As the Times points out in its article about Bette Midler's New York Restoration Project, the usual response to a celebrity dipping their influence and pocketbooks into other peoples issues and neighborhoods is often, shall we say, not a good one. Or as Midler puts it: "There's a distinct possibility that it's vanity, but even if it were, so what? The gardens stand as a testament to nature, and I love nature despite what she did to me." Har, har, har, har.
But seriously. Tomorrow night the NYRP is celebrating its tenth anniversary (and honoring Sting) and if ever there were something to celebrate, this is it. Many of you may not remember (many of you may, but y'know just in case you don't) but a decade ago as it was becoming increasingly clear that the value of New York real estate was about to dramatically increase again, a large number of public gardens, often technically illegally located on city-owned vacant lots, found themselves in serious peril of being sold off and turned into housing. Beyond the gardens, many of the city's parks that weren't being taken care of by alliances like the Central Park Conservancy were being left nearly fowl by the overworked Parks department. Enter Ms. Midler.
We don't often straight up gush over a celebrity's good deeds, but seriously folks, Midler did Gotham a solid one. Her NYRP has in the past decade arranged for over 50 city-owned lots to remain gardens (instead of being auctioned off for housing), it has cleaned up over 80,000 tons of garbage and has helped create the Swindler Cove park on the Harlem River. Interestingly, only about 1% of NYRP's money comes from Bette though the organization could not exist as it does without efforts (find out how you can help by planting a tree or giving some dough here).
When those public gardens were saved a great service was done for New York. Personally (dropping the ist-we for a moment) I wouldn't be nearly the person I am today with out having been able to spend time working with and appreciating some kind of nature on a small scale within the urban jungle of New York. And so on the tenth anniversary of the NYRP (and coincidentally a month from Midler's 60th birthday) we'd just like to take a moment to say thank you to Bette Midler and her New York Restoration Project for helping us keep our gardens and parks.
Our favorite public garden is probably Albert's Garden on Second Street between Second and the Bowery. What's yours?
Photograph of Bette Midler by James Estrin for the NYTimes