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Reverting Pershing Square

By Eric Richardson
Published: Friday, May 11, 2007, at 09:04AM

Pershing Square Over the Years Included in the proposal for developing Park Fifth is money to improve Pershing Square. This isn't a new plan; the project has included redevelopment of the park since its announcement as Pershing Square Centre in 1985.

Despite a pair of face-lifts (in 1964 and 1984) since the garage was installed in the early 1950s, the park of the 1980s faced many of the same criticisms that today's Square receives. It was underused and populated largely by "undesirables."

Far different, though, was the park's dominant aesthetic at the time. Though the installation of the garage drastically altered the feel of the space, it wasn't in the 1950s that the park made its move from grass to concrete. The basic design that stood through the 1980s consisted of a pair of diagonal walks bisecting a grassy lawn. A pair of simple fountains added water relief. Only in 1993 was the concrete eyesore of today created.

Thus the decades long delay of Park Fifth may actually have been a blessing. If the project had been built in the late 1980s the park improvement funds likely would have been put into the design we see now. Today the project's money can instead go to reverting the Square's design back toward what it once was.

Certainly there are great improvements that can be made to the simple designs that preceded the Square's current iteration -- something must be done, for instance, about the way that parking ramps cut off the park on all four side -- but the idea of a grassy park seems just about right to me.

At right, six views of Pershing Square. From the top, 1885, 1920s, garage groundbreaking in the 1950s, 1965 (during a civil rights march), 1984, and present day.

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