This UW-Green Bay alum’s passion for green spaces evolved into a lifetime pursuit of historical preservation.
At first glance, Neshota Park, in the southeast corner of Brown County, and Bryant Park, located smack-dab in the middle of Manhattan, don’t appear to have much in common beyond the shared symbol for “park” on your phone’s map app. But there’s a deep, significant link between them that takes a human form: 1974 UW-Green Bay graduate Lorna Nowvé.
In fact, the bustling New York City Park that today attracts 12 million visitors and hosts 1,000 free public events was shaped in part by the knowledge and experiences Nowvé gained while studying at UW-Green Bay.
HEEDING THE GREEN CALL TO GREEN BAY
Nowvé’s journey to Green Bay was a fairly unexpected one. A native of the Bronx, Nowvé took a giant leap out of her big-city comfort zone by heading to the northeast Wisconsin shores right out of high school. It was 1972, Nowvé was one of many inspired by the burgeoning green movement and there was no better place to let her passion bloom than at UW-Green Bay.
“I loved my ecology class in high school and was the leader of the environmental action committee,” recalls Nowvé. “When I heard about a new university in Wisconsin that had an environmental focus, I sent away for the catalog – that’s how you learned about schools in those days.”
Impressed by what she read, Nowvé enrolled and took her first steps on Wisconsin soil when she arrived for orientation. After a few months of feeling a bit like “a fish out of water,” the native New Yorker began to thrive in her new surroundings. Nowvé found a home for her interest in the environment and her love of city culture in the urban analysis major and community science minor programs.
“There were two professors in particular who were a big influence on me: Ron Baba and David Damkoehler,” she notes. “They taught me a lot about design and architecture.”
EARLY OPPORTUNITIES IN URBAN PARK DESIGN
In addition to nurturing her love for the topics in the classroom, Nowvé’s professors connected her with summer jobs that helped her apply her newfound knowledge to real-world projects. Her first summer in Wisconsin was spent doing research on the county’s recreation opportunities. She surveyed people who were tenting and camping about what they liked, didn’t like and needed in county parks, and she used her findings to help produce a report detailing their concerns.
The next summer, Nowvé was offered the opportunity to help design a new park in Brown County: Neshota Park. She brought her learnings from the previous summer to her work, which helped her team know where to place the parking, camping and pavilion areas within the 260-acre setting. The park remains an all-weather local favorite today for gatherings and picnics and was even named one of the coolest winter spots for getting outside in Green Bay.
URBAN STUDIES EDUCATION MAKES BIG IMPACT ON THE BIG APPLE
When Nowvé moved home after graduation, she found New York City to be in a precarious state: The city was on the verge of bankruptcy. Armed with knowledge about open space planning and architectural history, Nowvé wanted to save her hometown’s beautiful sites. To that end, she was hired by the Municipal Art Society of New York City (MAS), an advocacy organization that helps lift the voices of those who are trying to make urban landscapes accessible.
Back then, the MAS’ small staff was based out of a tiny office in 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Nowvé came on board just as they were working on one of their most famous projects (the successful campaign to save Grand Central Terminal from demolition) with one of its most famous supporters – Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
Finding herself fulfilled by historical preservation work, Nowvé’s next stop in her career was the Bryant Park Restoration Corporation (BPRC). As the associate director of the organization with experience in urban park design from her UW-Green Bay days, Nowvé helped create a new master plan for the park. She then worked to raise both the funds and community support needed to implement it. Today, it is one of the busiest public spaces in the world.
NEW CAREER, FAMILIAR CHALLENGES
Growing up in New York City had infused in Nowvé an appreciation of entertainment, which she explored a bit during her UW-Green Bay days with some theatre history classes.
Feeling ready for a change near the end of her time with BPRC, Nowvé realized she wanted to try her hand at TV and film production. She spent a year networking and taking classes before landing her first job in the industry with a popular ’80s sitcom. For the next two decades, Nowvé specialized in production finance for shows ranging from “Law & Order” to “Only Murders in the Building.”
She also optioned scripts and worked to finance films – an endeavor that was strangely similar to her historical preservation work. “When you have a project in front of you that you care deeply about, you can see what needs to be done, and then you have to try to raise the money to do it!”
BACK WHERE IT ALL BEGAN
After COVID transformed the entertainment industry, Nowvé felt a pull back to her first love.
She had always kept in touch with friends in the preservation world, and one of them told her about an interim executive director position available at the Historic Districts Council (HDC), an advocacy organization for all of New York City’s historic neighborhoods that used to be part of MAS.
During her time in the role, Nowvé worked with neighborhoods threatened by development and helped people who live in historical sites stay in their home/space through advocacy, education and public programming.
LASTING IMPACT OF EXCEPTIONAL EXPERIENCES
Though decades have passed since Nowvé’s love of architecture and history was first ignited at UW-Green Bay, the flame that was lit back then has never burned out. She continues to nurture those interests in a variety of ways: serving on the HDC’s board of advisers, volunteering with an organization that teaches elementary school students about their neighborhoods and environment, and playing tourist in her own town.
“My partner Michael and I live on Manhattan’s west side,” says Nowvé, ”but many days, we pick an area of the city and just walk around the neighborhoods.”
As she explores New York City, she sees sites that have very special, personal meaning.
“I could point to a lot of things and say I had a hand in helping to protect them,” she muses. “That’s a really wonderful feeling, and it will always mean a lot to me and give me a lot of pride. At the time, I never thought about it. It’s just what we did. But we were witnesses to history, as well as facilitators, in a way.”
Even though she has spent the vast majority of her life in New York, Nowvé’s ability to impact its built environment first took shape 1,000 miles west of the city – on the UW-Green Bay campus.
“Going to college at UW-Green Bay gave me access to things I wouldn’t have had here in New York,” she enthuses. “That list definitely includes the great outdoors but also opportunities that I wouldn’t have had at another school. Even though I live in one of the biggest cities in the world, UW-Green Bay showed me more of the world.”
Lorna Nowvé found the inspiration and information she needed to help preserve New York City’s public spaces by moving from the Bronx to Green Bay. Learn more about the UW-Green Bay program (now known as Urban Studies) that develops individuals who want to make a difference in their communities and neighborhoods.