Midtown's Lawn: Bryant Park
What makes stretching out on the Bryant Park Lawn irresistible? This photograph taken in 1925 could easily be a scene of the park today. The similarities, however, would end there considering the Bryant Park depicted in the above photo and the Bryant Park of today. Those of you familiar with the park's evolution know that its history is dappled with periods of renovation and dereliction.
In the 1920's Bryant Park was known to be a camping ground for jobless men and during the Great Depression it was overrun with weeds. An unsuccessful redesign effort in 1934 left the park cold and overly formal with heavy stone benches, surrounded by high hedges and trees that let in too little light, and a spiked iron fence. In 1944 Governor Laguardia ordered a 10 o'clock curfew in an attempt to abate illicit activities and by the 1960's the park was labeled a "disaster area," by the New York Times. In fact it's only in the last twenty years that the park has really experienced a revival and increased recreational use.
The rebirth of New York City’s Bryant Park provides an engaging and pictorial description of the park's history focusing mainly on its major restoration in 1980 by landscape architects, Laurie Olin, and Robert Mitchell Hanna and urban sociologist, William Holly Whyte. Some of the major design changes included: removing the shrubbery and some of the ivy plants to make room for movable folding chairs and tables, providing ramps for the handicapped, and an overall opening of the space making it more accessible for public use. Although the park is still a public space, it is no longer part of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation but is now maintained by the Bryant Park Corporation. As we can see the changes have been effective. Those of you who spend your lunch hour in the park know it can be difficult to even find a stray green chair. As the New York Times mentioned this week use of the park will only continue to rise with the construction of new office buildings in midtown. Even with its great success as a public space Bryant Park still managed to find itself in the Public Space Hall of Shame for overbooking the park with private events making it less accessible to the public. What do you think about Bryant Park?