FOR MORE THAN 20 YEARS, I lived in a tiny New York City apartment on the Upper West Side, half a block from Central Park. The park kept me sane. A stroll, jog, or visit to the swing set were antidotes for loneliness, boredom, frustration, sadness — whatever the emotion, time in the park made it feel better. As well, the park was where I got together with friends for countless celebrations and special events that ranged from a stupendous performance of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture by the New York Philharmonic, to an unannounced Bruce Springsteen concert during the No Nukes Rally of 1982.

So, when I heard that the park was going to be decked out by a massive but temporary art installation known as “The Gates” for 16 days in February, I knew I had to be there. What I didn't foresee was the transformational power of this gift to New York by artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude, who campaigned for 26 years to make “The Gates” happen, and financed all the costs themselves.

For me, the 7,500 saffron-colored fabric panels meandering over 23 miles of walkways evoked a kind of yellow brick road through a kinder, gentler New York Oz crowded with people, dogs, children — talking, laughing, asking directions, clicking cameras. It wasn't “The Gates” alone, but how people interacted with it, that made the experience extraordinary. An amazing feeling of goodwill permeated Central Park during the brief life span of the project.

What can we learn from “The Gates” that is relevant to the business of planning meetings and events? For starters, it created a buzz of epic proportions that would be the envy of any promotional program. And, like all great events, it took on a life of its own. The exhibit attracted more than four million visitors to Central Park and generated an estimated $254 million in economic activity. Midtown Manhattan hotels reported a $2 million increase in revenue compared to the same time period last year. That this huge project and many related activities from tours to museum events were accomplished without major glitches is a testament not only to the artists, but to all who helped plan and implement the details.

Tai Chi in Shanghai

Parks, of course, are terrific backdrops for all kinds of gatherings. When ICP's Managing Editor Barbara Brewer visited Shanghai in December, she had the chance to practice tai chi in Jing'an Park. “Morning outdoor exercise has a long tradition in China, so this was a great opportunity to connect with the people,” she says. To read more about what's new in China and other hot international incentive destinations, turn to page 31. And, to get the scoop on an uncharacteristic event in the property/casualty insurance industry that, like “The Gates,” has taken on a life of its own, check out “Zurich On Tour” by Alison Hall on page 24. Enjoy the issue!