David Hyde Pierce

[pul­lquote align=“right”]I absolutely think it is good if only to make peo­ple aware of things they may not have been think­ing about. That’s the first step toward any type of progress.[/pullquote]What would make the city better?

One thing that has already hap­pened, because I’ve always made this walk even when I was a young guy in the early days, is that they’ve recently done this huge ren­o­va­tion of Lin­coln Cen­ter, the Juil­liard School, and the Lin­coln Cen­ter cam­pus. A lot of what they’ve done is make it greener—literally. I don’t know about sys­tems and things like that, but lit­er­ally more plant­i­ngs. Made it more wel­com­ing and more friendly.

The same thing has hap­pened along the West Side High­way since I’ve been here.  You can now run on a path from the tip of Man­hat­tan up to the George Wash­ing­ton Bridge, and they con­tinue to work on that and improve it and make it more beau­ti­ful, more acces­si­ble. And I think that’s great for two rea­sons. One—it makes peo­ple feel bet­ter, because nature is more acces­si­ble in the city. But it also ties peo­ple in more with nat­ural cycle of the city, which makes peo­ple more aware that nature exists. You’re in this sort of con­crete jun­gle, you for­get that there are nat­ural sys­tems, the air we breathe, the plants here and all that. Unless you specif­i­cally go to say Cen­tral Park for a big shot of nature, you can be pretty iso­lated. These things that they’ve done—Lincoln Cen­ter and along­side the West Side Highway—I think make every­one a lit­tle more aware of how nature is a vital part of all our lives.

What would you do for the city if you had unlim­ited fund­ing or technology?

You know, I’m not a big per­son for rev­o­lu­tion. I believe in change hap­pen­ing at a pace that allows it to mean­ing­ful. So much that I’ve seen going on in the city in the past cou­ple years has seemed to be going in the right direc­tion. The thoughts that come into my head: would I make the buses more effi­cient? Yes. Try to upgrade the energy effi­ciency and make a smaller car­bon foot­print for the sub­way sys­tem.  Yes, of course. Things like that. All things which, over time, have been happening.

I think the High Line park downtown—what a great thing to use for the peo­ple who live down there and the peo­ple who come to visit. In the same way I was talk­ing about Lin­coln Cen­ter and the West Side High­way. Not only is it aes­thet­i­cally pleas­ing, but it reminds peo­ple that you can’t live with­out sus­tain­ing the nat­ural world that even a big city lives in. If I had all this money and tech­nol­ogy, I think I would just be doing more of what seems is already being done about more energy effi­cient trans­porta­tion and more green spaces.

One of the great things that NYC already does which the rest of the coun­try is try­ing to do is get­ting peo­ple to buy locally. Well the great thing about NYC is that in any small town to go to the store you got to get in the car and drive 20 min­utes. We have lit­tle bode­gas every­where and you can’t help but shop locally. More and more those stores are being filled with local pro­duce. I think that’s a great trend that I would encourage.

[pul­lquote align=“left”]Green to me is a growth that is closer to the earth, that has its roots in our agri­cul­tural past, and some­thing that is the most pro­gres­sive and for­ward think­ing phi­los­o­phy…[/pullquote]What does green mean to you?

I think dif­fer­ent things depend­ing on the con­text. I see green used to entice peo­ple to buy things just like a mus­cle mag­a­zine would say “6 pack abs” and sim­i­larly may have noth­ing to do with that. Peo­ple want green and so they do what­ever, paint their offices green…

What I think it should mean is: Green is the color of growth, healthy growth. Black and char and grey, the col­ors of the city, can be the col­ors of unhealthy growth. Green for me I guess would mean going back to our roots, fig­u­ra­tively and lit­er­ally, that even though we built up these huge cities, these man-made cre­ations, you can get the illu­sion, either con­sciously or uncon­sciously that you’ve divorced your­self from nature.

Cer­tainly a lot of the busi­ness peo­ple who don’t believe in global warm­ing, not because they fun­da­men­tally think it’s wrong, but it can’t be right if they are going to accom­plish what they want to accom­plish in their busi­ness right now. So green to me is a dif­fer­ent kind of growth. Green to me is a growth that is closer to the earth, that has its roots in our agri­cul­tural past, and some­thing that is the most pro­gres­sive and for­ward think­ing phi­los­o­phy because it takes into account the con­se­quences of what we do for not just us and for not just the bot­tom line but for our chil­dren and children’s chil­dren and sus­tain­abil­ity of the planet, with­out which none of the other busi­nesses are going to do very well.

What is an exam­ple of that kind of green in the city?

I think the ridicu­lous exam­ple of them putting chairs in Times Square—you know about this? They closed off Times Square and for the last year or so—and it’s an exper­i­ment, they’re think­ing they may make a big­ger thing out of it. It’s a gigan­tic paved area, there’s lit­er­ally no vir­tual green of any kind and peo­ple bring fold­ing chairs like you’re going to the beach and it’s absurd and I think it’s fan­tas­tic. And though there isn’t a green thing to be found in that urban land­scape, it is the most green thing to me. In the midst of the most neon, high traf­fic, heart of Man­hat­tan, they’ve cleared out the cars and cre­ated this space where peo­ple can sit and they absorb the sun and get their vit­a­min D. It’s so crazy, and because it’s so crazy and so the oppo­site of beau­ti­ful Cen­tral Park which you would think of as the ulti­mate green space in NY, to me there is some­thing philo­soph­i­cally green about it.

Are you proud to live in NY?

You know what? I am proud to live in New York. I’m really proud of the city and I’ve always been proud of this city. At any given place of real estate, you have so many types of peo­ple, none of which have to like each other, many who don’t. But almost all have found a way to live with each other and have got­ten along because they have no choice. And I think that is no truer in New York than it is in the rest of the world; it’s just that NY had to fig­ure that out sooner in order to con­tinue to exist. That’s prob­a­bly what makes me proud­est to live in NY. Sec­ond would be the…I would say the diver­sity again. NY is not a one busi­ness town. So when you go out in NY and hap­pen to hear the con­ver­sa­tions around you, they’ll be about any­thing and every­thing. You’ll have doc­tors talk­ing, you’ll have sci­en­tists talk­ing, great artists talk­ing, dance stu­dents from Juil­liard. Other cities I’ve been to that can be the case but it’s less the case again because they don’t have the den­sity of bril­liance that NY has.

What ques­tion would you ask some­one in 2030?

Well, for me, that ques­tion would be “did they find a cure for Alzheimers yet?” By 2030 the num­bers of peo­ple with that dis­ease will be very high so that’s a con­cern of mine.

[pul­lquote align=“right”]The real lead­ers now and in the future will be the peo­ple who can inspire us to that understanding—that what we do right now is not just about right now but it does have rip­ples and con­se­quences for a very long time.[/pullquote]What is your hope for the future?

It would be won­der­ful to find they had found a cure or a way to slow down Alzheimers. Only because it’s a dis­ease that has such far reach­ing effects that it is hugely expen­sive so it will have a great effect on how money is spent in this coun­try and the cost of health care and what hap­pens with Med­ic­aid. It will have a huge effect not only on those who are sick but the peo­ple who take care of them and their health. Peo­ple would be free to live freer lives. I’m sure there are other dis­eases to use to view the future, but that one is very per­sonal to me.

I guess I would like for the tra­jec­tory of the world to be one of respect and under­stand­ing with­out elim­i­nat­ing the dif­fer­ences that make the world brighter. If there was a way to make that New York idea, every­one liv­ing together on the same streets and wor­ship­ping where they wor­ship and some­how mirac­u­lously allow­ing each other to fol­low their own dreams and their own pas­sions… If that some­how spread through­out the world, that would give me the most satisfaction.

Do you think your actions of today affect the future?

I think they absolutely do and I think they have to. The real lead­ers now and in the future will be the peo­ple who can inspire us to that understanding—that what we do right now is not just about right now but it does have rip­ples and con­se­quences for a very long time. I think they already have. It’s like the peo­ple who say “I believe in God, because if he doesn’t exist no harm done and if he does exist, I made a wise choice.” Same thing for the envi­ron­ment. I sup­pose it’s pos­si­ble that the things we do today don’t affect the envi­ron­ment in future in which case too bad, we wasted our time. But if they do that’s a respon­si­bil­ity we don’t dare to shake.

What is impor­tant about mak­ing the City Atlas?

I absolutely think it is good if only to make peo­ple aware of things they may not have been think­ing about. That’s the first step toward any type of progress. I think in some ways in the day to day life of New York­ers, the envi­ron­ment as a con­cept is pretty low on their list unless it has a direct effect on them like snow clear­ing dur­ing a bliz­zard or things like that. But I also believe that any New Yorker if you talked to them would say that they do care about the air qual­ity and that they do care about the green­ness of the city and when the trees bloom or the ginkgo trees stink or any of that hap­pens in a city. But some­times if it hasn’t been brought to your atten­tion, you may fail to notice how impor­tant it is and how much you do care about it. And so on just that level alone I think this is an impor­tant project.

About David Hyde Pierce:

David Hyde Pierce is an Emmy and Tony-award win­ning actor (“Frasier,” “Spa­malot,” “Cur­tains”), and has recently added direct­ing to his resumé.

His cur­rent plans include direct­ing a revival of “The Impor­tance of Being Earnest” at the Williamstown The­ater Fes­ti­val in the sum­mer of 2012; as described in the New York Times, this revival will cast against type.

What if a fam­ily of ‘Guys and Dolls’-style gang­sters moved to ‘Down­ton Abbey’-style Lon­don in order to escape cer­tain, shall we say, entan­gle­ments? What if two of these wise guys fell hard for two tough dolls? And what if the for­mi­da­ble dame who runs the afore­men­tioned crim­i­nal fam­ily devel­oped an appetite for cucum­ber sandwiches?”

There’s a whole group of peo­ple who love ‘Guys and Dolls,’ and there’s a whole group of peo­ple who love ‘The Impor­tance of Being Earnest,’” Mr. Pierce said. “And this is our chance to alien­ate all of them.”

pho­tos: Mau­reen Dren­nan (top), Jes­sica Bruah (inset)