Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Nobility in the City
Two blocks from my downtown office is a quiet park that reflects most everything good and noble about modern business and personal wealth and inner city life.
Located in front of a rather magnificient modern building that once served as the Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis, the Cancer Survivor's Park is one of several public parks around the country born out of a vision of Richard Bloch—one of the founders of H & R Block tax preparation empire. A survivor of lung cancer, Mr. Bloch created the R.A. Bloch Cancer Foundation, an organization that has given many millions of dollars to sufferers of cancer. The presence of nearly a dozen such parks around the nation are a quiet memorial to Bloch, who died some time back of heart failure.
The work of people like Bloch (and people like Joan Kroc, of the McDonald's empire; and Bill Gates, who may well cure AIDS almost single-handedly) offers a bright spot telling us that fabulous wealth need not be all about greed. Wealth can also do great good, which is a nice thing for us to remember in these jaded, post-Enron times.
The meticulous upkeep for this park is diligently shared by the City of Minneapolis and the management of the building itself—a rare and wonderful example of civic and business leadership working together.
Though you'd never know it, the Cancer Survivor's Park is actually a ground level green roof that covers the underground parking garage for the building, now known as the Marquette Office Building.
Designed to complement the architecture of the building, the park's sweeping horizontal layout echoes the soaring vertical arch in the building. At certain times of day, in fact, the geometry of the park itself is reflected in the glass of the building. The walkways and fountains use mostly granites and metals, but built into the retaining walls are dozens of wooden benches, plentiful enough to provide lots of resting points but separated enough to make it easy to find mild isolation for reflection. This is a park that is both nice to look at, and pleasant to use——a combination that is hard to find these days.
A brass sculpture ornaments the expansive lawn that serves as the focal point for contemplation. Near the massive glass walls of the building, rounded plantings of birch trees create shady glades, with short but restful pathways with shade plants and additional benches on which to test and practice restful awareness.
At various points, small metal plaques offer words of encouragement. The messages are intended for cancer victims, but they quietly encourage anyone with a wounded nature—which means just about all of humanity.
The park draws a much different crowd than the throngs that fill the streets and elevated skyways in downtown during lunch. Here, a group of three friends passing the time is quite a crowd, and you are much more likely to see individuals eating a quiet sandwich or taking a reading break in the afternoon. In the heat of a summer afternoon the park is always utterly shaded, thanks to clever orientation by the designers. An hour lunch break passes in but moments.
In fact, time disappears almost entirely in this paradoxical Park dedicated to a mortal disease.