Should all parks be public? A look at the MoMA Sculpture Garden in New York

Sculpture Garden photo
CC BY 2.0 La Citta Vita

A lot of people are upset at the proposed destruction of the Folk Art Museum in New York for yet another expansion of the Museum of Modern Art. One if the sops that the MoMA is throwing to pacify the critics is the promise to open the wonderful sculpture garden to the public; it is now separated by that eighteen foot high white wall between it and 54th street.

There are a lot of mixed emotions about this. It's one of my favourite spots in Manhattan, a place that is quiet and serene, a private secret garden. I worry that it will become like the High Line, which reminds me of the old Yogi Berra aphorism, "nobody goes there anymore, it's too crowded."

Lloyd Alter/ High Line on a lovely May afternoon/CC BY 2.0

Charles Birnbaum of the Cultural Landscape Foundation worries too.

If MoMA throws open its garden, what could happen? How do stewards of cultural landscapes, whether an individual site (like the garden), a larger site (like New York’s High Line), or a much, much large site (like the City of Savannah), manage the visitor experience, which ranges from restorative contemplation to active stimulation?

He says of the High Line: "Maybe it’s time for some form of congestion pricing or HOV (High Occupancy Visitor) lanes."

Architect Philip Johnson was asked:

“Is [the garden] at its best when there are very few people in the garden or when there are a lot?” Johnson replied: “It's better to have a few, of course, because then you get the feeling of the space. But it can take solid crowds.” That takes us back to how we measure success in terms of the visitor experience. Johnson himself said: "You need a place to relax after looking at the artwork. You're so relieved that there is no painting to focus on.”

It is such a difficult question for a TreeHugger urbanist. We alway say that people can live in smaller spaces in places like New York because the city (and its parks) are your living room. Shouldn't every park be open to the public? Read the whole article: Is the MoMA Sculpture Garden Doomed?

I don't know about this one. Quick poll:


Tags: New York City | Urban Life | Urban Planning