Bryant Park is a public space located in New York City, sharing the same chunk of real estate as the New York Public Library's Humanities and Social Sciences Library; it stretches between 40th and 42nd Streets and between 6th and 7th Avenue in Manhattan.

The Past

The land occupied by Bryant Park today has been owned by the city since Governor Thomas Dongan claimed it in 1686. Originally situated well above the settled area of New York, it was absorbed by the growing city in the 1840s. The Croton Distribution Reservoir was constructed next to it in 1839, and the land was converted from a disused potter's field into a park named Reservoir Square. For the 1853 Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations (a sort of prototypical World's Fair), a structure called the Crystal Palace was built on the site; this building was hired out for general use after the fair was over until it burned down in 1858.

Bryant Park received its current name in 1884, when it was named in honor of the late poet William Cullen Bryant. At about the same time, the old reservoir was demolished and replaced with the NYPL building. It was a time of great transformations for the city- transformations that had already cast their shadow over the park both literally and figuratively. An elevated subway track had been built running down 6th Avenue in 1878, and would remain there until it was replaced with a more modern one in 1938. When that happened, the park was used as a utility area by construction workers- but it had already fallen into disrepair.

Enter Robert Moses, emperor of Depression-era New York City civil engineering. He held a competition for redesign proposals, which was won by architect Lusby Simpson. Simpson's submitted design, in the French Classical tradition, consisted of a raised dais merging with the terrace behind the NYPL, accessible by steps from 6th Avenue and bordered by trees and paved walkways, all surrounding a square lawn with a fountain at the west end.

The Present

The park was designated a Scenic Landmark in 1974, but it had once again suffered from neglect, ending up in a similar place to Washington Square Park to the south. Then, in 1980, it caught the attention of the brothers Rockefeller; they created a task force called the Bryant Park Restoration Corporation which began experimenting with various plans to force out the baddies and make the park profitable and self-sustaining. By 1987, regular maintenance and public events had dropped crime in the park by 92%. In 1988, the city approved a BPRC plan to further improve the park's layout and make more extensive changes, including the construction of a restaurant and food kiosks. The work was completed in 1992, leaving the park as a nice break from endless office towers just to the east of Times Square.

Today, Bryant Park still flourishes among the skyscrapers. The park is dotted with monuments to such figures as William Cullen Bryant (of course), Benito Juarez, and Gertrude Stein. Glancing through the online calendar reveals the numerous public events the park still plays host to, ranging from yoga classes to book readings to concerts to movie screenings. Adding icing to the cake is a free wireless hotspot maintained by the BPRC- this node was written on location in the park itself.

Bryant Park continues to be a feather in the city's cap and an oasis of landscaping and nature nestled among the skyscrapers, just like its big brother a mile to the north.

Sources:
http://www.bryantpark.org
Looking around (see the bit about the wireless hotspot).

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