photo by flickr user wallyg
Back in the days in the Wild Wild East of private land ownership and limited land-use restrictions, parks were actually created by market forces. The same forces that created and preserved Gramercy Park could easily be used to preserve Historic Landmarks and low density “neighborhood character”.
NY Times – The Guardian of Gramercy Park
Indeed, while a key to Gramercy Park — or, more precisely, an address that entitles one to such a key — is among the most coveted items of New York real estate, under Ms. Harrison’s stewardship, the park has become perhaps the least-used patch of open space in the city. Most days, in nice weather, one would be hard-pressed to find more than a handful of people in the park at once, and few linger.
Gramercy is one of two private parks in New York City (the other, in Queens, is Sunnyside Gardens Park), and a key is required not only to enter, but to leave through a gate in its wraparound wrought-iron fence.
Each of the 63 lots on which the current 39 buildings sit gets two keys, which residents (and guests at the Gramercy Park Hotel) may borrow from their doormen. In addition, residents of those buildings — but only those — may purchase keys for $350 per year; the keys are all but impossible to copy and cost $1,000 to replace.
About 400 people now have keys, but many of them apparently sit unused in junk drawers in the grand foyers in the apartments overlooking the park. One sunny morning last week, as Ms. Harrison chatted with the Rev. Thomas F. Pike, rector of Calvary-St. George’s Church, there were three others in the park: a woman checking her BlackBerry, a custodial worker and a jogger. On a Saturday morning three days later, about two dozen people could be spotted in the park over the course of four hours, and never more than six or eight at a time.
Of course, the park is privately owned land, and the owners have the right to exclude people from using it just as we all have the right to exclude people from our own homes. And they exclude people at their own expense. Imagine how much money the owners would reap if they were to sell the land to a developer to build luxury towers on that precious land…
But, it’s funny how at first it almost feels wrong that a park is kept from public use. It shows us how much we are conditioned to think parks are public goods, and couldn’t effectively be provided by the public sector.