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Leaving a Gift to the World: Vision, Creativity, and Determination in New York City


Original artist’s vision of The Highline. Now it really does look like this.

In New York I recently experienced three projects that each began from a singularly brilliant idea, very little start-up cash, but that grew to success due to incredible vision and determination.

First up was The Highline, a one mile long ‘linear park’ built into a section of elevated freight railway track built back in the 1930s. The idea back then was to have freight pass through New York City on a railway some 30-feet up, avoiding all the busy roads beneath. A great engineering feat in itself – and at 2 billion dollars in today’s money – the railway avoids 105 street crossings.

Came the 1980s and the railway line was scheduled for demolition. Peter Obletz headed up the campaign to save it as a piece of New York’s history; then in 1999 Joshua David and Robert Hammond, whose homes were in the neighbourhood of the track, started the Friends of the Highline, advocating its use – rather creatively – as a park.

And here’s where the long-term vision and sheer persistence begins. Hearings, court cases, fund-raising then planning, architect’s competitions, and finally in April 2006 the work to create it began. The first – and southernmost section – only opened in June 2009. And now it gives a breath of fresh air to thousands of New Yorkers and the many tourists who come just to see something so ingenious as a railway line recycled and remodelled as a green park with an abundance of grasses, flowers, shrubs and trees, all stretching away into the distance through the buildings of the city.

Have a look at it HERE.

Mark Isreal, creator of Doughnut Plant with some of his delicacies

Second in my three ingenious projects was The Doughnut Plant. It began with Herman Isreal who began working in a bakery at the age of 16 back in 1910. By 1934 he had his own bakery and created his own recipes, even inventing America’s first ever cake mix.

In 1981 his grandson Mark moved to New York City, and in 1994 Mark began a small bakery in a basement, using his grandfather’s doughnut recipe. Baking through the night and delivering doughnuts on a bicycle during the day, he gradually built up a clientèle. Regular customers liked his new ideas of using seasonal fruits and freshly roasted nuts in his doughnut glazes.

In 2000 came the first Doughnut Plant store at 379 Grand St in the Lower East Side. It was popular immediately, especially when, a little later, the jelly-filled square doughnut was invented. Now with fresh, delicious recipes being created every few weeks, Mark is known as the baker of New York’s best doughnuts. And with nineteen outlets in New York, he has enough repeat customers who keep him ranked as the tastiest. You can also visit the Doughnut Plant downstairs at the Chelsea Hotel. There’s also now nine branches in Tokyo, and another two in Korea.

Another example of hard work, vision and determination that brought about success.

Get your taste buds going HERE.

Number 26 on Second Avenue. The store was previously named ‘Matchless Gifts.’ You can see a painting of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in the window. A large movement of spiritually-minded people came from vision and great determination in this small place.

Finally, my favourite project, and one that is New York in its origin, and both a breath of fresh air and the tastiest experience: the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. My regular readers will know why I am so enthusiastic about this society. After nearly 40 years as a member, I can testify as to the great service it has done to the world, and just how elevating the meditation techniques taught by its founder, His Divine Grace A.C.Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada actually are.

But it wasn’t until my recent trip to New York that I truly realized how humble its beginnings were, and how correspondingly visionary and determined its founder was. I’d seen the Lower East Side storefront before at 26 Second Avenue, but I’d never been inside. It is small. Surprisingly small, considering what came out of it. To begin any organization, let alone an international one, and to have complete faith that it would prosper all over the world – from a rented room that size – is truly astonishing. What a great vision he must have had; and an almost unbelievable level of determination. Even when confronted with repeated setbacks and disappointments he persisted.

The result is quite astonishing: hundreds of temples dotted all over the world, and hundreds of thousands of people who have taken up an unlikely meditation technique as their daily practice.

So a beautiful park from a disused railway; a string of outlets from a grandfather’s doughnut recipe; and a worldwide spiritual movement from a small room – all made possible through vision, creativity, determination, and a desire to give something to other people. Please fill in the line below, and let me know…

My vision and a lasting gift I want to make to others is…………………………………………………………………………