Sunday, July 11, 2010

Park War!

If I were ever to create a spin-off blog to this one, it would probably be about parks (yeah, real exciting I know but I'm a dork so sue me). Like most semi-normal people, I love parks. No matter how you're feeling, they are a wonderful refuge from the vagaries of life. Every time I've visited a park in NYC, I've always felt better leaving than when I entered it. Parks are the heart of this city, the yings to this cosmopolitan wonders' many yangs.

There are over 1700 parks, playgrounds, pools, and recreation centers serving the 8.3 millions people who live here. But there are two parks in particular that are the big dogs in the park pound: Manhattan's Central Park vs. Brooklyn's Prospect Park. Both were designed by Frederick Olmstead and Calvert Vaux, both are huge, gorgeous, perfectly landscaped, and incredibly popular. Because of them, the cost of living even within a mile of them costs a fortune. They are the masterpieces of the New York City park system, the top of an amazing heap.

So which park is better? That is a question that is explored in today's Times where a resident of Brooklyn and a resident of Manhattan engaged in a "smack-down" of sorts, each trying to prove that their respective parks (Prospect vs. Central) is the better one. Reading these exchanges, there are some interesting points made about each but, ultimately, it is an exercise in futility, pure mental masturbation -- neither park "wins" this rather silly debate.

And why does it need to be a debate at all? This is what drives me crazy about today's media -- everything is always a contest, everything is always a divide and conquer, mine is better than yours, playing-for-keeps battle. It's stupid. Instead of forming consensus, it's always about trying to prove some point. It's totally unproductive.

The nub of this debate is that Central Park is the tourist park of NYC while Prospect Park is the park of "real" New Yorkers. Central Park has all the culture while Prospect Park has all the fun. One park is pretentious while the other park is somehow genuine. But I think this misses the greater point.

The way I see it -- and I don't see it as one park being "better" than the other -- is that Central Park is the place that shows New York as the great international, cultural city that it is while Prospect Park shows New York as the great place for people to come together. Central Park is the park of the popular NYC imagination while Prospect Park is the park of the great NYC heart. Both are wonderful, both serve a purpose, and both should be embraced -- by New Yorkers and visitors a like.

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