ASK PROFESSOR GINGKO
Dear Professor Gingko,
Can you tell me what tree leaf is represented as the Parks & Recreation logo? Some people say it’s a London plane and some people say a sycamore maple, and some say it’s a combination of the two. There’s money on this one, so please answer promptly.
Ah, the great mystery of the Parks & Recreation logo. Like Mona Lisa’s smile, the true identity of the leaf is known only to its creator. And who created the first Parks & Recreation leaf? Only Robert Moses knows for sure. So, I’m afraid I cannot help you win (or lose) any money. I can however, give you a brief history of the logo, along with the opinions of several leaf logo authorities.
The Parks & Recreation leaf logo dates to the early Moses era, when Parks & Recreation was first consolidated into one agency. It was used on official documents and letterhead beginning in 1934. The type of leaf was never identified, but many believe it was drawn to resemble a London plane leaf. Scott Sendrow, Parks & Recreation’s historian, theorizes that a London plane leaf was chosen because the City began planting the highly pollution-resistant tree in the 1930s. Additionally, Jonathan Kuhn, Parks & Recreation’s Director of Art & Antiquities, notes that Robert Moses called the intra-agency newsletter, "The Sycamore," which is another name for a London plane tree.
The Parks & Recreation leaf logo has changed over the years, as various graphic designers took a hand to it. One particularly bizarre incarnation of the logo occurred in 1972, when designers introduced a geometric leaf that looked something like an Amish quilting pattern. (Like so many fashions of the early seventies, that logo was quickly abandoned.) The current Parks & Recreation leaf logo has been identified as a sycamore, a London plane, a maple, and a sycamore maple. There is no evidence that the current logo was modeled after a particular species of tree. It’s probably unlikely that any real leaf was ever emulated; graphic designers generally prize aesthetics over accuracy.
In answering your question, I took a quick look through the excellent book, New York City Trees, to see which leaf most closely resembled the Parks & Recreation logo. To my mind, the arrangement of the leaf logo’s points are reminiscent of both the sycamore and Norway maple, while the bottom of the leaf and its overall shape match up with a London plane. (I suppose that makes the Parks & Recreation leaf logo a "Maple Plane"?) A good argument could probably be made for any of those leaf types, but until you find the leaf-logo tree, you won’t be settling any bets. Perhaps the best way for us to think of the Parks & Recreation leaf is as a representation of the Essence of Leaf—the platonic ideal of A Leaf from a New York City Street Tree. Or maybe we should keep calling it what it’s been called for years: "The Parks Leaf."
QUOTATION FOR THE DAY
"A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days.
It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with
both hands at sections of time."