February 14, 2010
Kiechel: The Nonprofit that Saved Central Park
In the recent issue of City Journal Conrad Kiechel has an interesting article titled The Nonprofit That Saved Central Park: Thirty years after its founding, the Conservancy inspires other cities. From the article:
I remember a very different Central Park when I was a college student in Manhattan in the 1970s. I even recall passing through the Ramble. Countless creatures called it home then, too—most of whom you wouldn’t want to run into, day or night. The park’s lawns were dust bowls; its trees’ limbs were broken, their roots exposed; graffiti and inoperative lights marred the once-manicured landscape designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. “It was so awful,” recalls Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, an urban planner from Texas who became the park’s administrator in 1979. “Central Park was under a unionized, civil-service workforce. They were demoralized. It would take three men to prune a tree because of the job titles.”
The change began when Rogers formed an alliance with Parks Commissioner Gordon Davis. Davis started cutting deadwood in his department, a traditional dumping ground for patronage jobs. He also decentralized his department’s operations—first down to the borough level, then to the park level. And Rogers championed the idea that private money and workers would play a key role in the park’s restoration. The Central Park Conservancy was born in 1980—what current park administrator Douglas Blonsky calls a “revolutionary public/private partnership that would bring private monies and expertise, in partnership with the City of New York, to manage and restore Central Park.” . . .
From around the world, visitors flock to Blonsky’s office to learn how the Conservancy’s public/private partnership model can help them restore their own parks.
The article has clear anti-union and pro-privatization implications. It certainly does present the recent success of Central Park--an important historical and symbolic land use--within the compelling narrative of the restoration of New York City as the signal American metropolis.
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