling that he doesn't even consider
commercialization a liability; that he doesn't
understand the difference between charity and

Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe has promised not to
do anything "grotesque" or "inappropriate" to the
parks. Yet Benepe also says new parks will resemble
the mom-and-pop stores plastered with Pepsi signs - as
if having parks look like grocery stores isn't

The mayor likes to congratulate himself for "thinking
outside the box," but his lack of imagination is clear
when you consider some of the other places that have
embraced corporate sponsorship:

Halfway, Ore., sold naming rights to the town to; Sacramento, Calif., has city sponsorships
with beverage and telecommunications companies; places
such as Lynn, Mass., and Huntington Beach, Calif.,
have exclusive contracts with Coca-Cola, so that only
Coke products can be sold at public facilities and
events; Milwaukee, Wis., has proposed putting
corporate logos on garbage trucks and selling naming
rights for buildings and streets.

The rest of the country has long looked to New York
for arts and ideas. If Bloomberg's office goes ahead
with his plans, then New Yorkers will be not cultural
leaders, but followers.

Assuming that advertising dollars can sustain our
parks is dangerously short-sighted. Parks and
recreation centers are public resources precisely
because the private sector - with its sole concern in
profitability - doesn't support them. Once small signs
and subtle names lose their novelty, sponsors will
inevitably want more: sponsored water fountains and
flower beds, billboards, electronic kiosks and who
knows what else.

Bloomberg's administration should resist degrading the
parks through commercialization and act now to
establish clear boundaries - written policies - on
corporate sponsorship. Without strict guidelines, what
may now seem outrageous will be the norm in a few
years. New Yorkers will wake up one day to find
ourselves amidst an American Express Park, a Coca-Cola
Bridge and a city that no longer belongs to us. If New
York adopts the sponsorship schemes that have swayed
other cities, then Bloomberg's legacy will be not in
saving New York, but in abandoning it.

Tech note: Email to my address often bounces, 
for whatever reason. If you email me and it comes back, send it to at

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