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Chicago Park District Shuts Down Book Bike

By Betsy Mikel in Arts & Entertainment on Jul 6, 2010 8:20PM

The Chicago Park District says the Book Bike cannot operate without a permit.
The future of the Book Bike is not looking good. A Chicago Park District official approached Gabriel Levinson and his custom-built bike full of free books this weekend and asked him to leave move to "the outskirts" of the park. Due to the Chicago Park District’s rules and regulations requiring permits, he’s not welcome to hand out books for free in the city’s parks. After calling Chicago Park District, we were told that since Levinson is giving away material, he must apply for a Special Event Promotion permit. Aside from the $1,155 hourly fee, this specific permit would require that Levinson submit a separate application a couple months in advance for each date and location he intends to set up the Book Bike. And since he doesn’t have non-profit 501(c)(3) status, he’s not eligible for any discounts.

For the past two years, Levinson has been handing out books in the name of literacy to anyone who will take them. “Free” has always been his mantra. Levinson doesn’t think anyone should have to pay to have access to books, so he not only gives away free reading material, but also only does so in free public spaces. As the Book Bike has gained some momentum and press, Levinson has been invited to various events around the city, but unless they’re free, he politely declines. So most of the time, you’ll find him in the free Chicago parks. This Saturday, he was at Wicker Park, doing what he always does: unfolds the bike and displays the books, kicks back with a book of his own, and encourages anyone who asks what he’s doing to take home as many as they’d like.

After receiving so much encouragement for promoting literacy in a fun, non-confrontational way, Levinson was as surprised as anyone to be told to pack up. “I’ve been touting public parks as the last safe haven of the people,” he said. “It’s one place where anyone and everyone has a right to be: doesn’t matter how much money you have, doesn’t matter if you are homeless.”

We do agree that permits do have a place in helping maintain what we expect from an experience in the city’s parks. But in our eyes, all promotional events are not created equal. Levinson is not promoting a brand, product or politician. He’s promoting literacy. The price tag on this specific permit seems hefty for a guy handing out free books in his free time.