Central Park is New York’s backyard.
So imagine the surprise thousands of people will get when they head to the park later this week and find the Great Lawn — the heart of Central Park — closed for a private event.
That event is OZY Fest, a weekend-long festival of “live music, conversation, comedy and food” coming to Central Park July 20 and 21. Event organizers say they expect 40,000 people to descend on the Great Lawn on each of the two days.
The event sounds like fun. The soccer star Megan Rapinoe will be there. So will big names like John Legend and Alex Rodriguez, Stacey Abrams and Trevor Noah.
Half of the tickets will be free, the festival’s organizers say. Those who want to snag a free ticket are asked to fill out an application and post about the event on social media platforms.
The other half of the tickets come at a price. Their price ranges from $79 for general admission on Sunday, to $449 for a weekend of V.I.P. access that includes a “fast-track” entrance and front-row seating.
Think on that for a moment: sun-seekers and parkgoers are to be displaced, on a summer weekend in July, by an event offering V.I.P. access to a patch of grass in New York City’s storied Central Park.
How did we get here?
OZY Fest isn’t the first to use space in a public park, or charge admission for such an event.
Though the Global Citizen Festival, which featured Janet Jackson, the rapper Cardi B and others last year, offers 80 percent of its tickets for free, it charged admission for V.I.P. and other access.
The Great GoogaMooga, a music and food festival, charged hundreds of dollars for V.I.P. tickets at Prospect Park. Those organizers were denied a permit in 2013 after the city’s parks department said the event was too large and some Brooklynites complained that it overwhelmed a usually bucolic space.
For years, designers took over Bryant Park for Fashion Week, turning it into a convenient, centrally located event space. The Times will be holding a two-day food festival there in October with $25 admission, food and drinks not included.
Other events, like Shakespeare in the Park, are free but can be notoriously difficult to score tickets to anyway.
The city’s parks department has granted OZY Fest a nine-day, $1.5 million permit for the Great Lawn. The city says the money will cover security, cleanup and other costs. Taxpayers deserve a much better deal than that. It’s disheartening that the city would be breaking even when renting it out to a for-profit group charging admission many New Yorkers are unable to afford.
The event’s organizers have said the space will be accessible to the public for most of that time. That’s good to hear, considering it’s owned by the people of New York to begin with.
In New York City, the most densely populated major city in the country, park space is precious.
Jane Meyer, a spokeswoman for Mayor Bill de Blasio, noted that the park was only available for such events seven days out of the entire year. She said there is a “definite public good to having these kind of cultural events that thousands and thousands of New Yorkers can access for free.”
In a city that increasingly feels like a playground for the wealthy, private events that require New Yorkers to pay for the privilege of using their own parks are worth a second thought.