Letting a Thousand Drones Rise on a Saturday in Central Park

Good morning. It’s Wednesday. We’ll find out about an unusual flight over Central Park that’s planned for Saturday. We’ll also look at what’s behind a Justice Department investigation of the police in Trenton, N.J.

A rendering of what a drone flight over Central Park could look like.Credit…Soloviev Group

What is scheduled to happen on Saturday in Central Park will be “based on a murmuration,” said Max Fishko, who will oversee it.

A murmuration, according to the dictionary, is a flock of birds, usually starlings — lots of starlings, swirling and swooping in the sky.

The event on Saturday — “Franchise Freedom” — will not involve starlings, unless they show up uninvited. The plan is to send 1,000 drones into the air. Unlike starlings, the drones will carry lights, creating an effect the organizers say will be like silent fireworks.

The organizers say it will be the largest public art project in the park since “The Gates,” a Christo and Jeanne-Claude creation that involved installing 7,500 saffron-colored portals with fluttering curtains in 2005.

Drift, the Dutch studio that designed the murmuration-based “kinetic aerial sculpture,” says it can illustrate how, in uncertain situations, a group can make the choices needed to go in the right direction.

One choice that will be made by a smaller group — of people, not carefully choreographed drones or birds — is whether to proceed with the three scheduled performances (at 7 p.m., 8 p.m. and 9 p.m.). The forecast for Saturday calls for rain.

“Right now, looks like rain earlier in the day, and we’ll get a bit of a misty evening,” Fishko said on Tuesday. He added that drizzle does not affect drones — “in fact, it can be quite dramatic,” he said. “Heavy rain, we’d have to cancel.” That said, he added quickly that “it seems to us unlikely that there will be three hours of heavy rain at that time.”

Fishko said that “the point of a lot of Drift’s work is to connect nature and technology in impactful moments” like this one.

“In my mind, it’s sort of a ballet among 1,000 moving points of light in the sky,” he said. “It’s never been done to this scale. The idea is that this is not a commercial show — it’s abstract culture, it’s a living breathing piece of art that performs in the sky.”

On the ground, there will be what he called “the airfield,” near the Cherry Hill Fountain and the 72nd Street Transverse. “We’ll get in very early,” Fishko said. “We’ll be doing wind testing.” He said the drones could return to their starting point and land “if the wind escalates above 25 miles per hour or even approaches it.”

Robert Hammond, a co-founder of the High Line who is now the president of Therme US, a wellness company that is a sponsor of the drone installation, said he remembered seeing flocks of starlings on a trip to Rome. He said that “mimicking nature,” as the drones will do, sometimes “helps you pay attention to nature more.”

“Some would say, ‘Why do you want to bring something that’s not natural into nature?’” he said.

His answer: “A park is not nature.”

Central Park is indeed a man-made place, designed so New Yorkers could escape the pressures of the city. Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, who designed it, laid out open spaces like the Great Lawn and the Sheep Meadow and the thick North Woods, taking inspiration from the forested landscapes of the Adirondacks and the Catskills. The park gave New Yorkers “a spectatorship of civilizing scenery,” as the historians Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace described it in their book “Gotham: A History of New York to 1898.”

Starlings did not originally inhabit the 843-acre universe that Olmsted and Vaux created. They came along in 1890, when a bird lover named Eugene Schieffelin released a few dozen European starlings in the park.

(Researchers have discredited the long-held idea that Schieffelin wanted to introduce every bird species mentioned by Shakespeare, and he might have thought better of importing the birds if he could have looked into the future: Starlings turned out to be an invasive species, blamed for disease and some $800 million in agricultural damage in North America every year.)

Hammond said that when he heard about the drone project, “I kept saying it’s never going to happen — never, never, never, never, never.” He added: “I spent 10 years trying to get a drone over the High Line.”

But the organizers of the event on Saturday said that city agencies had approved their plans and that new city guidelines for drones, announced in July, had helped. Mayor Eric Adams said at the time that drones would “help in New Yorkers’ everyday lives, not just in emergency situations” like the collapse of a parking garage in Lower Manhattan in April, when several drones and a robotic dog were sent in because the rubble was considered too dangerous for firefighters.

That is different from a drone murmuration. Lyanda Lynn Haupt, a naturalist who has written several books about birds and her encounters with them, noted that a starling murmuration “is a relatively rural phenomenon.”

“Maybe looking at something like this will invite urban people to think about the natural world in ways they had not before,” she said. “I think as long as we’re looking at it as art that is inspired by a murmuration rather than something that is trying to duplicate a natural phenomenon that is still so little understood, it sounds really beautiful.”


Enjoy a mild autumn day with temperatures in the mid-60s and sunshine. At night, it will be partly cloudy, and the low will dip to the low 50s.


In effect until Nov. 1 (All Saints Day).

The latest New York news

Players on the Yeshiva University men’s soccer team said they wanted to show support for Israel on their way to a conference final.

Local news

  • Support for Israel: The men’s soccer team at Yeshiva University was having a strong season, maybe its best ever. Then came the news from Israel.

  • He worked where everybody else plays: Emmanuel Thingue, a landscape architect who recently retired from the New York City parks department, spent 30 years shaping the look and feel of the city’s most charming public spaces.

  • Famous fan: As an early fan of the New York Liberty, the musician Joan Jett saw the team lose four championship series. This week, with the Liberty in the W.N.B.A. finals, she was back at courtside, cheering another attempt.

In Trenton, Justice Department scrutiny of the police

Credit…Ted Shaffrey/Associated Press

In the past couple of years, the Justice Department has opened federal civil rights investigations of 10 police agencies across the nation.

On Tuesday, it began its 11th, an inquiry into whether the police in Trenton, N.J., had used improper force and illegally stopped and searched pedestrians and drivers.

Kristen Clarke, an assistant attorney general, said the inquiry had been prompted by “serious and credible” reports the Justice Department had received. The review is expected to take a year and could lead to federal oversight of the police department. Mayor Reed Gusciora said the city would cooperate with the investigation.

Philip Sellinger, the U.S. attorney for New Jersey, said no single episode had prompted the investigation. But he said a community meeting he attended at a Trenton church last month had been “impactful.” He said he had later received a note from a resident who wrote, “We’re scared of the law because they don’t like us.”

My colleagues Tracey Tully and Elise Young write that several people interviewed at Trenton’s Cadwalader Park on Tuesday said they had never had troubling interactions with city officers. But Calvin Page, a 54-year-old hospital technician, said that when he passed officers who had stopped cars, questions came to mind.

“Seems sometimes they’re going overboard,” Page said. “They’re pulling guys out of the car, and now they’re searching the car and the trunk — don’t you need a warrant for that?”


Whale watching

Dear Diary:

My friend Tom runs a popular whale watch cruise out of Sheepshead Bay. Recently, an avid whale watcher and good friend, Buddy, died. One of Buddy’s wishes was that Tom spread his ashes on the ocean he loved so much.

So, on a beautiful summer evening, Tom canceled his usual nightly cruise and organized a private memorial service. More than 80 of Buddy’s friends and family members came to say a last goodbye.

A serious-looking young woman who sat quietly by herself was among the passengers. None of the other people, including the crew members, knew who she was.

The boat set out and the service went off very well, with lots of laughter, a few tears and people telling their favorite stories about Buddy.

When the boat returned to the dock in Brooklyn, Captain Tom spoke with everyone as they departed. When the young woman approached him, Tom thanked her for attending and said how happy he was that they had shared such a beautiful evening.

“Honestly,” she said, “this was the worst whale watch cruise I have ever been on.”

Phil Nicosia

Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.

Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.

Bernard Mokam and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].


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