We all know New York City was just the worst place ever in the 1980s, right? Living here was actually like living in a literal haunted house. But did you know that New York in the 80s was also living under the brutal reign of an eternal winter? Were you aware that New York in the 80s was more akin to the barren lands which lay Beyond the Wall than the humid continental (aka steamy summers, frigid winters) one it currently has? I wasn’t! Which is strange, because I lived here in the 80s. But apparently, I must have blocked out those never-ending gray skies and bare-limbed trees, because according to some photos on Gothamist of Central Park in the 80s, New York was uniformly gray and devoid of greenery back then. Who knew?
In a Gothamist post titled “Here’s What Central Park Looked Like in the 80s,” photos that come courtesy of the Central Park Conservancy highlight the difference between how the park looked in the 80s and how it looks in 2015. And while there are definite differences in terms of things like the ubiquity of graffiti and the disrepair of some of the park’s buildings, the main difference between the park of thirty years ago and that of today is that, back in the 80s, the trees had no leaves! No, really! In what has to be the lamest attempt at shocking before-and-after photos other than, like, those miracle weight loss ads you see on the subway, the Central Park Conservancy is trying to juxtapose photos that have such wildly different lighting and were so clearly taken during entirely different seasons that it defeats the whole purpose of what it is that it intended to do, i.e. highlight all the great work it’s done over the years. And it has done great work! It has repaired structural damage throughout the park, worked to eradicate graffiti, and reseeded huge swathes of the park’s grassy areas that were once just little more than expanses of dirt.
Some would argue that the Conservancy has done all this good work at a price, and that the reason the grass is greener now is in part because the Park is no longer a gathering place for protests and is also frequently fenced off to prevent people from actually utilizing the spots like the Great Lawn as, you know, a real lawn, but I’m not one of those people. I think that the Conservancy has done a phenomenal job at restoring a public space so that it can serve the public better than it used to, and I think that deserves to be celebrated. The Conservancy, after all, isn’t just responsible for taking care of the tourist-clogged spots below 79th street, it also has assiduously tended to the far reaches of the Park that were once all but ignored and left in utter disrepair. So, yes, the changes should definitely be lauded. I just don’t think that said celebration should come at the expense of portraying the New York City of the 80s as a frigid, desolate landscape, in which there was little to no beauty—and certainly no daffodils—to support that narrative. The Conservancy can do better than portray the Park as being little more than a Dr. Zizmor banner ad, after all. It really can.
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