Rodrigo Medellin’s first word was flamingo, but his first love was bats. And on a recent late-summer evening, the 55-year-old led a bat-finding expedition through Central Park as part of a marathon effort to tally as many species as possible in 24 hours.
“You have to think as if you were a bat,” Mr. Medellin said of the event, known as the BioBlitz. “You put your brain into bat mode and just picture where a bat would fly.”
And so Mr. Medellin, a bat scientist at the University of Mexico, along with a contingent of other scientists and bat aficionados, set off deep into the northern section of the park at twilight to position nearly invisible mist nets along the Loch, a ribbon of water that flows from a waterfall near the Glen Span Arch.
Adrian Benepe donned swim trunks for the opening of McCarren Park pool (after the ribbon cutting, he jumped in and swam a lap). High Line co-founder Robert Hammond remembers him in bike shorts during the elevated park’s inaugural weekend. But on the steamy evening when the New York Restoration Project held its annual fund-raising dinner at Gracie Mansion, Mr. Benepe was dressed conventionally in a suit, albeit with a backpack slung somewhat incongruously over one shoulder.
The backpack, like the granola bars that he keeps in his office, suggested a recent or upcoming tromp through some greensward more rugged than Carl Schurz, making it an agreeable accessory for an event aimed at rehabilitating neglected parks. But the former parks commissioner—for that was how people introduced him, despite the fact that he has been working at the Trust for Public Land for the past year—checked the bag at the entrance.
Leaving behind the “best job in the world” at the New York City parks department, where he spent the better part of 40 years and the near entirety of his professional career, has been more difficult. Mr. Benepe no longer presides over the 29,000-acre emerald empire whose transformation from overgrown, shabby and often-frightening urban wilderness into one of the city’s major tourist attractions has paralleled not only New York’s shift from a down-and-out city to an almost terrifyingly prosperous one, but also his own rise through the department’s ranks.
The Eight-Day Week
Waltz under a canopy of wisteria while gazing out at six acres of lush landscapes and blooming flowers—all in Manhattan. The Greensward Circle, the junior committee of the Central Park Conservancy, is hosting its eighth annual summer benefit “Evening in the Garden” with drinks, fancy food and live music by Leroy Justice in the Conservatory Read More
This morning, the Central Park Conservancy announced a new fundraising campaign called “Central Park for Sale.” But by the afternoon, the site had been taken down.
The campaign is supposed to allow anyone to purchase a plot of land on a “virtual Great Lawn.” This virtual Great Lawn has no connection to the real Great Lawn in Central Park, save for the name. It’s just an online social networking game, the Central Park equivalent of Farmville, if you will.
The Eight-Day Week
Prepare the juice cleanse: at the Central Park Conservancy’s annual “Taste of Summer,” dozens of fancy food tables amount to a cavalcade of calories. Gourmet grub is provided by the 21 Club, Armani Ristorante, La Esquina, PJ Clarke’s, Sirio Ristorante, Swifty’s and Tulsi, to name a few. Those with fat wallets and hungry tummies who Read More
Officially, spring begins tomorrow. In actuality, it will be yet another 40-degree day in what now appears to be an endless stream of borderline freezing days. The ongoing chill is enough to sap the energy and optimism from even the most cheerful of hearts. The Observer, whose own heart is not in this category, will almost certainly lose another pair of gloves before the end of the week in an act of forgetfulness/subconscious rebellion against the never-ending winter. If the gray skies and finger-numbing conditions continue, we may well start absentmindedly leaving our coats and sweaters behind on the subway as well.
But perhaps we can all learn a lesson from the Central Park Conservancy, an organization that not only believes the seasons will change someday soon, but started acting on that belief sometime ago: planting, hauling mulch, testing sprinkler heads.
Last month, more than 700 tuxedoed and ball-gowned revelers gathered in the Museum of Natural History’s Milstein Hall of Ocean Life for the annual S.L.E. Lupus Foundation gala. As the attendees feasted on black American caviar, Margaret Dowd, the foundation’s executive director, was marveling at something else: the size of the crowd.
The foundation had not seen so many people at its annual gala since 2007. “It’s been very tough the last few years, and we had to cut expenses drastically,” she said. “In 2009, many of our donors said, ‘Our portfolios were really harmed and we have to cut our donations, but we’ll be back.’ And they did come back. This year has been much, much better.”
The benefit raised $2.5 million—a significant jump from the $2.2 million raised at last year’s. Things have not returned to the 2007 level, when the gala’s $3.2 million haul set a national record, which has yet to be topped, for lupus research funds collected at a single event, but the foundation is on track to raise 10 to 12 percent more this year than the previous one. Ms. Dowd added that the nonprofit’s spring luncheon saw such a dramatic spike in attendance this year—a 30 percent increase—that next year they plan to hold it in the Plaza.
It’s common for celebrities, athletes and politicians to talk about “giving back” to others in recognition for the support they received as children or young adults.
Sometimes they actually do it. Sometimes they do it in ways that are absolutely inspiring. Such is the case of John A. Paulson.
You know John Paulson: He’s the hedge fund manager who scored biggest betting against mortgage-backed bonds ahead of the subprime crisis, and while it hasn’t been all champagne and roses since, that’s hardly stopped the guy from loosening the purse strings. In June, he paid $49 million for a 90-acre Aspen, Colo. ranch previously owned by Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan.
Today, the hedge fund billionaire announced a $100 million gift to the Central Park Conservancy, the largest donation made to the organization charged with the physical management of the park.
“The Conservancy is responsible for transforming and sustaining Central Park as the celebration of culture, nature and democracy that it is today,” Mr. Paulson said in a press release issued by the Conservancy. “It is my hope that today’s contribution will help it endure and flourish and inspire others to join me in ensuring that the Park continues to receive the support it needs to be this city’s greatest asset.”
New Yorkers who live on Central Park certainly reap the benefits of parkside abodes, especially when it comes to resale values, but they’re less than generous about giving back.
Only 17 percent of parkside denizens have donated to the Central Park Conservancy since 2010, according to a recent story in Crain’s by Michael Gross. And Mr. Gross, chronicler of luxury New York real estate and the author of consummate building biography 740 Park should know. Not only does Mr. Gross seem to have his eye on every move that uptown dwellers make, but he’s also a parkside resident himself.