While you were working, driving, lounging or whatever else Thursday afternoon, the sanctity of your parks was preserved.
A commercial threat was turned aside, an attack on our serenity was rebuffed, Corporate America was denied access to perhaps our last public oasis. The ghost of Frederick Law Olmsted is breathing a sigh of relief. He – and all of us – owe a debt to the city’s preservation board.
As the rest of us went about our business, our right to bike, jog, picnic, daydream, sunbathe and otherwise escape the thump and clang of daily life in our parks – without corporate intrusion – was preserved.
It may not rank, on the civic scale, with a Super Bowl win or the coming of a Fortune 500 company. But – like sunsets or a day at the beach – it’s something you can’t put a price on.
In a head-scratching move, Olmsted Parks Conservancy officials wanted to post corporate sponsorship banners in the parks. If anyone should know that the ads contradict all that Olmsted – America’s iconic landscape architect – stood for, it should be the guardians of his legacy. Perhaps Thomas Herrera-Mishler, president of the nonprofit conservancy, was blinded by fund-raising pressures into offering lightpost banners as a corporate lure.
Olmsted envisioned parks as urban refuges offering “a poetic and tranquilizing influence on people ... through a contemplation of natural scenery.” Somehow, I don’t think that view includes signs brought to you by corporate behemoths, however worthy their support.
“The viewscape is the coin of the realm for Olmsted,” said Terry Robinson of the preservation board. “When you get into advertising and commercialization, you’re opening the genie’s bottle.”
What’s next? Billboards at Hoyt Lake? Neon signs on the banks of Cazenovia Creek? Ads for concrete repair at MLK Park’s splash pad? While we’re at it, we might as well put a real casino in Marcy Casino and a This Space for Rent sign at the base of Delaware Park’s great white oak.
“It’s a slippery slope,” noted the preservation board’s Dick Lippes. The proposal was first beaten up, then voted down, by the nine-member board. At the root, however, is a real need.
“We’re trying to expand the donor pool,” Herrera-Mishler told me. “We need to attract more support.”
The conservancy and its volunteer army do good work. Herrera-Mishler faces the annual headache of raising half of a $3.6 million budget. The corporate banner idea carried the scent of desperation – a compromising of Olmsted’s pristine vision in the service of a scarce-dollars reality.
The six-park Olmsted system (Delaware, Cazenovia, MLK, Riverside, South, Front) lost a hefty $600,000 in public funding when the city took back its parks from the county four years ago. The county – given the Olmsted parks’ regional appeal – should pony up the 600 grand, or the city should funnel into the parks some of that budget surplus Mayor Byron Brown brags about.
It would, among other things, spare Herrera-Mishler the corporate genuflections that have Olmsted spinning in his grave. And it would preserve the view for the rest of us.