Point of View Columns

A Walk in the Park

My son, now thirteen, has been a participant in Harlem Little Leagu

My son, now thirteen, has been a participant in Harlem Little League for seven years. By the way, Harlem Little League is just one of many great unsung community-based organizations that are constantly and consistently dedicated to making life opportunities available to young people. It is just one of many great unsung community-based organizations that merit and warrant our support if our tomorrows are truly to be better than our todays. But I digress.

          As I watched my son and his teammates play in Central Park last weekend I was struck by the grandeur and awesome concept that is Central Park. And I realized that, if not for the foresight and vision of Frederick Law Olmstead and many, many others in 1859, I would have been standing in a warren of concrete condominium canyons instead of in a verdant field of grass encircled by small forests with the sky so close that touching it almost made sense. There are probably still developers and builders who cast a longing glance at the Great Lawn and Strawberry Fields and wonder, what if…….

          There is no doubt that, in 1859, there was more than a little opposition to the establishment of a huge, permanent park in the middle of Manhattan, by then America’s largest and most vibrant and fastest growing city. There were those who were prepared to let the free market determine the best usage of the land that became Central Park, putting the public interest and a vision of the future in permanent second and third place, respectively.

          I thought about the public education system in the United States. I considered the fact that the establishment of free, compulsory and universal public education through the twelfth grade was not a universally admired concept in the latter half of the 19th century. There were many who felt that the free market should determine who would or could get an education. The needs of industry for child labor were favored over any notion of the public interest and any vision of a future with educated and literate Americans.

          I don’t think that there is any doubt that the establishment of free, compulsory and universal public education transformed this country. The millions of educated and literate Americans that helped to create the United States that became a global juggernaut in the 20th century were the driving force behind that progression. And I wondered if it would be possible to institute free, compulsory and universal public education in this country in these days and times.

          I also thought about the national parks system in the United States, a system that encompasses the Grand Canyon and Yosemite Park and so many more major and minor miracles of nature. And I recalled that at the time the parks system was established, with the leadership of President Theodore Roosevelt, there were cries of opposition from private interests – mining interests, logging interests, developers and the like. Confiscating private land for public use was anathema to the American way, the argument went. The public interest and the vision of the future would and should be determined by the free market. And I wondered if it would even be possible institute a national parks system in the United States in these days and times.

          I also thought about the fact that, as successful as he was in establishing a national parks system, a system that is now a global jewel, Theodore Roosevelt was absolutely unsuccessful in establishing a universal health care system for Americans. He was able to protect the canyons and forests and valleys of America, but not the health of Americans. And I realized that the American mindset that can be so generous can also be selfish, instead of selfless.

          It is why we saw so much rancor attached to the recent health care bill debate. It is why we see the continued rancor and debate over a bill that would help keep men, women and children healthy. This dichotomy in the American character is not pretty and is not admired by the rest of the world.

          A new biography on the life and times of Alexis de Tocqueville was released recently. As one of the first socio-political observers of the new United States of America, he made several astute observations that turned out to be eerily accurate prognostications. One was that slavery and the issue of race would be a continuing problem for Americans until it was resolved. And we live with that prediction to this very day.

          He also mentioned that the American psychology, point of view if you will, was very much directed towards self-aggrandizement and profitability – the “what’s in it for me” approach. The search for new frontiers and new inventions and new industries has always been fueled by a distinctly American search for profit – a search for personal profit. The generosity of this country is legendary and well-deserved. The preoccupation with self and self-worth is also part of a well-deserved reputation. And this dichotomy has very real consequences.

We now see President Obama excoriated for wanting to provide the same protection for the health of Americans that Danes and Poles and Japanese take for granted at birth. We live in a country born of change. It is clearly time that we change some more.

.

Wallace Ford is the Principal of Fordworks Associates, a New York-based management consulting firm and is the author of two novels, The Pride and What You Sow.

e for seven years. By the way, Harlem Little League is just one of many great unsung community-based organizations that are constantly and consistently dedicated to making life opportunities available to young people. It is just one of many great unsung community-based organizations that merit and warrant our support if our tomorrows are truly to be better than our todays. But I digress.

          As I watched my son and his teammates play in Central Park last weekend I was struck by the grandeur and awesome concept that is Central Park. And I realized that, if not for the foresight and vision of Frederick Law Olmstead and many, many others in 1859, I would have been standing in a warren of concrete condominium canyons instead of in a verdant field of grass encircled by small forests with the sky so close that touching it almost made sense. There are probably still developers and builders who cast a longing glance at the Great Lawn and Strawberry Fields and wonder, what if…….

          There is no doubt that, in 1859, there was more than a little opposition to the establishment of a huge, permanent park in the middle of Manhattan, by then America’s largest and most vibrant and fastest growing city. There were those who were prepared to let the free market determine the best usage of the land that became Central Park, putting the public interest and a vision of the future in permanent second and third place, respectively.

          I thought about the public education system in the United States. I considered the fact that the establishment of free, compulsory and universal public education through the twelfth grade was not a universally admired concept in the latter half of the 19th century. There were many who felt that the free market should determine who would or could get an education. The needs of industry for child labor were favored over any notion of the public interest and any vision of a future with educated and literate Americans.

          I don’t think that there is any doubt that the establishment of free, compulsory and universal public education transformed this country. The millions of educated and literate Americans that helped to create the United States that became a global juggernaut in the 20th century were the driving force behind that progression. And I wondered if it would be possible to institute free, compulsory and universal public education in this country in these days and times.

          I also thought about the national parks system in the United States, a system that encompasses the Grand Canyon and Yosemite Park and so many more major and minor miracles of nature. And I recalled that at the time the parks system was established, with the leadership of President Theodore Roosevelt, there were cries of opposition from private interests – mining interests, logging interests, developers and the like. Confiscating private land for public use was anathema to the American way, the argument went. The public interest and the vision of the future would and should be determined by the free market. And I wondered if it would even be possible institute a national parks system in the United States in these days and times.

          I also thought about the fact that, as successful as he was in establishing a national parks system, a system that is now a global jewel, Theodore Roosevelt was absolutely unsuccessful in establishing a universal health care system for Americans. He was able to protect the canyons and forests and valleys of America, but not the health of Americans. And I realized that the American mindset that can be so generous can also be selfish, instead of selfless.

          It is why we saw so much rancor attached to the recent health care bill debate. It is why we see the continued rancor and debate over a bill that would help keep men, women and children healthy. This dichotomy in the American character is not pretty and is not admired by the rest of the world.

          A new biography on the life and times of Alexis de Tocqueville was released recently. As one of the first socio-political observers of the new United States of America, he made several astute observations that turned out to be eerily accurate prognostications. One was that slavery and the issue of race would be a continuing problem for Americans until it was resolved. And we live with that prediction to this very day.

          He also mentioned that the American psychology, point of view if you will, was very much directed towards self-aggrandizement and profitability – the “what’s in it for me” approach. The search for new frontiers and new inventions and new industries has always been fueled by a distinctly American search for profit – a search for personal profit. The generosity of this country is legendary and well-deserved. The preoccupation with self and self-worth is also part of a well-deserved reputation. And this dichotomy has very real consequences.

We now see President Obama excoriated for wanting to provide the same protection for the health of Americans that Danes and Poles and Japanese take for granted at birth. We live in a country born of change. It is clearly time that we change some more.

.

Wallace Ford is the Principal of Fordworks Associates, a New York-based management consulting firm and is the author of two novels, The Pride and What You Sow.

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