Private Oasis in Manhattan
by Gregory Bresiger
A small park in the middle of Manhattan stands out at first sight.
It appears to be cleaner. No matter the time of day one goes for a stroll there, one always seems to come across people cleaning up the place. There are restaurants and sandwich shops doing a brisk business in this park, which is behind the New York Public Library. This little place seems to merit more police than any other park. The police also seem to be vigilant. No one is allowed to lay over the steps. There is no harassment of parkgoers.
Yet, despite its tranquility, there appears to be much more going on than in the average park. The park has regular concerts. A merry-go-round delights children. There are restaurants and other commercial establishments at both ends of the park. One thinks, this must be the best city park in existence.
This is Bryant Park, which, although still owned by the city, is managed, policed and run by a private corporation, one of the largest experiments of its kind in the nation. This corporation saved this historic park from the depths of degradation. It brought in commerce, which was happy to pay large rents to the corporation because the park has become an urban oasis.
And, thanks to these businesses, the corporation was able to generate healthy revenues. This money no longer goes into a giant city pot, where much of it would disappear, often misappropriated for crazy projects or sometimes stolen. Under the previous system of city operation, most of the money never would come back to the park. It has been quite a trek for those in the private sector who set out to save this historic park.
Just a few years ago, Bryant Park was known by most New Yorkers as a dive. This relatively small park, in the middle of one of the most congested areas in the world, was once a notoriously dangerous place. It was famous for its lunchtime drug addicts and dealers who seemed to own this egregious city park. Unless one was a mugger, drug dealer or drug addict, there was usually no reason to go into the park.
The grim joke among New Yorkers was that the police only went into the park after someone was murdered to identify the victim, then they quickly departed. Now police in the park never depart. That's because Bryant Park has its own police force, which is a private force.