Q: What’s A Park? A: Everything.

We’re just back from a long weekend in New York City.
We stayed in the landmark Essex House on Central Park South and found ourselves spending a great deal of time in the 840 plus acre park.
The weather was glorious and the park was alive with dogs, children and people of all ages.
It seems like every time you venture into the park you discover something different and interesting.
The park is clean and you feel safe, a marked departure from when I grew up when popular culture and the news warned you about the perils of the place. That New York, which included a seedy Times Square, dangerous subways and Guardian Angels, seems like a distant memory.
Much has changed about New York some of it good, some of it not so good.
Inequality and gentrification are front burner issues and so are the losses of landmark businesses chronicled in the great blog “Vanishing NY” which is now a book on my must read list.
But a few things remain true to the Big Apple. The city still pulses with culture, energy and art. And its parks, particularly Central Park remain extremely important to the city’s soul.
Great parks enhance cities immeasurably and Central Park in New York and Millennial Park in Chicago are perhaps the two best examples of that theory.
When I was on the City Commission in the early 2000s we endeavored to enhance Delray’s parks authorizing a parks master plan that ultimately led to a parks bond.
One of my colleagues on the commission felt that our parks lagged other cities and that we were too much about ‘swings and slides’ and not enough about creating memorable spaces that would attract people to use our open spaces.
As was the style of the time, we consulted with the community and crafted a spending plan to address what we were hearing from parents, kids, seniors and other stakeholders.
Out of those efforts came the idea to create a large “Central” park at Old School Square replacing a surface parking lot with a mixed use garage and creating more open space near the center of our downtown.
Twelve years later that vision remains an unfinished goal. We have the open space, the amphitheater and garage (and the Arts Garage), but we envisioned more. Much more. The time has come to finally seize that opportunity.
A years long visioning exercise by the public is complete and I sure hope the powers that be fund the plan. It will be an important investment and will create enormous value.
Parks are hugely important statements that cities make.
They are critical investments that yield returns both tangible and intangible.
Similarly, failure to invest in open space  also makes a statement–not a good one.
As we watched kids wandering the zoo, dogs jumping in a fountain and couples walking hand in hand through Central Park I turned to my walking partner–who also happens to be my life partner –and said: “if I lived here I’d be in this park everyday.”
And that’s the key to a great public space: places where you can enjoy peace and quiet, spots to picnic, places to write, paint and read and places to exercise and celebrate (festivals). And yes, spots where you can take your dog. Places you want to be every day.

New York State of Mind

Simple elegance

Simple elegance

We just came back from a long weekend in New York City and it was wonderful.
New York in September defies description.

The weather is perfect, not hot, not cold and you find yourself walking everywhere.
We measured our steps on our smart phones and found that we walked close to 7 miles every day. We loved it.
New York crackles with energy. The restaurants are busy all day and people walk, bike and run in Central Park from sunrise to sunset.
Two of our favorite walks were through Central Park and on NYC’s famed Highline, an abandoned elevated rail line that has been converted into an amazing public space.
In Central Park, we visited Strawberry Fields which honors the life and legacy of John Lennon.
It’s hard to imagine that in a few months, it will be 35 years since he was gunned down outside The Dakota on Central Park West.

My friends and I were 16 when John was murdered and it left a deep hole. We grew up rabid Beatles fans even though we were in first grade when the legendary band broke up in 1970.

A bunch of us travelled to Central Park for a vigil honoring Mr. Lennon a few days after he was shot. It was incredibly sad but somehow soothing to be with a community of people who were as impacted as we were.
Last year, a few of us who went to the vigil returned to the  city to mark our 50th birthdays. It all goes so fast.
Howie and Linda Cohn (yes, of ESPN fame) were there as were my friends Scott Savodnik and Ben Willemstyn.

We took photos on a Central Park bench, just like the Simon & Garfunkel song “Old Friends”. You remember the line: “Old friends, old friends sat on their park bench like bookends…Can you imagine us years from today, sharing a park bench quietly, how terribly strange to be seventy.”
We saw Simon & Garfunkel in the park when we were kids too. And joked that we would be those old men someday. And I guess we kind of are. (If not quite 70).
Memories seem to be enhanced by place.
We made some new ones walking the 1.5 mile Highline, a narrow trail that features native vegetation, public art and spectacular views. It’s a monumental achievement. Simple, but beautiful and vibrant with people of all ages enjoying what had been an abandoned rail line.
When we headed back home it was with thoughts about place making and walkability.
Are there places in Boca- Delray that can be reclaimed like the Highline? Most certainly, there are.

Cities like NY, Chicago, Charleston make you rethink the mundane and consider the possibilities.
Why don’t we walk more (in cooler weather at least) but prefer driving even when we visit downtown?
What are the next cool neighborhoods?
Great cities inspire. And nothing inspires quite like the Big Apple.