City Parks = Cool Uncle
State Parks = Uptight Parent
Thursday evening, about the same time our more responsible neighbors were gathering at the Brooklyn Brewery to discuss improvements to Williamsburg's East River State Park, we became mesmerized by a gorgeous sunset, grabbed our SLR and tripod, and motored over to that very same waterfront esplanade.
But before we even broke the plane of the park's Kent Avenue gate, we were rebuffed by a State Parks staffer.
Ranger Bob: "We're closing in five minutes. And you can't bring that in."
i'mnotsayin: "Bring what in? My camera? I've had it in here a million times."
RB: "The tripod. You need a permit."
ins: "Huh? Since when? Is that a state rule or a city law?" (we know there's no such city ordinance. yet)
RB: (thumbing over his shoulder at the unavoidable list of park rules): "Park rule. Its there on the list. You can shoot through the fence if you want."
We proceeded to grumble a bit and explain that the tripod is only to compensate for low light and camera shake. But with the spectacular sunset quickly fading, we accepted his offer and shot a few uninspired frames between the jail-like fence bars.
The episode was so typical of our experiences at both Brooklyn state parks - and so frustrating - that it got us thinking. Why are state parks in New York City so much stricter and more uptight than their City Parks brethren? Is it our imagination?
To be fair, we haven't been to many of the other state parks within the city limits. So we've limited our comparison to the two East River waterfront parks on Kent Avenue in the 'burg: East River State Park and Grand Ferry Park, a small city park about ten blocks south.
On the surface, the differences are obvious: ERSP is surrounded by a tall steel fence, and its gates are locked nightly. As we mentioned recently, given the late opening (10 am) and the rapidly-receding closing time (dusk), the state park will soon be accessible less than eight hours a day. Grand Ferry park, by contrast, is open from sunrise to 9 pm, has no fence...and the closing time is seldom, if ever enforced. Score one for Grand Ferry Park, zero for ERSP.
Beyond the frustration of park access, even when it is open the state park feels Draconian by comparison to its sister down the street. The park rules are posted on a French barricade one nearly trips over as they enter. Often two or three personnel sit just inside the gate, eyeballing every visitor for contraband (tripods, pets) and when the border guards retreat to the park office trailer 100 feet away, they use a bullhorn to tell bike riders to dismount as they enter. Down in DUMBO, where the state's Empire-Fulton Ferry Park abuts the city's Brooklyn Bridge Park, one might not even realize there's two parks, except that cyclists are scolded by state park rangers if they obliviously ride across the invisible divide, or instinctively saddle-up before leaving the state's territory.
In an effort to be Fair and Balanced (Fox lawsuit forthcoming), we've created a handy table to analyze the park rules. See Figure 2.7, "Funner Park Analysis" below.
To be clear - we've said it before - we love the new park. We just wish it would relax and chill out. We wonder if State Parks is so uptight with their upstate parks? Being relatively new to NYC - and especially Brooklyn, is the state (which is much more conservative than the city), playing the suburban "we know there's gonna be trouble - its the CITY for God's sake" card and policing the new parks accordingly?
State Parks is behaving like an authoritarian parent, convinced that you're going to either get arrested or kill yourself; by comparison, the NYC Parks Department feels like that cool uncle that let you smoke when your parents weren't around.
Oh, and one more thing: when researching this post, we actually read the state's posted rules. There is no "photography permit" rule to begin with...
Figure 2.7a "Funner Park Analysis"