An airport in Central Park? Not until they spell Olmsted’s name right.

July 22, 2009

City blogs are abuzz about this website that’s showcasing one foundation’s proposal to turn Manhattan’s verdant gem (which they call “New York City’s largest remaining undeveloped parcel of land”) into…

…an airport!

I was sent the site by a friend, and for a few gullible moments, before Google and some reputable blogs proved me otherwise, I was at once terrified and outraged, almost to the point of tears.

Rest assured, the site’s believed to be a fake, as is the foundation, called “The Manhattan Airport Foundation,” which, among other giveaway clues, has its offices at 233 Broadway, on the 58th floor of a building that has only 57.

What was especially clever of “The Manhattan Airport Foundation” is their inclusion of an “interview” with Dr. Harriet Worth, who claims to be the 5th generation grand-niece of Frederick Law Olmsted himself, and is supposedly visiting-chair of the Environmental Studies Graduate Department at HKI (what’s HKI?  Hong Kong Institute?  It’s unclear.).

The article is titled “What Would Olmstead [sic] Do?  Ancestor Sheds Some Light.”  “Worth” for the most part begins with a few accurate snippets about her great uncle x5’s urban theories:

“Part of the reason Olmsted is regarded as a visionary is that he was a master of illusion. His outdoor spaces seem to exist so naturally as to give the impression of predating the surrounding environs. Of course those familiar with his designs know each is a highly-curated, carefully-designed sleight of hand. The rock outcroppings, the reservoir, all of it man-made.”

Of course the reservoir was man-made.  It’s a reservoir.  Anyway, let’s not get finicky.

She goes on, however, to insist that green space in Manhattan, what with High Line park and all those “urban greenways” has become overly abundant, and now should be trumped by “improved access to transportation, creation of jobs for our skilled workforce, and the need to address myriad environmental wrongdoings.”

What would Olmsted say about the Manhattan Airport?  Here’s the best part:

“Olmsted was no sentimentalist. He was nothing if not a pragmatist. For him Manhattan Airport would be that all-so-rare second chance to finally realize his original vision and intent…  He would see this project as a bold opportunity to rise above the dated 19th century concept of catharsis-via-nature: The chance to finally realize his goal of an unparalleled urban oasis fostering the type of transformative experience that only a mixed-use international transportation hub can provide.”

Besides the fact that one of Olmsted’s firmest beliefs lay in the fact that catharsis-via-nature is a timeless concept, his biggest pet peeve was with people who viewed park land as “undeveloped space.”  Clever interview, but I like to think the idea would give him hives, like it did me.

In any case, we thought we’d pinned down every last descendant of FLO’s.  Maybe we missed this one, being that she’s on the other side of the world.  We’ll ask around.  Funny, though, Google “Dr. Harriet Worth,” and you’ll be directed to Harriet Worth’s IMBD page, where you’ll learn that she was second assistant director of the 2008 movie “Doomsday.”  Appropriate.


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