Can businesses help save our historical public parks?

History Smiths

September 16, 2010: An article in this morning’s Boston Globe caught my eye, because it spoke to the idea that we all have a role to play in preserving our heritage – including the business community – and we must continue to look for new solutions to lingering problems.

The article described the troubling condition of Boston Common, created in 1634 and still beloved and well used for recreation, concerts, plays, rallies, military exercises – you name it. And yet, like so many struggling municipalities, the City of Boston has not been able to maintain this public park well for many years. And it shows.

Now, people in Boston (including the mayor and city council president) are eyeing Manhattan’s Bryant Park as a model for a new kind of solution. Bryant Park was rescued from decay in the 1970s and continues to be maintained, in large part, by corporate dollars – and not in a tacky, overtly “sales-y” way.

Even Henry Lee, the distinguished, long-serving president of the Friends of the Boston Public Garden, Boston’s other downtown public park, acknowledges: “We think the time has come….Given the state of the park, given the state of the economy, we have to do this in a modest, careful, appropriate way.’’

Like many of you, I am sick to death of the constant bombardment of advertising. But the success of Bryant Park does serve as a model for tasteful and effective corporate involvement. In fact, it seems to me that businesses supporting public parks with elegance and discretion will REALLY win people over.

I agree with Henry Lee, and so many others of us who care deeply about preserving our historic spaces and places, that the time has come for new solutions.

What happens if we allow these places to decay? They will get worse and worse, and people will stop using and enjoying them — thus diminishing our quality of life. Every repair will cost even more. We also stand to lose some of these historic places forever.

Can you be a hero?

Is there a public park in your community in need of repair and maintenance? Please contact your city hall or town hall (usually, it’s your Parks and Recreation Department) and ask what you can do to help. By all means write a check, but perhaps you could also allocate staff time in the spring and fall for clean-ups.

Promote your involvement, and be proud of your leadership! Encourage others to join you. You will be a local hero, and you will receive media attention and the gratitude (and business) of your community.

And please be a good neighbor! Don’t insist on renaming the park after your business, don’t insist on having signs or your logo everywhere. That would ruin the experience of the people who use the park and cheapen your gift.

Instead, follow the model of Bryant Park and have tasteful, discreet indications of your support. People will notice!

What can easily happen in this situation are the three things every business wants: customers, customer loyalty, and a strong reputation.