Sunday, December 11, 2011

Best Practices

On our last walk through Central Park before we blew town for the holidays, there wasn't much late autumn color left on the trees. This willow giving up the last of its 2011 glory was about the last of it, but it got me thinking about the park and how much it means to the city and also to a nation of people who are New Yorkers by visit, aspiration, adventurous past, proxy through a friend or family member, favorite movie or whatever.

Breathes there the New Yorker with soul so dead who never to himself has said, "Thank God for the Central Park Conservancy, because we remember what the park was like before the Conservancy came along."

Even a city bureaucracy fat with drones and political hacks could never kill a place as perfect as Central Park, but they laid it very low in the 1970s and 80s. When we moved here in 1988, the park was like nobility on hard times and bad habits. It was dirty, dysfunctional and dangerous. The landscapes were bedraggled, the fountains didn't work, public concessions and bathrooms were sparse at best, and graffiti announced everywhere that anything could happen here and nobody would care.

The other unmistakable message was that while public authorities may once have believed and invested in the importance of lovely open spaces that all city dwellers could enjoy, that was in a bygone era when public authorities thought big thoughts about the needs of ordinary city dwellers. In latter day New York, you were welcome to be a voter, an employee, a consumer and a sucker, but if you also wanted to be a human being, you could do it on your own time.

I don't know who first imagined that we all deserved better and envisioned the way to make that happen. I've made a New Year's resolution to look into it and also to send a check. Not only has the Convervancy returned the park to its former grandeur, they've demonstrated in scores of ways how a well-run enterprise can accomplish the seemingly impossible.

That they do it for the public good and not a private one is challenging and inspiring in too many ways to count.

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