23 August 2005

A Resurrection

I first heard of the renaissance of Bryant Park years ago (the Bryant Park Restoration Corporation (BPRC) formed in 1980), but until today had not had an opportunity to experience it myself. I was delighted and bemused to find this civilized and calm oasis in the midst of the perennial midtown rush.

The park, on 42nd Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, behind the iconic New York Public Library building, is no longer the disaster area I knew in the mid-70s and early 80s. When I was a kid in New York, Bryant Park was a place you didn’t go if you knew what was good for you. The “Park” part of its name was as empty of meaning as the “Hills” in “Forest Hills” (and the “Forest,” too, for that matter). It would have been more aptly called “Bryant Don’t-Go-in-There.” I am not sure what I thought was inside—probably muggers and drug pushers, the bogeymen of my childhood and adolescence.

Bryant Park was so much to be avoided that I remember walking past it (as I often did, on my way to and from the 7 train stop on 42nd between Fifth and Sixth Avenues) quickly, with my face averted. (A survival skill from a New York childhood: Never make eye contact with those you fear, or they’ll find out you’re scared.) I even remember having nightmares about it—the bogeymen reaching out for me through the iron fencing surrounding that bad place.

Since 1980, the BPRC has made a miraculous transformation. Stately avenues of London plane trees provide shade and thousands of little dark green folding chairs (like those in Paris’ Tuileries) are scattered throughout. There are a lovely fountain, attractive gardens, a lush expanse of lawn, and free wireless Internet access, attracting thousands of office workers during and outside the lunch hour. The park offers concert series, outdoor film screenings, and cultural programs. There are also restaurants, and multiple kiosks selling food, drink, and even flowers. Its excellent Web site provides information about its history, management, and events.

It is wonderful to see a public park developed and maintained with such care and thoughtfulness. Good parks are one of those things that make a city worth living in.

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