Central Park in New York City – An American Tourist Spot in American City
Central Park is an urban park in Manhattan, New York City, located between the Upper West Side and the Upper East Side. Central Park is the most visited urban park in the United States, with an estimated 37–38 million visitors annually, and one of the most filmed locations in the world. In terms of area, Central Park is the fifth largest park in New York City, covering 843 acres (341 ha).
Central Park was first approved in 1853 as a 778-acre (315 ha) park. In 1857, landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and architect/landscape designer Calvert Vaux won a design competition to construct the park with a plan they titled the “Greensward Plan”. Construction began the same year, and the park’s first areas were opened to the public in late 1858. Additional land at the northern end of Central Park was purchased in 1859, and the park was completed in 1876. After a period of decline in the early 20th century, New York City parks commissioner Robert Moses started a program to clean up Central Park. Another decline in the late 20th century spurred the creation of the Central Park Conservancy in 1980, which refurbished many parts of the park during the 1980s and 1990s.
Main attractions of the park include landscapes such as the Ramble and Lake, Hallett Nature Sanctuary, the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, and Sheep Meadow; amusement attractions such as Wollman Rink, Central Park Carousel, and the Central Park Zoo; formal spaces such as the Central Park Mall and Bethesda Terrace; and the Delacorte Theater, which hosts Shakespeare in the Park programs in the summertime. The park also has sports facilities, including the North Meadow Recreation Center, basketball courts, baseball fields, and soccer fields.
Central Park was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1963 and as a New York City scenic landmark in 1974. The park is owned by New York City Department of Parks and Recreation (NYC Parks), but has been managed by the Central Park Conservancy since 1998, under contract with the municipal government in a public-private partnership. The Conservancy, a non-profit organization, contributes 75 percent of Central Park’s $65 million annual budget and is responsible for all basic care of the park.
Central Park is bordered on the north by Central Park North (110th Street) and the neighborhood of Harlem; on the south by Central Park South (59th Street) and Midtown Manhattan; on the west by Central Park West (Eighth Avenue) and the Upper West Side; and on the east by Fifth Avenue and the Upper East Side. It measures 2.5 miles (4.0 km) long and 0.5 miles (0.80 km) wide with a total perimeter of about 6 miles (9.7 km).
Central Park is roughly divided into thirds. From north to south, they are the “North End”, north of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir; “Mid-Park”, between the reservoir to the north and the Lake and Conservatory Water to the south; and “South End”, south of the Lake and Conservatory Water. The park contains five visitor centers: Charles A. Dana Discovery Center, Belvedere Castle, Chess & Checkers House, the Dairy, and Columbus Circle. While planting and land form in much of the park appear natural, it was almost entirely landscaped during the 1850s and 1860s. The park contains seven lakes and ponds that have been created artificially by damming natural seeps and flows. There are several wooded sections, in addition to lawns, the “meadows”, and many minor grassy areas. In addition, there are 21 children’s playgrounds, as well as 6.1 miles (9.8 km) of drives, located within the boundaries of Central Park.
Central Park is the fifth-largest park in New York City, behind Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Van Cortlandt Park, the Staten Island Greenbelt, and Pelham Bay Park. Central Park is located on 843 acres of land, making it larger than two of the world’s smallest nations, Monaco and Vatican City. Central Park constitutes its own United States census tract, numbered 143. According to American Community Survey 5-year estimates, the park’s population in 2017 was four people, all female, with a median age of 19.8 years. Though the 2010 United States Census counted 25 residents within census tract 143, park officials have rejected the claim of anyone permanently living there.
Central Park is the most visited urban park in the United States and one of the most visited tourist attractions worldwide, with 42 million visitors in 2016. However, the number of unique visitors is much lower, a Central Park Conservancy report conducted in 2011 showed that the park was visited by 8–9 million unique people per year with 37–38 million visits between them. This still represents an increase from the 25 million visitors recorded in 2009, and the 12.3 million visitors estimated in 1973.
The number of tourists as a proportion of total visitors is much lower in 2009, one-fifth of the 25 million park visitors recorded that year were estimated to be tourists. The 2011 Conservancy report gave a similar ratio of park usage: only 14% of visits are by people visiting Central Park for the first time. According to the report, nearly two-thirds of visitors are regular park users who enter the park at least once weekly, and about 70% of visitors live in New York City. Moreover, peak visitation occurred during summer weekends, and most visitors used the park for passive recreational activities such as walking or sightseeing, as opposed to active sports.
The park is maintained by the Central Park Conservancy, a private, not-for-profit organization that manages the park under a contract with NYC Parks, in which the president of the Conservancy is ex officio Administrator of Central Park. The conservancy employs 80% of maintenance and operations staff in the park. It effectively oversees the work of both the private and public employees under the authority of the publicly appointed Central Park administrator, who reports to the parks commissioner and the conservancy’s president. The Central Park Conservancy was founded in 1980 as a nonprofit organization with a citizen board to assist with the city’s initiatives to clean up and rehabilitate the park. The Conservancy took over the park’s management duties from NYC Parks in 1998, though NYC Parks retained ownership of Central Park. The Conservancy also provides maintenance support and staff training programs for other public parks in New York City, and has assisted with the development of new parks such as the High Line and Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Construction of Central Park
Multiple people were involved in creating the final design of Central Park. While Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux were the primary designers, they were assisted by board member Andrew Haswell Green, as well as architect Jacob Wrey Mould, master gardener Ignaz Anton Pilat, and engineer George E. Waring, Jr. Olmsted was responsible for the overall plan, while Vaux designed some of the finer details. Mould, who frequently worked with Vaux, designed the Central Park Esplanade and the Tavern on the Green restaurant building. Pilat was the chief landscape architect for Central Park, and was primarily responsible with the import and placement of plants within the park. A “corps” of construction engineers and foremen, managed by superintending engineer William H. Grant, were tasked with the measuring and constructing architectural features such as paths, roads, and buildings. Waring was one of the engineers working under Grant’s leadership, and was in charge of land drainage.
Central Park was difficult to construct because of the generally rocky and swampy landscape. Around 5 million cubic feet (140,000 m3) of soil and rocks had to be transported out of the park, and more gunpowder was used to clear the area than was used at the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. More than 18,500 cubic yards (14,100 m3) of topsoil were transported from Long Island and New Jersey, because the original soil was neither fertile nor sufficiently substantial to sustain the flora specified in the Greensward Plan. Modern steam-powered equipment and custom tree-moving machines augmented the work of unskilled laborers. In total, over 20,000 individuals helped construct Central Park. Because of extreme precautions taken to minimize collateral damage, only five laborers died during the entire construction process.
During the development of Central Park, superintendent Olmsted hired several dozen mounted police officers, which were referred to as “keepers”. There were two classes: park keepers and gate keepers. The mounted police were viewed favorably by park patrons, and were later incorporated into a permanent patrol. However, the regulations themselves were sometimes strict. For instance, prohibited actions included games of chance, speech-making, large congregations such as picnics, or picking flowers or other parts of plants. However, these ordinances were effective: by 1866, there were nearly eight million visits to the park and only 110 arrests
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