David Hyde Pierce

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.
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.

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…
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.

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.
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)