Each Monday in June, July, and August Bryant Park in New York, plays host to the HBO Summer Film Festival. To orient you, Bryant Park is located adjacent to the New York Public Library on 42nd Street and 6th Avenue. It is flanked to the north and south by flower beds and surrounded by promenades. The heart of the park is the 1.5 acre expanse of rye/fescue/bluegrass lawn.
During the Summer Film Festival the lawn is closed until 5:00 pm. Just as the office workers in the area are vacating the park to head back to work the soon-to-be movie viewers start to gather. Five o’clock strikes, the ropes are withdrawn, and the gathering turns into a blanket wielding flood of humanity. The video above documenting this tsunami was taken by a colleague of mine from the windows of our 42nd Street office that look onto the park.
Free movies alone do not seem like motivation enough to engage in such behavior. Similar events are held in parks all over the Twin Cities in the summer, and I can’t imagine that the Lake Harriet Bandshell gets bombarded in the same manner as the Bryant Park lawn does. Perhaps this is due to the aggressive nature of New Yorkers and the accommodating nature of Minnesotans (recently one of my co-workers in New York asked me why everyone they knew from Minnesota was so nice). Instead, I’m certain it’s due to the supply and demand of open green space in each city.
The Twin Cities are blessed with an abundance of green space, and New York City pines for it. New Yorkers fiend for open space like the drug addicts that frequented Bryant Park in the 1970’s used to fiend for their narcotic fix. Sure New York City has a few gems like Central Park, Madison Square Park, and the aforementioned Bryant Park, but they lack something and this lacking makes them less desirable than a place like Lake Calhoun or Minnehaha Falls. You never feel like you have left the city when you are in a park in New York City. The parks in New York are surrounded by such urban density that it’s impossible to make cognizant the fact that you have left the city behind and are relaxing in a natural environment. The threshold between urbanity and open space is entirely too abrupt. One moves from urban density to urban sparsity simply by crossing the street. Decreasing the density of the blocks immediately surrounding the parks during the planning process would have been of immeasurable benefit to the city. The parks in New York are not really the urban oases they attempt to be because they don’t allow for the mental escape factor. You are in a park, in the city. You have not escaped into nature.