Drinking beer and park benches
And taking out the benches, like the city did earlier this week, isn’t going to do anything to change that in the least.
I was talking to one guy who’s been around a lot longer than I have and I asked him how long it’s been a magnet for that type of behavior and he said: “Well, City Hall burned down in 1938.”
He was being somewhat facetious, but it’s probably not too far off because shortly after the fire destroyed City Hall it became a park and administrations have struggled with how to police the tiny piece of land at the intersection of State and Third streets
Back in the 90s, I was told, the city tried having live music there once a week in an attempt to bring a more “desirable” crowd but the only thing that accomplished was giving free entertainment to the people hanging out there while they drank beer.
There was even some talk of doing away with the park altogether and making it a parking lot.
A few years ago, the Friends of Barker Park raised and invested some $100,000 to fix up the park including installing a new fence, new landscaping and yes, even installing new benches in an effort to draw a more orderly, respectful crowd. In the end, all it did was make it a nicer spot where people hang out and drink their beer.
It wouldn’t be bad if people were just hanging out drinking a cold one once in a while, but most of people who hang at Barker Park have a lot more than just one and with that comes all sorts of problems like urinating in public, fighting, cursing and other unseemly behavior.
That’s going to happen if there are benches there or not. What would solve the problem, however, is if the cops walking the beat downtown walk through Barker Park a few times a day. I know, there are more important things for the cops to do than bust a guy for having a beer or urinating behind a bush so rather than waste time bringing the guy down to the station, doing all the paperwork and clogging up the courts just make them dump out the beer.
To many in the Barker Park crowd, that is probably worse punishment than any fine or spending a night or two in jail so if it’s done a few times people will get the hint and find somewhere else to go.
Or, the city could limit the number of hours the park is open — from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. for example — and then those hanging out could face trespassing charges too so the cops wouldn’t have to even look for beer but instead just drive by and arrest anyone they see in the park after hours.
In the end, though, it’s downtown and in any downtown you’re going to get homeless people or those on the fringes of being homeless and who will congregate on any bench in the city. It just so happens Barker Park is convenient with a number of corner stores in the area and a number of non-profits that have food pantries and provide other life necessities to those on the fringes.
You won’t find too many of the fringe types in somewhere like Clifton Park, for example, but it is part of the charm of a downtown.
That said, I can understand the business owners in the area not being too appreciative of those on the fringes. But moving the benches won’t do anything except force those who will go their to drink their beer to bring their own chairs — which they would probably steal first — or sit on the curb. Something tells me they really aren’t all that picky.
This paper will be sponsoring a debate between incumbent Sen. Neil Breslin and his challenger in the Democratic primary for the 44th Senate District Shawn Morse, chair of the Albany County Legislature.
Fox 23 anchor John Gray, who also writes a column for this paper, will moderate while reporter Danielle Sanzone, longtime Capitol reporter Kyle Hughes of NYSNYS News, and myself will ask the questions — which we will pre-write with the help of Editor Lisa Lewis. We will also take questions from the audience.
The newly drawn 44th District encompasses Bethlehem, Colonie, a chunk of Albany, the southern half of Troy as well as the City of Rensselaer, Cohoes, Watervlier and Green Island.
The debate will be Sept. 4 at the Bush Memorial on The Sage Colleges campus in Troy from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Many thanks to The Sage Colleges for providing the forum for what should be a spirited debate in what has been a spirited race.