When you walk around this expanse of mostly grass, you may get the feeling that something is missing. What is it? Stewardship? Practicality? Trees?
In reading articles generated in 2017 soon after the park was introduced to the world, I've been able to piece together the original intent. I had been calling it "John Nash Park," but the more powerful story very much includes Alicia.
As the Town Topics described it in 2017, "Mr. Nash, a senior research mathematician in the Princeton University mathematics department and winner of the 1994 Nobel Prize for economics for his work in game theory, suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and was the subject of the Academy Award-winning 2002 film, A Beautiful Mind. Mrs. Nash, a mental health advocate, was credited with saving Mr. Nash’s life during his prolonged illness."
The West Windsor mayor at the time, Shing-Fu Hsueh, saw the park as a means of showing appreciation for all that John Nash contributed to mankind. He said that John Nash's story demonstrates how “Even though you have problems, you can be recognized around the world.”
In a Community News article, township landscape architect Daniel Dobrimilsky described the initial concept, “a town green with gardens along the edges. We decided to make the space in the middle the size of a regulation croquet lawn, about a 100 feet by a 100 feet." Croquet! Now I know that I am not the only person in the universe who has long harbored a sentimental affection for croquet.
Dobrimilsky also talked about the desire to improve social life. “One of the concepts we came up with was a community garden, since it is a nice way to share traditions and understand each other better. So I came up with the idea of having an Asian-themed garden, because we had a growing Asian population, and most of the landscapes in the area really followed traditional European designs." An interview with the mayor describes him as one of the first Asians to be elected to public office in the U.S. Shing-Fu Hsueh left his position as a water quality engineer at the DEP soon after beginning what would be a 16 year stint as mayor of West Windsor, from 2002 to 2018.
But a number of features have sprouted on this flat square of land that otherwise has no features of its own. The Lions Club installed this welcoming sculpture.
And then there's this linear feature, with benches at either end as if for spectators to watch some unknown sort of sports event.
Nothing is explained, beyond a plaque that describes the park as "A beautiful place for a beautiful mind and a loving heart," a sentiment borrowed from Sylvia Nasar's biography of Nash, "A Beautiful Mind."
The park appears well positioned between business and residential neighborhoods, and maintenance crews are keeping the park neat and clean--in a kind of holding pattern. But the needs of both plants and people seem to be getting left out of the equation. As a mathematician might say, those are key variables that must be included in any equation for success. The picnic tables are unshaded. The benches in the pavilion aren't oriented to encourage socializing. There's no place for kids to play and explore. Is there a clear place to park, and a water source for anyone wishing to nurture new plantings?
The park clearly had an inspired beginning, but now it needs someone who loves plants and loves people, and who can create spaces within it where people will naturally want to gather, and enjoy each other and the landscape around them. Like the troubled genius John Nash himself, Nash Park needs a loving heart.