I have found civilization in New York City and its name is Madison Square Park. Who knew? Probably everyone else, but until a recent freelance stint nearby forced me into close contact with these remarkable 6.2 acres, I was clueless.
Like all of New York City’s parks, this one fell in to sad and scary disrepair, remedied finally by renovations completed in 2001. It is now amazingly close in feel to the well tended and well used parks of Paris; gravelly patches of sand dotted with tables and chairs, and full-length benches without those dividing arms to prevent the indigent — or exhausted — from stretching out. A sun-dappled dog run on the west side is balanced on the east side by one of the nicest playgrounds I’ve ever seen, complete with a giant water-feature-splasher I can barely resist on my forays out for coffee and lunch. There is a fountain and a reflecting pool.
There are classic old memorial sculptures. There is interesting-ish contemporary art (this summer, two large pieces by Sol Lewitt). Posh mommies, brown-baggers and the homeless all share the park with relative tolerance. And on hot days, fat squirrels lie on their sides in the grass like miniature dogs. In other words, it’s a little slice of urban heaven.
The crowning jewel of the Park is the Shake Shack, the oft-mentioned, much acclaimed food kiosk just in from the corner of
Madison and 23rd. Allow me to say that the S.S.’s mushroom burger may convert you to a more vegetarian outlook, albeit a deep-fried and cheese-filled one. The fries are perfect, the shakes sublime, and you get to eat it all outside, under the trees. Oh, and did I mention the BEER? That’s right, good, cold, legal beer, drinkable in a New York City park. And, incredibly, the Shack has been set up to provide funds for the ongoing maintenance of this, and other city parks. Did Jane Jacobs come up with this whole scheme? What’s next? Free concerts at night, and free children’s entertainment in the mornings? Check, and check.
I realize the level of my excitement might seem absurd to some of you, especially those who have grown up in (European) cities where the parks are all filled with amenities. I say let’s use Madison Square Park as our model for the whole city. Let’s fill this place with inviting multi-use public spaces, populate those with sane businesses that take care of their customers and the city, and do it all without selling place names, billboards, poster space or digital screens to advertisers. Screw the West Side Stadium, the Brooklyn Arena, let’s build parks. Lots and lots of parks