A New “Central” Park in the Middle of New York City

April 2, 1858


Map of Central Park

About 13 years ago, Mr. William Cullen Bryant, editor of the New York’s Evening Post, and Mr. Andrew Jackson Downing, landscape artist, began to rally the citizens of New York around the idea of creating an open green space within the city limits (1). This is something that is very much needed in this growing city, for in 1850, we had a population of over 515,000 people (2) mostly living below 38th Street (1). Amazingly, in a “moment of rare political consensus,” both parties decided to endorse a large public park area (ibid.). For the past 4 years, the city government has been buying up all of the land from 59th Street to 106th Street, and between Fifth and Eighth Avenues, as seen above.

Unfortunately, as this is New York City, the planning of this park has not gone without its disagreements. The biggest controversy at the moment is whether the city or the state government should be in charge of this open green space. The Democratic Party were pulling for city control, while the Republicans wanted it out of Mayor Wood’s hands and into the state government (3). Mayor Wood had a very strong influence on the newly created park police, which was potentially threatening to party organization. So, in retaliation, the Republican party tried to “reform” the laws that gave the Mayor those rights and turn the police into state-commissioned positions. However, in early 1857, lawmakers decided to ignore these petty political fights, if I may be so bold, and created a co-op Board of Commissioners (ibid.). This Board originally included a combination of 6 Republicans, 4 Democrats, and 1 Independent, in order to keep everyone happy.

6 months ago, on October 13th, the brand new Board of Commissioners started a competition for landscapers to design a blueprint for the new area. 33 entires were submitted and last week, they were opened for the first time (3). Andrew Haswell Green, president of the Board (4), couldn’t say much on the proposals, for they have yet to come to an agreement on one that will be carried out. “However, we did find one curious entry,” Green said, “an anonymous contestant submitted something titled ‘Plan 2’ that consisted of nothing more than a pyramid” (3). (He guaranteed me that that was not the proposal that will be executed, though I expressed that it would make a very interesting statement to the rest of the world. Green was not amused). The plan will be chosen later on this year, and after tinkering with some logistics, construction should be underway shortly.

* * *

As I was walking past the plot for the park, I saw a young woman pushing a pram with a small child in it, looking out over the space. I asked her if she was looking forward to having a green area in the middle of the city, and she responded with an exuberant yes. “I don’t want to have my child grow up in a place like this and never know what fresh air smells like. Our family is by no means rich enough to go to the country often, yet we are definitely not so poor that we can’t afford daily excursions to this new ‘central’ park. I’m just excited to have a nice place to take my child.” I never did get her name, but her story is one that I can understand, and one that I feel like many other people in the city share.

Growing up in Central London, I didn’t end up spending any time in the country side at all until I sailed to America about 50 years ago. Now that I have the ability to travel and see nature, I fully support this plan for the new open green space here. I believe that we will finally have a safe area for mother’s to walk their children, for couples to take horse-drawn carriages, for young women to gossip and for children to play in the midst of this industrious and growing metropolis, and it will do wonders for the citizens of this city, rich or poor. For, I feel, this will be a place for all to enjoy. I am very excited to see how this, as the young woman called it, “central” park turns out.

Thank you, my beloved readers. I hope this year find you all in good health, and may God bless you all.

Benjamin Smythe

Works Cited:

  1. “The History of Central Park.” Official Website of New York City’s Central Park. Central Park Conservancy, Web. 20 Nov. 2013. <http://www.centralparknyc.org/visit/history/&gt;.
  2. “Population of 100 Largest Urban Places: 1850.” U.S. Bureau of the Census. 15 June 1998. Web. 20 Nov. 2013. <http://www.census.gov/population/www/documentation/twps0027/tab08.txt&gt;.
  3. Rosenzweig, Roy, and Elizabeth Blackmar. The Park and the People: A History of Central Park. pgs 95-97. Cornell University Press, 1992. Google Books. Web. 20 Nov. 2013. <http://books.google.com/books?id=sp93FnkRKiIC&dq=james+e+cooley+central+park&source=gbs_navlinks_s&gt;.
  4. “Board of Commissioners of Central Park, 1856 to April 19, 1870.” New York City Parks Commissioners. City of New York’s Parks & Recreation, Web. 20 Nov. 2013. <http://www.nycgovparks.org/about/history/commissioners&gt;.
  5. featured image: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_mlPoGU4VqSk/Spe2Osao2UI/AAAAAAAAGSc/Q5ce6xV73h0/s400/grand_drive_central_park_currier_and_ives_1869.jpg

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