Central Park — the First Landscaped Public Park in the Nation

One of many amazing trees

Central Park, the green wonder of New York, is the first designed urban park in the United States. It’s not the largest park in New York, falling in size behind Pelham Bay and Van Cortlandt Parks in Bronx, Greenbelt Park in Staten Island, and Flushing Meadows/Corona Park in Queens. Nevertheless, at 843 acres it is large enough to fit the kingdom of Monaco almost twice!

Despite its deceptive appearance as a creation of Mother Nature, the park is man-made. It was designed by the park-builder team of architect Calvert Vaux and park designer Frederick Law Olmsted.  They filled Central Park’s romantic landscape with lakes, meadows, lawns, numerous statues, an ancient Egyptian Obelisk, a rose garden, a carousel, 21 children’s playgrounds, a theater, a castle-turn-weather station, and two restaurants with idyllic views. Calvert Vaux designed 36 unique bridges, with no two looking alike. The nearly 20,000 trees that live in the park are all planted.

When the plans for a massive park in Manhattan were introduced, a committee was formed to choose the best design. Out of the 34 designs that reached the judges, the Greensward plan by Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted was selected . One of the major problems with a giant park in the middle of the bustling city was that its central location could cut off the East Side from the West Side. For this reason, one of the main design requirements was to provide four roads linking both sides of the park. The winning design by Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted offered the ingenious solution of four sunken roads running underneath the park that would serve crosstown traffic without disrupting the park. The judges loved the idea so much that they suggested creating similarly designed walking paths within the park. As the result, 58 miles of pedestrian paths wind over and under one another, with only one formal straight line — the Mall — leading to Bethesda Terrace.

Central Park was conceived in Gilded Age New York — a time of tremendous wealth and extreme poverty. The masses of new immigrants that flooded the city lived in deplorable conditions devoid of light and fresh air. Frederick Law Olmsted envisioned the park as a great equalizer: an idyllic place for city dwellers where rich and poor alike could escape to nature, even if for a day.  The plan, though wonderful in its conception, didn’t quite work at the time, since often times the poor could not afford a fair to get to the park. Nevertheless, everything starts with an idea, and Central Park eventually became exactly what the creators envisioned: a beautiful spot of nature in the middle of a metropolis, an easy escape from the city for a price of a subway fair, and a democratic place where people from all walks of life could enjoy the beauty of nature. It is a tribute to its amazing design that even now, visited by over 40 million people a year, Central Park has many quiet, secluded spots and still feels like a much-needed escape from the city.

Enjoying a quiet moment with a view to San Remo

Some Park Facts:

  • The first landscaped public park in the nation and the most visited in the United States
  • Location: from 59th to 110th Streets between 5th and 8th Avenues
  • Created: 1860
  • Completed: 1873
  • Designed: Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux
  • Perimeter: 6 miles
  • Dimensions: 2.5 M (4K) North to South, 0.5 M East to West.
  • Benches: 6,000, 7 miles laid end-to-end.
  • Cost of “adopting” a bench: $7,500 to $25,000.
  • Cost of “adopting” a tree: $1,000 to $100,000.

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