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)