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Central Park History

In: Historical Events

Submitted By nataliarojas08
Words 1899
Pages 8
Natalia Rojas
Prof. Rachel Schutte
Polsci 110
02 May 2015

Central Park

Central Park is an urban park right in the heart of the borough of Manhattan in New York City. Central Park is the most visited park in all of the Untied States and it is recognized as a National History Landmark by the United States government for its outstanding degree of historical significance (Blackmar, Rosenzweig). However, the outcome of what the park is today is a product of years of the park’s planning, construction, and several renovations. These renovations though, have seen many obstacles, often reflecting the socioeconomic status of the City at the time. Central Park is a historical site in New York City with political relevance dating back to the 1800’s.
The beginnings of the park date back to the early 1820’s when New York population was increasing dramatically (MacDonald, 118). The people of New York City were sifting through the area, trying to find calm, open spaces to get away from the “hustle and bustle” of the city for a moment. The city’s need for a great public park soon became prevalent to New York state legislatures. Thus, in 1853 the New York state legislature settled upon a seven hundred acre area that spread from 59th street all the way until 106th street that would be dedicated to cultivating this vast public park (MacDonald, 119). Progress of the park, once it began in the 1850’s, has lasted through the 19th, 20th, and now even the 21st century. Of course, the project was rather expensive for New York government. The land alone cost New York five million dollars (Blackmar, Rosenzweig). To get the project going, the state appointed a Central Park Commission that facilitated the creation of the park.
The Central Park Commission held a contest to settle on who would be designing the landscape. Hand in hand, Fredrick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux developed a scheme for how the park would be landscaped called the Greensward Plan (Blackmar, Rosenzweig). Fredrick Law Olmstead was an American landscape architect and journalist from Connecticut (Brown, 41). As a journalist he worked in magazines and newspapers, where he often argued that slavery made states inefficient (Brown, 41). His work in architecture was widespread across the United States; he designed parks all throughout the states (Brown, 41). Calvert Vaux, also a landscape designer and architect, was from London (Brown, 41). He too worked on parks all throughout the country, but he was also very interested in the design of buildings and bridges as New York City became more and more industrialized (Brown, 41). Nonetheless, the both of them are noted most for their work together on Central Park.
The plan to for crafting Central Park was mainly led by these two men but executed by many. Other contributors include August Belmont, who was appointed to the board of the Central Park Commission in 1858 and proved to be useful in the many improvements being made at the time, and Andrew Haswell Green, previous New York City Board of Education president, who as well worked at Olmstead’s side on the project and was chairman of the Central Park Commission (Brown, 42).
In the 1850’s the land that was soon to be Central Park was still swampy and coarse with vegetation (MacDonald, 118). Not only that, but much of the area was populated by shantytowns that consisted of many African American and some English/Irish residents (Blackmar, Rosenzweig). Shantytowns were settlements made of scraps of metal, wood, and cardboard made by nearly homeless people to have a place to live (Blackmar, Rosenzweig). Many of these people were slaves who traveled up to the north from the south to be freed, since in the 1850’s slavery was still prominent in the south, while it was illegal in the north (Blackmar, Rosenzweig). Approximately 1,600 of these people were forced out of their homes in 1857 for the construction of the park to take place (MacDonald, 121). This is a prime example of the country’s ruling of eminent domain being exercised. Eminent domain is the power of a government to seize private property for public use. The government used this power to evict residents of this area and shantytowns.
Finalization of the park did not see completion of the park as a whole because soon after, the park went downhill. The primary reason why the park started to see decline was because the Tammany Hall political machine was uninterested in the park (MacDonald, 123). Tammany Hall was a political organization founded in New York City that was Democratic, especially in the way that it expanded the immigrant community and incorporated immigrants into the political world for the first time throughout the 19th and 20th centuries (Jacobson, Kernell, Kousser, Vavreck, 545). Tammany Hall was one of the factors that derived our political parties today, as it emerged as the center of the Democrat-Republican party (Jacobson, Kernell, Kousser, Vavreck, 545). They were the largest political organization in New York City at the time; therefore, them not having interest in the park caused neglect of it and thus, downfall of the park. Following this was Vaux’s death in 1895 (Blackmar, Rosenzweig). This marks its maintenance going down until Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, elected in 1934, gave a man named Robert Moses the responsibility to clean and maintain the park (Blackmar, Rosenzweig). Moses became the leader of the parks renovation. Within just one year the park was cleaned up, redesigned in many areas, and its agriculture came back to life.
Another dramatic change that occurred under Moses’ responsibility of the park was the disappearance of the Hoover Valley shantytown. “Hoover Valley” or “Hooverville” was a shantytown built by homeless during the Great Depression in which the country was under great economic depression in the 1930’s (Jacobson, Kernell, Kousser, Vavreck, 104). The name Hoover comes from the president Herbert Hoover who was often blamed for the economic depression (MacDonald, 122).
Again, recreation and renovation of this park was a costly production, and Moses managed to secure funds for the renovation via public donations and the New Deal. The New Deal consisted of a number of laws passed by congress and by executive orders by Franklin D. Roosevelt, president at the time, that were meant to help relieve the economic depression (Jacobson, Kernell, Kousser, Vavreck, 549). The New Deal produced political realignment of the Democratic Party and the liberalism ideology, while Republicans and Conservatives opposed the New Deal (Jacobson, Kernell, Kousser, Vavreck, 549). They were not in favor of programs the New Deal provided to help those impoverished by the depression out of poverty, and especially not in favor of raising funds for public recovery such as renovating Central Park.
Finally, in the mid 1900’s the park began to revive itself. The park was home to many social events and it was full and functioning again, as it was supposed to be since it was first constructed in the late 1800’s (Brown, 43). But by 1960, Moses had to step down from his position and management for the park in general declined, accordingly, soon began sorts of a second decline of the park (Blackmar, Rosenzweig). New York was once again facing economic and social changes. Budget cuts throughout the entire city during the 1980’s and 90’s affected the amount of staff that could be employed to work on the park (Blackmar, Rosenzweig). Meanwhile, the crime rate was increasing, which meant the amount of people needed to supervise and maintain the park increased as well (Menard). This, of course, led to the decline as more workers were needed but fewer workers could be employed and paid. Graffiti was a significant dilemma (Menard). Further industrialization of the city brought more pollution and car usage within the park (Menard). In total, the park was in bad shape.
By the late 1990’s the Central Park Conservancy took note of this and again began reviving the park. Several different renovation projects took place to save and protect the parks agriculture, enhance its scenic aspects, revive its original design by Vaux and Olmstead, and fortify bridges (Brown, 43). These renovations once again cost New York millions of dollars (Brown, 43). They were put on hold during much of the 2008 recession, in which New York suffered yet another significant economic decline (Brown, 43).
Today the park continues undergoing renovations; nevertheless it is in a more beautiful state than it has ever been. The current neighborhood around the site varies, as the park is wide and even longer than it is wide. However, as a whole, the neighborhoods around the park are diverse, vibrant, lively and in a good state. Yet, these neighborhoods directly bordering almost the entire park are very industrial. The focus right of the Central Park Conservatory is to end pollution in the park to allow for the natural scenic quality of Central Park to gleam (MacDonald, 131). In fact, ever since the 1960’s there has been talk about a campaign to make Central Park automobile-free. Legislation was proposed to conduct a study on making it automobile-free in the summer of 2015 (MacDonald, 131).
The park saw major changes throughout its course of being created, declining, being renovated, and all over again. In its very beginning it saw the effects of the civil war with newly freed slaves creating shantytowns in and out of the park as well as the economic drop after the civil war. It felt the effects of the Great Depression and later benefited from the New Deal by receiving funds to help renovate it. It saw the industrialization of New York, unfortunately by the effects of cars and pollution. It saw crime rate going up, as evidence by the amount of graffiti the park suddenly had. And lastly, it saw the Great Recession of 2008 that put on hold many of its renovations.
This site is important to American politics because it serves almost as a timeline of all the historical events that took place in and had an effect on New York City. The events at the site such as the “Hoovervilles” and the usage of eminent domain are all what helped shape the government we have now. The park is reflective of New York government and New York’s social and economic status from the 19th century up until today. It is a large and important variable to be considered always in New York State legislation as it is one of the main tourist attractions of the city and it is one of the few areas of New York that still stands for the natural world and agriculture, rather than the rest of New York with its industrialization.

Works Cited

Blackmar, Elizabeth, and Roy Rosenzweig. "History." Central Park. N.p., 1 Jan. 2015. Web. 02 May 2015.
Brown, Jeff L. “The Making of Central Park.” Civil Engineering. Vol. 83 Issue 1. 01 Jan. 2013. Web. 28 April 2015.
Kernell, Samuel, Gary C. Jacobson, Thad Kousser, and Lynn Vavreck. The Logic of American Politics. 6th ed. Washington, D.C.: CQ, 2000. Print.
MacDonald, Elizabeth. “Structuring a Landscape, Structuring a Sense of Place: The Enduring Complexity of Olmsted and Vaux's Brooklyn Parkways.” Journal of Urban Design. Vol. 7 Issue 2. 01 June 2002. Web. 28 April 2015.
Menard, Andrew. “The Enlarged Freedom of Fredrick Law Olmstead.” New England Quarterly. 01 Sept. 2010. Web. 30 April 2015.…...

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