Tag Archives: Parks

Breakfast in Central Park

20 Nov

Photo by DMT

Central Park: A pastoral retreat in the center of the city that never sleeps; an oasis of calm greenery; a gathering place for art and cultural expression.

It sounds like heaven on earth.

It’s hard to believe that a city as large as New York is home to the most visited urban park in the United States, but each year over twenty-five million people make their way to Central Park.

Designed, in 1858, by landscape designer and writer Fredrick Law Olmsted and the English architect Calvert Vaulx, the park opened in 1870 and covers 770 square acres of city-owned land smack-dab in the center of Manhattan.  In 2005, the real estate value of Central Park was estimated by the property appraisal firm, Miller Samuel, to be $528,783,552,000!

The need, and desire, for a centrally located park in New York City was first voiced in 1844 by poet and editor of the Evening Post, William Cullen Bryant, and by American landscape artist, Andrew Jackson Downing, who felt that as New York grew more crowded, residents needed open air spaces in which to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. At the time, the only such places to escape were the cemeteries, like Green-Wood in Brooklyn.  New York residents also voiced a desire for spaces like London’s Hyde Park and Paris’ Bois de Boulugne where they could engage in open-air driving.

Photo by DMT

Inspired by English parks such as Birkenhead and Derby Arboretum, Olmsted argued that a park was “…a democratic development of the highest significance.”  [ironically, Olmsted clashed with the city’s Democratic machine during the construction of the park].  In 1858, Olmsted and Valux designed was was called the “Greensward Plan” and won a city-sponsored contest.  Construction on the park began that same year, and was fraught with complications related to everything from clearing the land [this required relocating the impoverished, mainly African American, population residing on the land] to clearing the actual land [more gunpowder was used to clear this area than was used during the battle of Gettysburg!] to importing soil from New Jersey because the New York soil was not fertile or substantial enough to sustain the four million trees, plants and shrubs [1,500 different species] that the plan called for.

Central Park was an instant hit with New Yorkers, but by 1900 the popularity of the park was on the decline.  The City Park Commission had been disbanded in 1870, and in 1895 Valux died, leaving the upkeep of the park in question.  A growing fascination with a new technological development – the automobile – meant that people were less interested in using the park for walks and picnics, and the lack of interest shown by the Tammany Hall political machine in keeping up the park left the park largely untended until the early 1930s.  [Fun park fact: Sheep’s Meadow got it’s name because until the early 1930s sheep actually grazed in the meadow.  They were relocated upstate during the Great Depression for fear that they would be used as food by impoverished New Yorkers].

In 1934, Mayor Fiorello La Guardia was elected to office and put Robert Moses in charge of revitalizing the park.  Moses would become one of the most powerful men in New York as he secured New Deal funds and overhauled the entire park system in a single year.  Moses not only ordered clean up and replanting, he also had workers construct 19 playgrounds, 12 ball fields and handball courts, turning Central Park into a recreational space as well as place to escape city life.

The 1960s defined another era, known as the “Events Era,” in Central Park as the city promoted the use of the park for cultural and political events.  During the 60s theater companies, like Public Theater, produced “Shakespeare in the Park,” and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and Metropolitan Opera began staging productions in the park.  However, despite the interest in cultural events, by the mid-1970s, the park was in decline again.  Economic and social factors both played a role in the park’s reputation as neglected landscape during the day, and a menacing danger to public safety by night.

Central Park by Wikipedia Free Media Project

In 1979, citizen’s groups began forming as a means of countering the park’s reputation as a dangerous place to visit, and by 1980, under the leadership of the Central Park Conservancy revitalization projects were carried out.  The Conservancy sought to restore the once-pastoral feel of the park by eliminating things such as graffiti and instituting a system of “zone based management” that allows for more specialized care of the park.

I am just as excited about exploring this beautiful park within the city as I am about exploring the city itself.  Central Park has history – like Literary Walk, where some of the first sculptures in the park were installed to recognize and honor writers and poets – and culture – like Summerstage, a series of free performances including music, dance, spoken word, and film presentations.  It is a space that allows for private contemplation of nature, and community gatherings that feed the mind and spirit.

The thought of a loaf of bread, a bottle of wine, and a blanket spread out on the lawn while listening to the Philharmonic work some orchestral magic sounds like the perfect Saturday – or any other day- in the park!

Heaven on earth, indeed.

One Year to Move Blog Music

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