J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Treasures of New York: City Parks


Before moving to their permanent headquarters, the United Nations met in the New York Pavilion on the grounds of what is now Flushing Meadows Corona Park.  It was there the problematic world body witnessed one of its finest moments passing the resolution that led to the creation of the State of Israel.  Perhaps it is time to move them back to Queens.  The history and general greenness of iconic parks in all five boroughs are celebrated in WNET’s Treasures of New York: City Parks (promo here), which premieres this Wednesday on New York area public television.

Many New Yorkers take understandable pride in Central Park, despite the fact it was modeled on the deliberately imposing parks of Imperialist Europe.  Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux’s masterwork of landscaping and design would indeed announce New York as a cultural and commercial powerhouse on the world stage, but they would have to wrestle with politicians during each stage of construction. 

Even though it was literally the centerpiece of Manhattan, Central Park would periodically fall into states of appalling disrepair.  The initial savior was, not surprisingly, Fiorello La Guardia and his controversial Parks Commissioner, Robert Moses.  However, during the Carter malaise, the private, nonprofit Central Park Conservancy stepped in to do the maintenance and restoration work beyond the City government’s competencies.

Indeed, politics would play a role at other parks, particularly at the Bronx’s Pelham Bay Park, where Democrat Jimmy Walker allocated beachfront access to his Tammany Hall cronies.  This was a practice La Guardia halted post-haste and Moses would forever prevent by radically reshaping the park’s coastline.

Brooklyn’s Prospect Park also gets its due, but unfortunately this includes plenty of air time for Brooklyn Beep Marty “Party” Markowitz, in full blow-hard mode.  If grudgingly, Moses still enjoys good PR in the Bronx for his work on the Pelham Bay Park and also in Queens for his vision for Flushing Meadow Corona.  Not so much in Staten Island though, where activists banded together to save the Greenbelt from his proposed Richmond Parkway.  However, they will admit the resulting traffic is kind of a drag.  Lest a review go by without a Tibet reference, it is also worth noting the Jacques Marais Museum of Tibetan Art is peacefully nestled within the preserved Greenbelt.

As was the case for previous installments of Treasures of New York, City Parks is essentially a slickly produced infomercial for New York.  However, the park edition has considerably more civic history than one would expect, making it of potential interest to general viewers beyond the obvious outdoors-oriented target audience.  Pleasantly watchable, it premieres tomorrow night (9/5) on Long Island’s WLIW and airs this coming Sunday (9/9) on New York’s Thirteen.

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