Saturday, November 22, 2008

Lessons Learned From New York's Parks

My first job offer came from Barnes & Noble in New York, but I decided at the time I didn't feel comfortable living there. Since then, I have said I love visiting the Big Apple, but I could never live there. It's just too big. To be sure, attending the Big East Tournament in March is on my list of things to do in the near term. Again, another visit.

I traveled to New York late on Thursday for a meeting early Friday, and I had lunch on Friday with my good friend Jason Joly (who I have known since the first days at NFA in 1990). Jason's doing great, and it was great he had time for lunch. It allowed me to take a look at one of Manhattan's parks, Madison Square Garden Park at 5th and Broadway.

The use of Boston's parks is a big debate right now near my neighborhood. The Boston Common is a wonderful park and is used significantly. Just this week City and local officials opened the Frog Pond skating rink, which is open for business through the winter. Arriving home last night, I saw many customers already taking advantage. It helps that it's freezing outside, putting people in the mood.

For my Boston City Councilor, Mike Ross, who is soon to be council president, the use of the Common is a top issue. Greenspace rose on the list over the past two years for a few reasons, among them are the increase in drug use in the Common and the ongoing discussions about an off-leash dog run in the park.

In a recent post on Boston Magazine, Councilor Ross lists among his recommendations opening a restaurant in the Common, similar to those they have in New York City.

Yesterday, Jason mentioned one of the restaurants Mike Ross cited, "The Shake Shack." I jumped at the chance.

The Shake Shack is cool. There's no outside seating, but there's always a line. The menu isn't very long and is dominated by a few different hamburger options. I ordered a double stack and a chocolate shake; Jason a double stack and fries. We brought the food back to his office to eat.

The Shake Shack brought a cosmopolitan element to the park, and a large amount of commercial traffic. The establishment appeared to be well kept. I must say that without the shack, I am not sure why someone would go to Madison Square Park. It's not big enough for a playground or any space to throw a football (Not that those are the only reasons to go to a park, of course).

While I have not thought about it in depth, I can't see why I would be opposed to a commercial establishment on the Common here in Boston, based on my experience visiting the Shack. The business on the Common would have an incentive to maintain its space and help deter unbecoming activity around the eatery. Also, commercial foot traffic on the Common is a good thing. It gives the area energy, without over populating the Common (such as during big events) in a way that damages the grounds.

To be sure, a commercial establishment is not a panacea. As I know well from my volunteer efforts on the Beacon Hill trash committee, retail food establishments create a tremendous amount of debris and waste. There's the question of how the eatery would deter crime late at night when it's closed.

Still, I think the idea has a lot of promise. I would imagine the eatery would be interested in helping with area police efforts-- and if not it should be encouraged to contribute in any way it can. And trash issues can be mediated by requiring trash cans, trash can pick-ups and foot patrols (the eatery should pay). And I am aware of many neighbors who would be more than willing to make sure the restaurant holds up its end of the bargain.

In short, I think Mike Ross is on to something. The major question, however, will be a decision on what eatery is appropriate. Is the hamburger spot, like the Shake Shack, the best option? Or should we go with something more elegant like the Tavern on the Green restaurant or the infamous "Boat House" made famous most recently by the movie "27 Dresses" (both of which are in NYC's Central Park)?

All I can say is my double stack yesterday was quite tasty. And that's in a city that has a trans-fat ban.

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