16 October 2007

the analogy of the urban park

The Metropolitan New York Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians co-sponsored a lecture by Lynden Miller this evening with the Department of Art History at NYU. Lynden Miller is a painter and gardener who has worked on a number of the good places in NYC. She started out at the Conservatory Garden at Fifth Avenue and 105th Street. It had become overgrown and graffiti-marred (marked). They said the people would trash it if they fixed it up. With a lot of pluck and work, she and her colleagues recreated a place where people wanted to be and bring their family and friends. The last time I was there, in mid-late summer this year, a colorful West African wedding party was gathering, chatting, taking pictures at the gates which come from some Vanderbilt House. She also worked on Bryant Park, Madison Square Park, Battery Park City, Union Square, the Red Hook waterfront, the SUNY Stony Brook campus, the 68th Street subway station entrance, and a small park on East 97th Street near her home in Spanish Harlem. As she talked, I got a growing sense of how a civil and civic place can engender life among its community, immediate and further afield. I drew an analogy with my office. We are doing the things that makes a park no fun to be in: too crowded, defacing the public face, no views, no interaction of people in a manner that is conducive to getting its business done. Now an office is not a park but it can be similar in its life or deadliness. One of her primary points is that reconstruction isn't enough, you have to maintain the new face. Yesterday's New York times had an article about the man who is retiring as chief of the New York City subway system. He is the one that determined that the subway cars and environment needed to be maintained. Now of course the analogy is getting overdrawn as I imagine the card catalog that is not maintained. Ms Miller's talk was very encouraging about the effect of aesthetics, personal and physical, on behavior.

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