NYC Parks and Public Spaces: Are We in a Golden Age? Yes... and No

Published on Jun 12, 2013

Central Park
Central Park
Any long-time NYC resident will tell you that one of the most welcome changes in this great town of ours over the past decade or so has been the widespread revitalization of city's parks and public plazas. In the 1970s, '80s, and well into the 90s, even the system's crown jewels like Central Park were defined more by hard-packed dirt and moderate levels of dangerous-ness than grass and recreation. It's not like that today. Empire State Building, as Seen from the Plaza Near Madison Square Park
Empire State Building, as Seen from the Plaza Near Madison Square Park

The Number of New Parks and Public Spaces is Staggering

The list of success stories is long, from the hugely popular pedestrian plazas on Broadway (above, near 23rd Street) and Times Square, to the rebirth of such now-vital areas as Madison Square and Bryant Parks, to the design and construction of the High Line, LIC's Gantry Park, and vast stretches of greenways by the rivers. Throw in Governors Island, Transmitter Park, Brooklyn Bridge Park (below), Rockefeller Park... I could go on and on. None of these existed in even close to their present form--or at all--15 to 25 years ago. Remarkable. Brooklyn Bridge Park
Brooklyn Bridge Park

Despite their Popularity, Parks Do Sometimes Face Opposition

Anyway, what got me thinking about all of this was a recent crop of articles on our beautiful city's now-passionate commitment to parks and public plazas. Granted, there are always still some dissenting voices every time any of the city's real estate is "taken" from cars and concrete and given over to pedestrians, bicycles, and grass. Remember: even the insanely-popular High Line was bitterly fought by local moguls who just wanted to tear the whole thing down. But hopefully someday we'll all learn that parks and public spaces (and bike lanes!) are proven winners not only for NYC residents, but for businesses as well. Example of a Parklet in San Francisco, Made from Rented Parking Spots
Example of a Parklet in San Francisco, Made from Rented Parking Spots

Even Public Spaces and Parklets Can be a Boom for Business, and Safety

Case in point: Michael Kimmelman's piece in the New York Times about how transformative even little slivers of City-funded or DIY parklets and plazas can be for a neighborhood's well-being. Kimmelman makes his point by profiling two plazas in particular--one in high-income, high-tech DUMBO; the other at the end of the 3-train line on New Lots Avenue--but also shows how even public space right next to other public space (in this case, the always-packed plazas across from Madison Square Park) can be a winner. And there's so much more we can do, says Kimmelman, including adopting San Francisco's program in which the government rents out parking spaces for the long term to adjoining businesses, under the condition they turn them into "parklets" (as seen above, in the Potrero Hill neighborhood). Sounds good to me. And everyone else. Morningside Park
Morningside Park (photo courtesy of the NY Times)

Unfortunately, Funding is an Issue for Many Parks and Other Public Spaces

But that doesn't mean parks, plazas, and public spaces don't have to fight for everything they can get. For example, Central Park may be flush with newly-donated tens-of-millions for upkeep and maintenance, but nearby Morningside Park (above) struggles to find funding for even modest repairs. DNAinfo reported recently that the Upper West Side's ten-acre Theodore Roosevelt Park, basically the backyard of the Museum of Natural History, is in jeopardy of falling into disrepair. And the Wall Street Journal says that even mega-wattage-projects like the Hudson Yards has recently seen some squabbling among its big-name developers over who should pay for what public space.
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