This article is about the public park in New York City. It is not to be confused with "Central Perk," the fictional coffeehouse from the television series "Friends". For other uses, see Central Park (disambiguation).
|Location:||Manhattan in New York City, New York|
|Length:||2.5 miles (4km)|
|Width:||0.5 miles (0.8km)|
|Operator:||Central Park Conservancy|
|Visitation Num:||about 37.5 million annually |
|Status:||Open all year|
Central Park is a public park at the center of Manhattan in New York City, United States. The park initially opened in 1857, on 843acres of city-owned land. In 1858, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux won a design competition to improve and expand the park with a plan they entitled the Greensward Plan. Construction began the same year, continued during the American Civil War, and was completed in 1873.
Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1962, the park is currently managed by the Central Park Conservancy under contract with the city government. The Conservancy is a non-profit organization that contributes 83.5% of Central Park's $37.5 million dollar annual budget, and employs 80.7% of the park's maintenance staff.
Central Park, which has been a National Historic Landmark since 1963, was designed by landscape designer and writer Frederick Law Olmsted and the English architect Calvert Vaux in 1858 after winning a design competition. They also designed Brooklyn's Prospect Park.  
Central Park is bordered on the north by West 110th Street, on the south by West 59th Street, on the west by Eighth Avenue. Along the park's borders, these streets are known as Central Park North, Central Park South, and Central Park West respectively. Only Fifth Avenue along the park's eastern border retains its name.
The park, which receives approximately thirty-five million visitors annually, is the most visited urban park in the United States. It was opened on 770acres of city-owned land and was expanded to 843acres. It is 2.5 miles (4 km) long between 59th Street (Central Park South) and 110th Street (Central Park North), and is 0.5 miles (0.8 km) wide between Fifth Avenue and Central Park West. It is similar in size to San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, Vancouver's Stanley Park, and Munich's Englischer Garten.
The park is maintained by the Central Park Conservancy, a private, not-for-profit organization that manages the park under a contract with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, in which the president of the Conservancy is ex officio Administrator of Central Park.
Today, the conservancy employs four out of five maintenance and operations staff in the park. It effectively oversees the work of both the private and public employees under the authority of the Central Park administrator, (publicly appointed), who reports to the parks commissioner, conservancy's president. As of 2007, the conservancy had invested approximately $450 million in the restoration and management of the park; the organization presently contributes approximately 85% of Central Park’s annual operating budget of over $37 million.
The system was functioning so well that in 2006 the conservancy created the Historic Harlem Parks initiative, providing horticultural and maintenance support and mentoring in Morningside Park, St. Nicholas Park, Jackie Robinson Park, and Marcus Garvey Park.
While planting and land form in much of the park appear natural, it is in fact almost entirely landscaped. The park contains several natural-looking lakes and ponds that have been created artificially, extensive walking tracks, bridle paths, two ice-skating rinks (one of which is a swimming pool in July and August), the Central Park Zoo, the Central Park Conservatory Garden, a wildlife sanctuary, a large area of natural woods, a 106acres billion-gallon reservoir with an encircling running track, and an outdoor amphitheater, the Delacorte Theater, which hosts the "Shakespeare in the Park" summer festivals. Indoor attractions include Belvedere Castle with its nature center, the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre, and the historic Carousel. In addition there are seven major lawns, the "meadows", and many minor grassy areas; some of them are used for informal or team sports and some set aside as quiet areas; there are a number of enclosed playgrounds for children.
The six miles (10 km) of drives within the park are used by joggers, bicyclists, skateboarders, and inline skaters, especially when automobile traffic is prohibited, on weekends and in the evenings after 7:00 pm.
The real estate value of Central Park was estimated by the property appraisal firm, Miller Samuel, to be $528,783,552,000 in December 2005.
As crime has declined in the park and in the rest of New York City, many former negative perceptions have waned. The park has its own New York City Police Department precinct (Central Park Precinct), which employs both regular police and auxiliary officers. In 2005, safety measures held the number of crimes in the park to fewer than one hundred per year (down from approximately 1,000 in the early 1980s). New York City Parks Enforcement Patrol also patrols Central Park.
See also: History of New York City. Central Park was not a part of the Commissioners' Plan of 1811; however, between 1821 and 1855, New York City nearly quadrupled in population. As the city expanded, people were drawn to the few existing open spaces, mainly cemeteries, to get away from the noise and chaotic life in the city.
New York City's need for a great public park was voiced by the poet and editor of the Evening Post (now the New York Post), William Cullen Bryant, and by the first American landscape architect, Andrew Jackson Downing, who began to publicize the city's need for a public park in 1844. A stylish place for open-air driving, similar to the Bois de Boulogne in Paris or London's Hyde Park, was felt to be needed by many influential New Yorkers, and, after an abortive attempt in 1850-51 to designate Jones's Wood, in 1853 the New York legislature settled upon a 700acres area from 59th to 106th Streets for the creation of the park, at a cost of more than US$5 million for the land alone.
The state appointed a Central Park Commission to oversee the development of the park, and in 1857 the commission held a landscape design contest. Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux developed what came to be known as the Greensward Plan, which was selected as the winning design.
According to Olmsted, the park was "of great importance as the first real Park made in this country—a democratic development of the highest significance…," a view probably inspired by his stay and various trips in Europe during 1850. He visited several parks during these trips and was particularly impressed by Birkenhead Park and Derby Arboretum in England.
Several influences came together in the design. Landscaped cemeteries, such as Mount Auburn (Cambridge, Massachusetts) and Green-Wood (Brooklyn, New York) had set examples of idyllic, naturalistic landscapes. The most influential innovations in the Central Park design were the "separate circulation" systems for pedestrians, horseback riders, and pleasure vehicles. The "crosstown" commercial traffic was entirely concealed in sunken roadways, (today called "transverses"), screened with densely-planted shrub belts so as to maintain a rustic ambiance.
The Greensward plan called for some 36 bridges, all designed by Vaux, ranging from rugged spans of Manhattan schist or granite, to lacy neo-gothic cast iron; no two are alike. The ensemble of the formal line of the Mall's doubled allées of elms culminating at Bethesda Terrace, whose centerpiece is the Bethesda Fountain, with a composed view beyond of lake and woodland, was at the heart of the larger design.
Execution of the Greensward Plan was the responsibility of a number of individuals, including Jacob Wrey Mould (architect), Ignaz Anton Pilat (master gardener), George Waring (engineer), and Andrew Haswell Green (politician), in addition to Olmsted and Vaux.
Before the construction of the park could start, the area had to be cleared of its inhabitants, most of whom were quite poor and either free African Americans or residents of English or Irish origin. Most of them lived in small villages, such as Seneca Village, Harsenville, or the Piggery District; or else in the school and convent at Mount St. Vincent's Academy. Around 1,600 residents occupying the area at the time, were evicted under the rule of eminent domain during 1857. Seneca Village and parts of the other communities were razed to make room for the park.
During the construction of the park, Olmsted fought constant battles with the park commissioners, many of whom were appointees of the city's Democratic machine. In 1860, he was forced out for the first of many times as Central Park's superintendent, and Andrew Haswell Green, the former president of New York City's board of education took over as the chairman of the commission. Despite the fact that he had relatively little experience, he still managed to accelerate the construction, as well as to finalize the negotiations for the purchase of an additional 65acres at the north end of the park, between 106th and 110th Streets, which would be used as the "rugged" part of the park, its swampy northeast corner dredged, and reconstructed as the Harlem Meer.
Between 1860 and 1873, most of the major hurdles to construction were overcome, and the park was substantially completed. Construction combined the modern with the ageless: up-to-date steam-powered equipment and custom-designed wheeled tree moving machines augmented massive numbers of unskilled laborers wielding shovels. The work was extensively documented with technical drawings and photographs. During this period, more than 18,500 cubic yards (14,000 m³) of topsoil had been transported in from New Jersey, because the original soil was not fertile or substantial enough to sustain the various trees, shrubs, and plants called for by the Greensward Plan. When the park was officially completed in 1873, more than ten million cartloads of material had been transported out of the park, including soil and rocks. More than four million trees, shrubs and plants representing approximately 1,500 species were transplanted to the park.
More gunpowder was used to clear the area than was used at the battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War.
Following completion, the park quickly slipped into decline. One of the main reasons for this was the lack of interest of the Tammany Hall political machine, which was the largest political force in New York at the time.
Around the turn of the 20th century, the park faced several new challenges. Cars were becoming commonplace, bringing with them their burden of pollution, and people's attitudes were beginning to change. No longer were parks to be used only for walks and picnics in an idyllic environment, but now also for sports, and similar recreation. Following the dissolution of the Central Park Commission in 1870 and Andrew Green's departure from the project, and the death of Vaux in 1895, the maintenance effort gradually declined, and there were few, if any, attempts to replace dead trees, bushes and plants, or worn-out lawn. For several decades, authorities did little or nothing to prevent vandalism and the littering of the park.
All of this changed in 1934, when Republican Fiorello La Guardia was elected mayor of New York City and unified the five park-related departments then in existence. Robert Moses was given the task of cleaning up the park. Moses, about to become one of the mightiest men in New York City, took over what was essentially, a relic, a leftover from a bygone era.
Lawns, unseeded, were expanses of bare earth, decorated with scraggly patches of grass and weeds, that became dust holes in dry weather and mud holes in wet…. The once beautiful Mall looked like a scene of a wild party the morning after. Benches lay on their backs, their legs jabbing at the sky...
In a single year, Moses managed to clean up Central Park and other parks in New York City. Lawns and flowers were replanted, dead trees and bushes were replaced, walls were sandblasted, and bridges repaired. Another dramatic change was Moses's removal of the "Hoover Valley" shantytown, whose site was transformed into the Great Lawn. Major redesigning and construction also was carried out: for instance, the Croton Lower Reservoir was filled in so the Great Lawn could be created. The Greensward Plan's purpose of creating an idyllic landscape was combined with Moses' vision of a park to be used for recreational purposes—19 playgrounds, 12 ball fields, and handball courts were constructed. Moses also managed to secure funds from the New Deal program, as well as donations from the public.
The 1960s marked the beginning of an “Events Era” in Central Park that reflected the widespread cultural and political trends of the period. The Public Theater's annual Shakespeare in the Park festival was settled in the Delacorte Theater (1961), and summer performances were instituted on the Sheep Meadow, and then on the Great Lawn by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera. Increasingly through the 1970s, the park became a venue for events of unprecedented scale, including political rallies and demonstrations, festivals, and massive concerts.
New York City was experiencing economic and social upheaval. Residents were fleeing the city and moving to the suburbs. Morale was low, and crime was high. The Parks Department, suffering from budget cuts and a lack of skilled management that rendered its workforce virtually ineffective, responded by opening the park to any and all activities that would bring people into it—regardless of their impact and without adequate management, oversight, or maintenance follow-up. Some of these events became important milestones in the social history of the park and the cultural history of the city.
By the mid-1970s, New York’s fiscal and social malaise had contributed to severe managerial neglect. "Years of poor management and inadequate maintenance had turned a masterpiece of landscape architecture into a virtual dustbowl by day and a danger zone by night," said the conservancy president. Time had hastened the deterioration of its infrastructure and architecture, and ushered in an era of vandalism, territorial use (as when a pick-up game of softball or soccer commandeered open space to the exclusion of others), and illicit activities.
Several citizen groups had emerged, intent upon reclaiming the park by fund raising and organizing volunteer initiatives. One of these groups, the Central Park Community Fund, commissioned a study of the park’s management. The study's conclusion was bi-linear;
In 1979 Parks Commissioner Gordon Davis established the Office of Central Park Administrator, appointing to the position the executive director of another citizen organization, the Central Park Task Force. The Central Park Conservancy was founded the following year, to support the office and initiatives of the administrator and to provide consistent leadership through a self-perpetuating, citizen-based board that also would include as ex-officio trustees, the parks commissioner, Central Park Administrator, and mayoral appointees.
Under the leadership of the Central Park Conservancy, the park's reclamation began with modest, but highly significant first steps, addressing needs that could not be met within the existing structure and resources of the parks department. Interns were hired, and a small restoration staff to reconstruct and repair unique rustic features, undertaking horticultural projects, and removing graffiti under the broken windows premise. Currently, "Graffiti doesn't last 24 hours in the park," according to Conservancy president Douglas Blonsky.
By the early 1980s the Conservancy was engaged in design efforts and long-term restoration planning, using both its own staff and external consultants. It provided the impetus and leadership for several early restoration projects funded by the city, preparing a comprehensive plan for rebuilding the park. On completion of the planning stage in 1985, the conservancy launched its first "capital" campaign, assuming increasing responsibility for funding the park's restoration, and full responsibility for designing, bidding, and supervising all capital projects in the park.
The restoration was accompanied by a crucial restructuring of management, whereby the park was subdivided into zones, to each of which a supervisor was designated, responsible for maintaining restored areas. Citywide budget cuts in the early 1990s, however, resulted in attrition of the park's routine maintenance staff, and the conservancy began hiring staff to replace these workers. Management of the restored landscapes by the conservancy’s "zone gardeners" proved so successful that core maintenance and operations staff were reorganized in 1996. The zone-based system of management was implemented throughout the park, which was divided into forty-nine zones. Consequently, every zone of the park has a specific individual accountable for its day-to-day maintenance. Zone gardeners supervise volunteers assigned to them, (who commit to a consistent work schedule) and are supported by specialized crews in areas of maintenance requiring specific expertise or equipment, or more effectively conducted on a park-wide basis.
located in the Swedish Cottage. The building was originally a model schoolhouse built in Sweden. Made of native pine and cedar, it was disassembled and rebuilt in the U.S. as Sweden's exhibit for the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Frederick Law Olmsted moved the cottage to its present site in 1877.
The Central Park Zoo is one of four zoos, and one aquarium, managed by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). The zoo is home to an indoor rainforest, a leafcutter ant colony, a chilled penguin house, and a Polar Bear pool.
Central Park was home to the famed New York City restaurant Tavern on the Green which was located on the park's grounds at Central Park West and West 67th Street. Tavern on the Green had its last seating on December 31, 2009 before closing its doors.
Central Park was home to the largest concert ever on record. Country Superstar Garth Brooks performed a free concert in August 1997. About 980,000 attended the event, according to the FDNY.
See main article: List of sculptures in Central Park.
a 1925 statue of the sled dog who became famous during the 1925 serum run to Nome
created by sculptor Robert Graham was dedicated in 1997 near Fifth Avenue and 110th Street, in the Duke Ellington Circle
On October 9, 1985, on what would have been John Lennon's 45th birthday, New York City dedicated 2.5 acres to his memory. Countries from all around the world contributed trees and Italy donated the iconic Imagine mosiac. It has since become the sight of impromptu memorial gatherings for other notables and, in the days following the September 11, 2001 attacks, candlelight vigils
For sixteen days in 2005 (February 12 - 27), Central Park was the setting for Christo and Jeanne-Claude's installation The Gates. Although the project was the subject of very mixed reactions (and it took many years for Christo and Jeanne-Claude to get the necessary approvals), it was nevertheless a major, if temporary, draw for the park.
There are four different types of bedrock in Manhattan, two are exposed in various outcroppings in Central Park, Manhattan schist and Hartland schist (both are metamorphosed sedimentary rock); Fordham gneiss, an older deeper layer which does not surface in the park and Inwood marble (metamorphosed limestone) which overlays the gneiss are the others.
Fordham gneiss, which consists of metamorphosed igneous rocks, was formed a billion years ago, during what is known as the Grenville orogeny that occurred during the creation of an ancient super-continent. It is the oldest rock in the Canadian Shield, the most ancient part of the North American tectonic plate.
Manhattan schist and Hartland schist were formed in the Iapetus Ocean during the Taconic orogeny in the Paleozoic era, about 450 million years ago. During this period the tectonic plates began to move toward each other, which resulted in the creation of the supercontinent, Pangaea.
Various glaciers have covered the area of Central Park in the past, with the most recent being the Wisconsin glacier which receded about 12,000 years ago. Evidence of past glaciers are visible throughout the park in the form of glacial erratics (large boulders dropped by the receding glacier) and north-south glacial striations visible on stone outcroppings.
Central Park, home to over 25,000 trees, has a stand of 1,700 American Elms, one of the largest remaining stands of in the northeastern U.S., protected by their isolation from Dutch Elm Disease which devastated the tree throughout its native range.
A partial listing of the tree species found in Central Park, both natives and exotics:
The first official list of birds observed in Central Park was drawn up by Augustus G. Paine, Jr.. Paine was an avid hobby ornithologist and, together with his friend Lewis B. Woodruff, drew up a list of birds counting over 100 species. This was regarded as the first official list and was published in Forest and Stream on June 10, 1886. An article in The New Yorker on 26 August 1974 calls attention to this early list. Over the decades the list has been updated and changed.
The park is frequented by various migratory species of birds during their Spring and Fall migration on the Atlantic Flyway. Over a quarter of all the bird species found in the United States have been seen in Central Park. One of these species is the Red-tailed hawk, which re-established a presence in the park when a male hawk known as Pale Male for his light coloration, nested on a building on Fifth Avenue, across the street from the park. He became a local media celebrity and a prolific breeder.
Central Park was the site of the misguided unleashing of European starlings in North America, a native of Eurasia which has become an invasive species. In April, 1890, eighty birds were released by Eugene Schieffelin, and the following March another eighty; these one hundred and sixty birds are the progenitors of the flocks which now span the United States and parts of Canada.
Permission to hold issue-centered rallies in Central Park has been met with increasingly stiff resistance from the city. In 2004, the organization United for Peace and Justice wanted to hold a rally on the Great Lawn during the Republican National Convention. The city denied application for a permit, stating that such a mass gathering would be harmful to the grass and that such damage would make it harder to collect private donations to maintain the park. Courts upheld the refusal.
Since the 1960s, there has been a grassroots campaign to restore the park's loop drives to their original car-free state. Over the years, the number of car-free hours has increased, although a full closure currently is resisted by Mayor Bloomberg. The New York City Department of Transportation is now reportedly studying the issue.
The Central Park Medical Unit is an all-volunteer ambulance service that provides free emergency medical service to patrons of Central Park and the surrounding streets. It operates a rapid-response bicycle patrol, particularly during major events such as the New York City Marathon, the 1998 Goodwill Games, and concerts in the park.
Central Park constitutes its own United States census tract, number 143. According to Census 2000, the park's population is eighteen people, twelve male and six female, with a median age of 38.5 years, and a household size of 2.33, over 3 households.
Central Park is the most filmed location in the world. Over 305 films have been shot within the park. Memorable films include Hannah and Her Sisters, When Harry Met Sally, Remember Me, Home Alone 2, Kramer vs Kramer, Enchanted, Mr. Deeds, and Serendipity.
Central Park was the recipient of the Lily Bartle Park of the Month award in June 2010
Cities, 1600s-1900s: Disorder, Inequality, and Social Change (Duke University Press, 2009), section 3; ISBN 978-0-8223-4451-3.