Fascinating places to spend time

On New York’s Monuments to Famous or Forgotten that dot its parks:

There are about 800 monuments on city parkland in the five boroughs, scattered along rambling paths, grassy triangles and slender medians. They loom over passing pedestrians and cast a weary eye on gridlocked traffic — often somber, sometimes whimsical, frequently ignored, as the household names of past decades and centuries slip into obscurity. …

So many monuments were erected on city parkland over the years that a half-dozen parks, starting in the 1970s, have had unofficial moratoriums on commemorative sculptures. …

Some number of these historical markers, from busts and benches to fountains and figures in neo-Classical style, are not only fetching objects in themselves, but fascinating for the ways in which they illuminate dimly remembered parts of the city’s multilayered history.

I’m a huge fan of the effect of these monuments in creating what I think of as haunted landscapes. Museums and historical societies create exhibits and arrange things of the past for the sake of historical memory. I don’t think public parks or even public/private land should be curated or managed like museum exhibits. Exhibits curate things of the past, but monuments can be very public forms of art that benefit the living on a more regular basis. They’re like proclamations about not only specific personalities in bronze, but also about the people who are placing them. I think this more egalitarian approach to honoring people and events leaves a bit more electricity in the air.

In a certain way I think of this like Encyclopedia Britannica v. Wikipedia—the former is highly authoritative and respected, but it’s also less inclusive. The latter is highly diversified, and allows even fringe-historical figures a space to be remembered. The result is that Wikipedia is often a more fascinating place to spend time. I think the same goes for communities.

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