Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Gardens of New York

Above: while looking at a new terrace in SoHo, I saw this one below. I'd like to have dinner out there.

Windowboxes: points of light. [Oh, Mr Auden. It is time to read everything again]

Below: the super-median on West Houston is super weedy. These are the souped-up median plantings west of Broadway, on Houston. The earth- and roadworks took years and involved building raised concrete beds and expensive, protective iron chains and benches at the cross walks. This is what is slated to happen on East Houston. In terms of upkeep and plantings, our median looks much better.

But this thistle and its brethren made me think about my tax dollars. So much money to build and plant. The weeds are as high as an elephant's eye. No budget for upkeep...So where do my NY tax dollars go? I do not mind being taxed. I mean, it would be nice to keep all that money, but I understand why it is necessary. I just would be fascinated (and appalled, or may even awed) to see the path of every dollar. If they had coloured strings attached as they flew about the state, where would most of them land up?

Below: the weirdness. Two doors down from my house. It is being renovated by my taciturn, building-owning, ancient neighbour.

And this is his front patch next door.

Once, in a rainstorm, I begged to be allowed to climb through his building's trapdoor in its roof to access our roof, to climb down onto my terrace, because I'd locked myself out (my sliding door was open to the terrace, though!). I was wearing a little black dress and sandals. Can't remember why. Anyway, he let me in, and I found my way out and over and in. And immediately went back next door with a pot of homemade jam to say thank you. He waved me and it crossly away. He ignores greetings, but I've heard him speak to workmen. Mystery. Maybe Woman = Devil? In a wet, black dress?


  1. Love the second picture!

    Trajectory of your tax dollar: your bank account - a cheque - USPS corridors - the bureaucratic ether - some theoretical budget bucket - a tangent - la-la land - a deep official pocket.

  2. I find the roof terraces fascinating and the window boxes leave no excuse for no room for a garden. I think I would steer well clear of your neighbour! x

  3. Sorry, but this is going to be a rant. Please feel free to delete.

    Regarding poor upkeep of public planted areas, it's helpful to keep in mind that construction and new landscaping are almost always funded by capital (borrowed) money and aggressively supported by the construction, financial and real estate industries. By law, maintenance cannot be funded by capital money, so any activity that does not enrich stockholders and puts money in the pocket of the middle class is not encouraged. Plus, as a landscape professional, you know you cannot expect competent garden maintenance from untrained minimal-wage workers, yet the big money who run things think that public gardens and parks should get nothing more. The banker's model is that it is good to pay huge sums to build something, let it deteriorate into a slum, and then rebuild it again. That way, the right people get most of the money.

    But the weedy median you saw is not funded by a BID or adopted by a company like yours. Certain parks and plantings are extremely well tended in NYC these days because rich people and corporations pay for deluxe upkeep. Because these people are so influential, these places also get more than their fair share of tax dollars and support from public agencies. Being non-profit, contributions to these parks reduce tax income to the city's general fund, thus the budgets for city parks continue to shrink. Clever racket, no? The park's commissioner certainly has no problem with it. I mean why should a rich person or corporation throw their tax money away on parks they will never see or use? Why should they be brought down to the level of the average New Yorker when they deserve and can get so much more?

    On the other hand, the parks and plantings that most average tax-paying NY'ers use do not exist in wealthy enclaves. For these places, the politicians and corporations (the same people) have trained us to expect less and pay more for it. How many times have you heard our slumlord mayor whine that we "just can't afford..." so many basic quality of life things? Yet, the city has never been richer and design for public/private places like the High Line has never been more dazzling, more impractical, more compulsively trendy and expensive to maintain. Is the High Line a park or a status symbol? Let's just say it's not bad for real estate and retail in MePa.

    I think the concept of citizenship and civic pride is basically dead in NYC culture. We've been encouraged and indulged to think of ourselves as consumers, that urban problems are just unsolvable, and we should hunker down and feather our own nests. NYC is nothing if not a city of very fine nests, and sometimes a nest encompasses a neighborhood.

    This is emphatically not true of the rest of this country. The difference in culture and attitude in a city like Chicago is palpable. New York consistently has the lowest percentage of its budget devoted to parks, when compared with almost all other cities in the US. In spite of the mayoral BS about the importance of "green spaces", there is absolutely no intention of changing this outrageous state of affairs. The elite are just fine with this.

    I know this is just about weeds, but weeds can tell you a lot about the place where you live.

  4. Heheheh Beence

    Hi Louise!

    Anonymous - no need to delete. Food for thought, and some good info. But possibly better digested with a name attached, not in anonymity. I agree that there is a lot of money here, some of which should go into our parks.

    I also like the High Line, a lot.

    "I think the concept of citizenship and civic pride is basically dead in NYC culture. We've been encouraged and indulged to think of ourselves as consumers, that urban problems are just unsolvable, and we should hunker down and feather our own nests."

    Well, as a New Yorker, who saw some weeds, got an idea, and whose whose company was civic minded enough to plant a city median, I learned that civic pride starts with each of us. There is absolutely nothing stopping us from weeding our own medians. Civic pride is taught by example.

    So let's tackle the mayor next?

  5. The roof terrace garden and the window box pictures are great! Not something I see everyday in the country.


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