In the early 1900s, Bryant Park slowly deteriorated. Poor design made it an unappealing public gathering place. Stairs, walls and overgrown greenery sectioned off the space into small isolated pockets and prevented positive community interaction.
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Despite attempts to redesign the space in the mid-1900s, the forbidding, divided space continued to be a gathering place for prostitutes and drug addicts. By the 1970s, the park became so plagued with criminal activity that police barricaded the park nightly after dark.
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In 1979, the city demolished Bryant Park to build an underground storage facility for the New York Public Library. From 1979-1992, the park was redesigned and rebuilt as a green roof for the new facility.
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The restoration resurrected Bryant Park as a vibrant social space. Its open layout, visual accessibility, and formal programming now make it a popular gathering place among city residents and tourists.
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The brilliance of the new design lies in its connectivity and free movement. By removing visually invasive iron fences and shrubbery, the park demonstrates enhanced safety and accessibility. Loose chairs, concessions, and public restrooms scattered around the area foster informal social interaction and mobility.
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Large trees and two 300-foot decorative planters frame the park. Plant selection was critical—these trees add seasonal coloration while still allowing sightlines into the park from city sidewalks. The large interior lawn brings city dwellers together for programmed events such as concerts, fashion shows, and the Barnum & Bailey Circus.
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During the design process, the designers salvaged materials such as statues, lighting fixtures, and stone paving. Their inclusion adds historical significance to the site and prevented them from being sent to landfills.
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Bryant Park is also a model of economic sustainability. The public park is completely financed and managed by a not-for-profit, private company that draws funding from the park’s kiosks, local merchants, and personal donations. The staff provides maintenance, security, and event programming—all at no cost to the city.
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