One of the first interviews I conducted when I began working as an editor for Convene four years ago was with Fred Kent, founder of the Project for Public Spaces in New York City, and one of the liveliest minds behind the revitalization of New York’s Bryant Park.
I vividly recalled Kent telling me about the bad old days last week, as I walked down Sixth Avenue and spotted a photo exhibit celebrating the 20th anniversary of the park’s rebirth installed along the fence. A photograph of a graffiti-covered fountain (that’s it, above) was hanging not far from where the now-sparkling fountain was burbling.
If the restoration of the beautiful old fountain was striking, the change in the environment since the photograph was taken in 1983 was breathtaking.
At the park’s low point, it was mostly deserted except for drug dealers, even during the day. Last week, children shrieked as they darted across the sunlight-dappled plaza. Relaxed knots of visitors read, talked, or just watched the world go by. You could buy a sandwich or a beer, lay on the grass, borrow a book, play ping pong, or ride the carousel.
Bryant Park seems like kind of a miracle, but it is one that is being enacted around the country, as cities invest in making their towns more walkable.
When we wrote a story earlier this year about walkability and meetings, our problem wasn’t finding good examples, it was figuring out how to find space to include as many as possible.
In the last four years, I’ve continued to check back in on the PPS website, as a place to find unvarnished praise as well as criticism of public spaces, including convention centers and city centers. And I’ve never forgotten Kent’s assertion that the ultimate goal of place-making —his word for improving public spaces — is happiness.
“You know that you are in a really good place if you see a lot of affection,” Kent said. “You see lots of kissing in good places.”