Bryant Park: A MultiGen Gem of an Example for Your Central Social District

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When my my mother worked in mid-town Manhattan in the early ‘60s, she often ate her lunch on the lawn of Bryant Park.  Circa 2007, my mother was with me, my husband, and our son in NYC as we happened upon Bryant Park.  And there was a lot happening there.  It was early December and we were on our way to see the holiday decorations in the big department stores.  We were delightfully sidetracked into Bryant Park where the Holiday Shops were buzzing with vendors, shoppers, gifts and edible treats.  We had a wonderful time there and still have the gifts we bought for ourselves.

In between my mother’s ’60s lunches and our visit in 2007, Bryant Park declined.  It became a symbol of the painful side of urban life.  In 1980, with support from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Dan Biederman and Andrew Heiskell founded the Bryant Park Corporation and the process of enabling Bryant Park to blossom into a gem of an asset for NYC’s midtown central social district had begun.  This organization was responsible for the revitalization, and continues the development and management of this special space.

N. David Milder, downtown revitalization specialist and owner of DANTH,Inc.  (www.ndavidmilder.com), has studied Bryant Park, dating back to his service on the Parks Council in the early ’80s as well as for work on Business Improvement Districts (BID).  Thoughts from Mr. Milder:

“Bryant Park is a model for an informal entertainment venue. Its formula can be scaled down to smaller venues in smaller towns. One of its strengths is the multi-tasking of the same piece of real estate, e.g., the lawn is for sunbathing and audience seating for a movie festival in summer, while in winter it is the site of an ice rink and and a temporary retail village of kiosks. The park also provides an interesting and attractive respite from Manhattan’s frenetic hustle and bustle.”

Bryant Park sunny field

Enjoying the lawn on a glorious day

Bryant Park ping pong

Playing ping pong

Bryant Park carousel

One of the jewels of the park: the carousel

In addition to the gardens and shade and lovely green lawn during the warmer months, there is a piano for impromptu concerts, a Reading Room respecting all age readers, ongoing programming such as Ping Pong and Petanque and Tai Chi.  There are outdoor movie nights, a beloved

Bryant Park reading room 2

The stocked Reading Room

carousel, ice skating in the colder months, and unique practical programming such as “Breakfast Briefings” providing “exclusive access from senior executives of local businesses….hear about the challenges and opportunities of their industries.”  And of course there is food, and special programming like the Winter Village.

Even the public restrooms at Bryant Park are glorious.  The city spent $200,000 restoring this architectural and functional gem.  While that may sound like a large budget to those not familiar with construction costs, dividing by the number of uses reveals a per use cost of just $0.06 (“A Resplendent Park Respite, Mosaic Tiles Included”, The New York Times, April 4, 2006).  Fortunately, these restrooms are accessible to persons using wheelchairs and similar mobility aides.  While you would think that this means these restrooms are age-friendly, strollers are restricted.  When I expressed concerns (via electronic communication) about a parent with multiple children including one in a stroller, especially if sleeping, I was assured that the attendants are trained to assist families.  Mr. Milder confirmed this, saying “the people who manage the park…worry about the details.”  I hope this means that they allow strollers under such circumstances.  As NYC was the first Age-Friendly City in North America, NYC parks should check their policies to see that they are actually accommodating people of all ages and abilities.

If you live in NYC or the five boroughs, you can check out this database to see what accessible facilities are present in the park you are visiting.  And make sure your park is on the list.  If you are not in the NYC area, see if your region offers similar information online.  If not, request it.

Make a point of visiting and experiencing Bryant Park in New York City.  What opportunities do you have to create multiuse, multigen social spaces in your communities or on your projects?  Have you done so already?  I’d love to hear from you.