How De Blasio Stole Christmas
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Rockefeller Center lit its renowned Christmas tree in the heart of Midtown Manhattan on November 2, carrying on the 90-year-old tradition through this bizarre year that could not end sooner. While the lighting ceremony was conducted virtually, the tree is now open for in-person visitation. Rockefeller Center can easily be made COVID-19-safe, giving everyone the joy and normalcy of seeing their favorite pine tree again. Unfortunately for us, Mayor Bill de Blasio is set on stealing Christmas.
De Blasio has a history of making Rockefeller Center visitation harder than it needs to be, but he has really outdone himself this year. In past years, it would take about 20 minutes to walk the three blocks from the 47th Street Station to the tree because of the maze of borders set up by the city. However, that obstacle won’t matter in 2020: not only has the mayor completely closed Center Plaza, where the tree stands, but he is also determined to make a complete mess out of viewing areas nearby. He announced the implementation of a reservation system on November 31 that actually creates more problems than it solves.
Ticketing an area requires a perimeter to be set. At the moment, areas from which the tree is visible are included in this perimeter. This demarcation may seem like a fair rule, but the tree is 75 feet tall. It’s visible from almost any point between 49th and 50th Street. This means that no vehicles are able to pass through one of the most critical areas of Midtown without buying tickets to Rockefeller, even if that’s not where they’re going. Apparently, the city doesn’t know that not everyone goes to Midtown to see the Rockefeller tree—people work and live there. Even though the tickets are free, they’re available in limited amounts. This inconveniences New Yorkers who have to buy tickets just to pass through Midtown and takes away tickets from those who do want to see the tree.
The reservation system also creates massive problems for Fifth Avenue. On Fifth Avenue are some of the city’s most visited stores, including Saks, Macy’s, and plenty of designer boutiques, and its eateries offer a festive attraction for non-shoppers. Most people don’t go there to see the Rockefeller tree. However, the tree is very much visible from there, so the city has restricted that area as well. If they hadn’t, people would eventually begin to crowd there to look at the tree. Now that Fifth Avenue is included in the ticket perimeter, it’s a disaster—no one is happy about having to buy tickets to go shopping or to go to the Fifth Avenue Saks Show, which is not a ticketed event. Additionally, the Fifth Avenue stores that have already been decimated by the pandemic are losing their remaining business.
Before the plan was enacted, all of its downsides were just speculation. Yet not even 10 days after the tree was opened to the public, Midtown has become a ghost town because of the ticketing or, as de Blasio calls it, the “queueing” system. No one bothers to participate now that the system is actually in place. The profit losses of Midtown’s businesses are through the roof. While the empty holiday center is a shocking sight, it’s unsurprising that these useless rules discourage people from going there. An empty Midtown was de Blasio’s goal all along.
The mayor pursues crowd control but he fails to consider the dramatic drop in New York tourists and Rockefeller Center visitors this year. The Rockettes, who average an audience of 30,000 every holiday season, have canceled their show. The ice skating rink at Rockefeller Center has reduced its capacity, limited skating time to less than an hour, and mandated masks. Travel regulations have made tourism to the city practically nonexistent. Most NYC residents are staying home in fear of the virus, or because someone in their household is infectious or at risk. Altogether, the “crowds” in Midtown, despite being slightly larger than they were a few months ago, should be completely manageable.
To put it in perspective, numerous outdoor Black Lives Matter protests broke out in late May all over the country, including in New York City, and continue to this day with virtually zero interference from the government. In fact, de Blasio even supports these protests. While this situation may seem dangerous, studies and research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Bureau of Economic Research, and other organizations show that there was little to no spread of COVID-19 at the events. Additionally, these crowds were significantly denser than the maximum estimates for Rockefeller Center crowds. Therefore, the installment of standard COVID-19 safety regulations at the tree, similar to the ones at the Rockefeller ice rink, would be more practical than de Blasio’s ridiculous plan. Face coverings should be made mandatory, with masks available for those who don’t have any on hand. Social distancing should be achievable due to immensely shrunken crowds but if not, the center’s capacity can be reduced. With officers or employees of some sort present to enforce these regulations, there shouldn’t be any problem; wreaking havoc on Midtown is unnecessary.
While de Blasio was right to cancel the lighting ceremony and have it streamed online instead, it’s beyond senseless to ticket casual visitation to the tree. The unnecessary reservation system will make a catastrophe of Midtown Manhattan, destroying the New York City holiday experience many have been looking forward to after a 2020 filled with fear and, for some, loss. As the year draws to a close, the least the mayor can do is use his head and create a solution that will be efficient and comfortable for all.