President’s Letter: September 2019

September 27, 2019

I have been walking across town a lot these days to and from BQE Expert Panel meetings. Once a week around lunchtime, I head from my office to the meeting at 6th Avenue and 40th Street. I could take any one of a number of routes, but I have fallen into the habit of walking over to Fifth Avenue, down to 42nd Street, cutting along the north face of the Public Library through Bryant Park and out onto 6th Avenue. This pattern has developed because I am following the sun and can’t resist getting a little park hit too!

There is nothing better to distract me from whatever problem I am churning over then a quick bit of people watching. And the people watching is great…

Bryant Park
Bryant Park. Photo: John Gillespie, Flickr.

Often when I made my return journey through Bryant Park, a small group of women (and occasionally a man) are gathered around a couple of tables for afternoon tea. They are deep in discussion around tables that are decked out with teapots and lovely china teacups, of the kind your grandmother kept in the breakfront with the Thanksgiving dishes. Sometimes, like me, they seek the sun and are setup out in the direct light near the beautiful stone parapet. And sometimes they are tucked back on the other side of the path and under the dappled light of the park’s fabulous old Linden trees.

I always want to take their picture and ask what started this custom, but I have never worked up my courage, nor am I able to overcome my guilt about needing to hurry right back to the office. So I don’t, but as I pass by I am relishing their moment of repose, as though it were mine.

Parks draw us in because they are green and soft compared to most of the New York environment. But a lot of research says that is only part of it. My walk is as much about the light on the street as it is Bryant Park. I tend NOT to walk down Madison Avenue because it is dark, shadowed by tall towers and so narrow that it doesn’t provide much relief. Even on a sunny day, it is a gloomy canyon.

We are drawn to sunlight because we are animals who need Vitamin D. Our conscious brains may not be thinking it but our biological systems are! In 1916 the New York City Zoning Resolution was created to respond directly to concerns about the impacts of the built environment on light and air in the public realm. But here we are, 103 years later, with almost no safeguards or protections for those resources.

That irony is not one we should be willing to tolerate. Come join us for the 2019 Summit to hear more about the case for protecting light in the public realm. Your physical and mental health, the city’s ability to achieve its renewable energy goals, and lots more may depend on a new approach to protecting this most basic of human needs: access to light. See you on October 25th!

Elizabeth's signature

Elizabeth Goldstein
The Municipal Art Society of New York