Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Parks: the next era in New York City's public realm

Nicholai Ourousoff is right about the renaissance of the urban park experience in New York City under the Bloomberg administraion in his review today of the West 8 plan for Governor's Island. Developments on Governor's Island and Brooklyn Bridge Park -- along with the evolving High Line and Hudson River Park -- definitely demonstrate a new era for the public realm in New York.

But Ourousoff writes, "On the one hand they [these new parks] are genuinely democratic, creating valuable public space that can be shared by all New Yorkers. On the other, they are a savvy way to raise property values, which ends up pushing the poor and middle classes farther and farther out from the city's center." I think you really have to view these new parks through the an Olmsted perspective. Olmsted's classic work in New York (Central and Prospect Parks) raised property values on their perimeter. In fact, it would seem to me that a park that didn't do that would be something of a failure. History shows us that achieving that one public benefit is not incompatible with those same public spaces being healthful and beneficial for all. Just walk the High Line or go to the open section of Brooklyn Bridge Park on a Sunday afternoon or to Central, Prospect, or Fort Greene Parks -- there seems to be scant evidence that these sites "push out" anyone. They are magnets attracting the kind of mix of the citizenry that Olmsted envisioned.