leisure 06.21.04

Madison Square Park

One of the city's success stories of the past few years is the transformation of Madison Square Park from a dismal 6.2 acres into a joyous cynosure — an object lesson about what can emerge from passionate commitment, smart planning, and money well spent. In short, a gift to New York: a great park.

The Madison Square Park Conservancy spearheaded the fundraising ($6 million) to renovate. Corporations around the park and business leaders like Danny Meyer have been instrumental in effecting the changes. But what may be most astonishing, if you haven't strolled through the park lately, is the amount of planting that has taken place and which has drenched the park in shades of holly, sage, viridian, emerald, lime, olive, and jade.

Several thousand new plants will do that, especially if they're selected by, and under the watch of, esteemed landscaper designer Lynden Miller, who brought the Conservatory Garden in Central Park back to full glory, and given the Robert J. Wagner, Jr. Park in Battery City such needed life.

In addition to Ms. Miller's artistry, Madison Square Park, in its compact way, has a full-range of permanent attractions and smart programming. There's a playground, a dog run, art installations (this year, sculpture by Mark Di Suvero), a fountain, several monuments, and an interesting history. Madison Square Kids is twice-weekly summer entertainment (schedule) and Madison Square Music books performers Wednesday nights at 7pm for free concerts on the oval (schedule). A new kiosk, beautifully designed by SITE Environmental Design, opens July 1. Even this new building is already heavily thatched in green.

Sitting on a bench on the park's south side and facing north, you get a real money shot of the Empire State Building, wreathed in tree branches. On the north side, there's a bench with a plaque on it that has a quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupery: "One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes." We know what he meant, but we'd make the case that what Madison Square Park now gives to the eyes is deeply essential. It is a park that, itself restored, is now a restorative; a few acres that have become an act of grace.

We're often critical of the critics, but we found A. O. Scott's review in the Times of Spielberg's "The Terminal" so wide-ranging and insightful, that we call it to your attention. It isn't a complete rave by any means, but his affection for the film, despite its flaws, is clear. We wrote, a couple of months back, that the best critics have always been generous and sharp. This is a prime example.

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