Bryant Park

Splendor in the Grass

October 23, 2005
Jennifer Bleyer, The New York Times

HIS eyes jumped from left to right as if he were engrossed in a gripping novel. He took in the pert blonde who sashayed by, her ponytail and purse swinging in unison. He gazed at the dark beauty who drifted along as if she were attached to a lover's arm on a Mediterranean beach.

The watcher, a stocky young man wearing horn-rimmed glasses, hazarded a little smile at the brunette. She granted him the briefest look of acknowledgment and moved on.

It was lunchtime at Bryant Park, and thousands of office workers were gathered beneath the emerald veil of trees. Ever since the park was renovated 13 years ago, it has been a remarkable space, and one of its most remarkable aspects is that the number of men and women is about equal, a balance that is carefully monitored as a barometer of the park's health.

In 1980, when the space was rife with drug dealers and other scurrilous sorts, the ratio of men to women was about 9 to 1, said Dan Biederman, president of the Bryant Park Restoration Corporation. But when the park reopened in 1992, the comfort level of women was seen as key to its resurgence, which is why the park's designers paid special attention to accouterments that appeal to women, like bathrooms with full-length mirrors, kiosk food and flowerbeds.

These days, the male-to-female ratio is just about even. And with this balance comes the possibility of triangulation, which Mr. Biederman defines with scientific precision as the tendency of an external stimulus to prompt strangers to interact. "If there's enough triangulation from things in the park," he said, "then people who don't know each other will break down and talk to each other."

To facilitate this mingling, Mr. Biederman and his staff made sure that the park was home to a variety of triangulation objects and events, among them wireless Internet access, chess boards, the carousel, summer movies and an ice skating rink set to open this month.

They must be doing something right. In 2002, the park played host to a party for couples who had met or were engaged or married there; 117 couples celebrated over oysters and crudités.

The gender gap is minded with meticulous attention. Every weekday at 1 p.m., a groundskeeper walks through the park carrying two silver hand counters, tallying the number of men and women.

On a recent lunch break, these discreet calibrations went unnoticed by Jon Block, a boyish-looking 31-year-old who works as a salesman for a financial services firm. Near the pink granite fountain, he introduced himself to a petite woman with dirty-blond hair. But after a perfunctory reply, she drifted away.

Mr. Block took the rejection in stride. "This is the kind of place where you want to be more meditative than social," he conceded. "But she was cute, so I had to say hello."