A Central Park of Art, Beetles and Cars. Also: The First Parks Budget Hearings

by Anne Schwartz, February 1, 2002


"Central Park has had a long history of displaying public art on both a permanent and temporary basis," said Rick Lepkowski, spokesman for the Central Park Conservancy, the nonprofit organization that manages the park. There are traditional statues like the Angel of the Waters at Bethesda Fountain, the only sculpture commissioned during the original design of Central Park. The Public Art Fund sponsors rotating exhibits of contemporary sculpture at the Doris C. Freedman Plaza on Fifth Avenue at 60th Street, and temporary individual pieces have been displayed occasionally in other parts of the park.

Although the exhibition in Central Park was arranged before Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg took office, it could be a harbinger of more ambitious public art to come during his administration. At the press conference announcing the opening of the Whitney Biennial in Central Park, Mayor Bloomberg indicated that he would be open to reconsidering a proposal made in 1981 by the artist Christo and his wife Jeanne-Claude for a work covering the entire landscape of Central Park. At the time, the Parks department rejected the installation, called "The Gates," partly because of the crowds it would draw. The concept, which can be viewed on a web site devoted to the artists, involves framing the park's pathways with a series of fifteen-foot-high metal gates. Suspended from each gate would be a free-hanging, golden-colored woven panel meant to wave in the wind toward the next gate. Mayor Bloomberg, who was a board member of the Central Park Conservancy at the time, had argued strongly in favor of the Christo project.


The one- to one-and-a-half-inch beetle is shiny black with white spots, and long, black-and-white banded antennae. It chews depressions in the bark of trees to lay its eggs. Once hatched, the larvae tunnel into a tree's interior to feed, killing the tree. Characteristic signs of the beetle are pencil- or dime-sized holes in upper tree trunks; piles of sawdust at the base of the tree or where branches meet the trunk; and dark stains from sap seeping out of the holes. The insect has a preference for maples, but will lay its eggs in many other types of hardwood trees. To report beetle sightings, call 1-877-stop-alb. For more information, check the USDA web site.


While the city is adding art to Central Park, some people would like to see another element subtracted: the automobile. Car-Free Central Park, a campaign of Transportation Alternatives, an advocate for pedestrians and cyclists, is calling for a ban on car traffic on the park's loop drive. (This would not affect the four sunken east-west transverse roads, which Olmsted and Vaux designed to minimize the impact of traffic.) The group's immediate goal is a three-month summer moratorium, to see how traffic patterns and park use would be affected. The new Speaker of the City Council, Gifford Miller, is on record as supporting the eviction of cars from Central Park, but Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said, "not in your or my lifetime." Campaign leaders aim to gather 100,000 signatures in a petition drive, which they hope will convince the mayor to change his mind.


The hearing was the first held by the newly created stand-alone council committee on parks and recreation. Committee chairman Joseph Addabbo, Jr., led off the session saying that this "affects real people," and that the loss of funding would have an impact on the safety and condition of the parks. "If you want to see a community go down the tubes," he said, "just neglect the parks."

Noting the seriousness of the city's current deficit, the new parks commissioner, Adrian Benepe, told the committee, "It is not enough to say you must increase the budget of an agency without identifying where it will come from." Later testimony from representatives of civic and park groups called for restoring the money the mayor proposed to cut from the parks budget. Among those speaking was former parks commissioner Henry Stern. He said the city should give the revenue from park concessions to the parks budget instead of the city's general fund, reminding the committee that most council members and the mayor had promised to do this during the election.