I met Jim Brainard recently on a sunny summer afternoon in Bryant Park , a grassy oasis roughly the size of one square block nestled among the skyscrapers of midtown Manhattan. The stately New York Public Library — one of the city’s most famous cultural institutions — defines the park’s perimeter on one side, and roughly outlining the other three are more than a dozen smaller-scale treasures, including an old-fashioned carousel, several food kiosks, an outdoor cocktail bar, a petanque court, ping-pong tables, and even an extra-miniature miniature golf course. In the center of the park, someone was setting up hundreds of seats in preparation for a massive game of musical chairs to be played later that evening. The park was filled; though there was no shortage of tables, we had a hard time finding an open one. That afternoon Bryant Park felt like an example of urban utopianism realized, with people of all ages, races and backgrounds coming together to enjoy a clean, attractive, well-appointed public space that seemed to offer something for everybody. As the mayor of Carmel, Indiana (population 93,000), a suburb of Indianapolis, Brainard oversees the day-to-day operations of a medium-size municipality that few would […]

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