De Blasio: To Eliminate Speech in Times Square Plaza, Eliminate the Plaza

August 20th, 2015

I previously noted that New York City will run into some difficulties as it attempts to regulate costumed panhandlers in the Times Square Plaza. In light of Reed v. Gilbert, such a regulation would almost certainly be treated as content based, and subject to strict scrutiny.  Now the city is considering a plan B. Years ago, Mayor Bloomberg blocked off portions of Broadway and Seventh Avenue from vehicular traffic, creating plazas that people can walk around–and get hustled for tips by Mickey Mouse and Elmo. To get rid of the panhandlers, de Blasio is considering eliminating the plazas altogether.

Mr. de Blasio has been keen to demonstrate that he is addressing the concerns, and on Thursday he announced a task force to consider ideas on how to better prevent activities that the city deems illegal or harmful to the area’s quality of life.

But the mayor, at a news conference in Queens, surprised many urban planners when he said he would give “a fresh look” to whether the pedestrian plazas should remain.

“That’s a very big endeavor, and like every other option comes with pros and cons,” Mr. de Blasio said of removing the plazas. “So we’re going to look at what those pros and cons would be. You could argue that those plazas have had some very positive impacts. You could also argue they come with a lot of problems.”

Police Commissioner William J. Bratton had stronger, more critical words about the plazas in a separate interview on Thursday.

“I’d prefer to just dig the whole damn thing up and put it back the way it was,” Mr. Bratton said in an interview with the radio station 1010 WINS.

Yep. The City will simply eliminate the sidewalk–a traditional public forum–because the government doesn’t like the speakers who use the forum. Instead of creating a time/place/manner regulation, the city will just eliminate the forum altogether! Such a decision–and the fact that public officials said the decision was motivated by a desire to eliminate speech–would be subject to strict scrutiny, and would be invalidated.