The Reason for Being- Central Park

Central Park New York
The Beginning

After years of debate over the location, construction finally began on Central Park, in 1857, based on the winner of a park design contest. Frederick Law Olmsted, park superintendent, and Calvert Vaux, an architect were the chief designers. The city acquired 840 acres located in the center of Manhattan, spanning two and a half miles from 59th Street to 106th Street (in 1863 the park was extended north to 110th Street) and half a mile from Fifth Avenue to Eighth Avenue. About 1,600 people who had been living in the rocky, inhospitable terrain--some as legitimate renters and others as squatters--were evicted; included in this sweep were the residents of Seneca Village, an African-American settlement of about 270 people. This community was destroyed. Though the city did compensate the landowners with an average of $700 per lot of land, many residents estimated this far below the value of their property, which contained their homes, their history, and their livelihoods.

The Vision

Was to incorporate all the natural elements, rocks and swampy areas and turn them into a place of refuge and beauty for all New Yorkers, particuarly the underprivilaged,who were at the time living in dank crowded tenements, many of whom were immigrants in the land of opportunity.

The Building of Central Park

Thousands of German, Irish and Italian laborers worked ten-hour days for between a dollar and a dollar fifty per day. Winter 1858, saw the opening of the park's first area to the public; December of that same year saw New Yorkers skating on the large lake south of the Ramble. Final stages of the park's construction began in 1863, with the landscaping and building of the newly acquired area from 106th to 110th Streets.

The Sad Misconception

In the first decade of the park's completion, it became clear that the poorer residents were unable to enjoy the pleasures of CentralPark. It was too far uptown to be within walking distance of their homes, the park became a distant oasis to them. Trainfare was unaffordable on their meagre wages. Mid 1860s the park became the domain of the wealthy; the afternoons saw the park's paths crowded with the luxurious carriages that were the status symbol of the day. Women friends met there for picnics and tea, and weekends saw concerts being held outdoors. In the late nineteenth century, a successful campaign was held to incorporate the needs of the middle classes, which had up to then been working 6 days weeks,and were thus unable to attend events held on Saturdays.

People Park

As the city and the park moved into the twentieth century, the lower reservoir was drained and turned into the Great Lawn. The park became less and less an elite oasis and escape, and was gradually shaped more and more by the needs of the growing population of New York City. Its uses evolved and expanded; by the middle of the century, ball clubs were allowed to play in the park, and the "Please Keep of the Grass" signs which had dotted the lush meadows of the park were a thing of the past.

Today Central Park is a major hub for most New York recreation. The park hosts millions of visitors yearly. Activities such as roller blading, dining at the Tavern on the Green, watching free performances of Shakespheare in the Park, and relaxing and sunbathing on the lawns are part of daily life in New York.




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