Central Park Turns 150

On July 21, 1853, New York City made the wisest move it has ever made and purchased over 700 acres

On July 21, 1853, New York City made the wisest move it has ever made and purchased over 700 acres of swampland. Over the next 16 years, under the guidance of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the swamp was transformed into the magnificent pastoral oasis we know today.

As Central Park celebrates its 150th anniversary, there are several public events planned, but surely the true glory of the park rests in the private, nature-filled moments it has provided to millions of New Yorkers and tourists from around the world. The abundance of nature is stunning: 26,000 trees, 275 different species of bird, 150 acres of lakes and streams, 58 miles of meandering pedestrian paths-and 9,000 benches for those who get tired of meandering. Central Park may be the greatest single example of what a municipal government can do to improve the quality of life.

When it was built, Central Park was the first large park built in the U.S. purely for public enjoyment. Topsoil was brought in from New Jersey, boulders were blasted loose, ponds were dug, and four million trees, plants and shrubs were planted. It cost $260 million in today’s dollars-not counting the land, which has to be valued in the billions. And maintaining the park has been more than a matter of aggressive gardening. In 1980, the private, nonprofit Central Park Conservancy was formed; thanks to individual and corporate donors, the conservancy now provides more than 85 percent of the park’s annual $20 million operating budget and is largely responsible for the fact that the Great Lawn and the park’s other attractions are in such pristine condition. And the city’s new parks commissioner, Adrian Benepe, has shown himself to be a smart and creative champion of the park.

Central Park is a gift that New York gave to itself 150 years ago. Thanks to the generosity of those who continue to support the park, nature continues to thrive in the heart of the world’s greatest city.

Indian Point: Delaying Disaster

Public officials in Westchester and Rockland counties are determined to shut down the Indian Point nuclear reactor, and they’ve taken their crusade to a new level of defiance: They’re refusing to turn over evacuation plans and other documents to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. They say they don’t want to give regulators information which inevitably will be used to help keep the plant operating. Good for them.

We’ve argued that Indian Point is unsafe and unnecessary. A nuclear reactor in the heart of one of the nation’s most populated regions is an idea whose time is past. The world has changed since Sept. 11; we know that nuclear reactors are a prime target for terrorists, who would not flinch from killing millions. Indian Point, located just 35 miles from midtown Manhattan, offers these merciless people an irresistible target. Terrorism is only one of many safety concerns at the plant. Indian Point, which has the worst safety rating of any nuclear plant in the country, was shut down for two days last month because of a power failure and a fire.

Without the documents, FEMA cannot offer “reasonable assurance” that emergency plans will work. Without that assurance, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would be forced to step in and possibly conduct its own safety inquiry. All the while, pressure will build to shut the plant permanently.

County officials in Westchester and Rockland are doing right by their residents. If something horrific takes place at Indian Point, the residents of Westchester and Rockland will suffer enormously. Their defiance should strengthen efforts to close the plant.

Tina Brown’s Kiss-Ass Hour

The guests who appeared on the debut episode of Tina Brown’s CNBC talk show, with its pretentious title Topic [A] , might be forgiven for thinking they’d made a wrong turn and ended up on some new reality-TV series, in which guests are lathered with compliments and fluffed with flattery until they can’t take it anymore. In an hour of back-scratching and Anglo-stroking, Ms. Brown positively purred over each guest and made it clear that anyone who comes on her program can expect the royal treatment. Literally.

During a segment in which she interviewed Howard Stringer, chief executive of the Sony Corporation of America, and Conrad Black, the Canadian-born newspaper mogul, she couldn’t wait to let her viewers know that she was speaking with Sir Howard and Lord Black. Having thus made sure that everyone understood her guests were of a higher class than the sort of American rubes who might be watching the show, Ms. Brown proceeded to gush in rapturous tones over their achievements. She told Mr.-oops, Lord -Black that “your magazine, The Spectator , in London, for instance, is wildly amusing, I find-I mean, it’s hilarious.” In case anyone missed the point, she added, “It’s very witty and it’s very fun.” Then she puckered up again: “Now, Conrad, you’ve just written this book about Roosevelt, which is amazing. I mean, it’s 700 pages.”

This is the new Tina Brown. Back when she was editor of Vanity Fair , The New Yorker and the short-lived Talk , she certainly did her share of pandering to celebrities, but her magazines had an edge to them. They still shared a common roof with the practice of journalism. But TV Tina has apparently abandoned all that for a plunge into shameless prime-time sycophancy. Before, she published stories about Hollywood; now she’s gone Hollywood.

Lord Black wasn’t the only guest to get the full-body massage. Turning to Sir Howard she said, “You’ve been extremely successful, I must say, in the way you run that-that-the studio.” Never mind that Sir Howard doesn’t even run the studio. And while Barry Diller doesn’t have a title, that didn’t stop Ms. Brown from practically coronating him right there in the CNBC studios. She called Mr. Diller “the king of entertainment” and the “daddy cool of American business.” Turning to Mr. Diller, she said, “You are known for your incredible, smart, cool judgment.” She tried to get him to name his favorite Democratic candidate for President by gushing, “Is there any one of these candidates who you think could rise to be the Barry Diller of the Democrats?” Mr. Diller and the other guests ate up Ms. Brown’s sweet talk with a spoon and preened like a bunch of peacocks.

Ms. Brown’s final guest was Bill O’Reilly, the right-wing host of The O’Reilly Factor on Fox TV. Perhaps perturbed that this guest also didn’t come with a title, she did her best to make up for that by saying, “Bill, you’re the king of cable right now. You are the king …. You are the man.” By the time she told him, “There’s certainly a tremendous vitality in the Fox network and a tremendous vitality in your show,” viewers could be forgiven for wondering if Ms. Brown was about to hop into Mr. O’Reilly’s lap. In fact, the only guest Ms. Brown did not shower with praise was Malcolm Gladwell. Then again, he was just a writer. For The New Yorker.

The show drew a surprisingly small audience-about 74,000 people-for its much-hyped premiere. What will she do for an encore? Since the British-born Ms. Brown seems so ga-ga over Lord This and Lady That, perhaps for her next episode she should interview the financial poobahs of the past 20 years, such as Sir Michael Milken, Sir Ivan Boesky, Sir Kenneth Lay, Sir Gary Winnick, Sir Dennis Kozlowski and perhaps even Dame Martha Stewart. Central Park Turns 150