159 Years Later, Olmsted & Vaux Were Right about Central Park

In 2000, Edward Rutherfurd wrote an epic book entitled “New York: The Novel.” Beginning with the early settlement of the city, it covered centuries of expansion and development through the eyes of fictional families interwoven with historical figures. I found the beginning of the book to be particularly interesting as it described the wilderness that was then Manhattan, called Mannahatta – island of many hills – by the indigenous Lenape people. (We would bet the farm you had no idea until now how Manhattan got its name.)

The development of commerce and northward ho of the population intrigued me less than the descriptions of Manhattan au naturel, if you will. Hills, yes. But also ponds, streams, springs, salt marshes, forests, wetlands and, from the tip of Manhattan through Harlem, oak trees in tremendous density and prodigious wildlife – turkey, elk, black bear, wolves, deer, ducks, and beavers. The latter were killed on such a vast scale in early New York that the population was decimated, although its abundance is commemorated on the seal of the City of New York with two beavers (we bet you didn’t know that either).

In 2007, to the astonishment of everyone, including the hard-working people who have been cleaning up the Bronx River since the 1970s, a beaver was discovered to have built its lodge by a river bank near the Bronx Zoo. Jose, as he became known, was the first beaver seen in New York City in more than 200 years.

But I digress. With all due respect to Jose and his new companion, Justin (after Bieber; I kid you not) this post is to bring to your attention the remarkable healthy effects of Central Park on the city and its people.

Central Park was the first major, planned and landscaped public park in the U.S. Originally 750 acres and expanded to 853, hidden among its verdant, winding paths are prehistoric rock formations, waterfalls (all man-made), bridges, fountains, bodies of water, benches, monuments, statues, gardens, gondoliers, a boathouse, a zoo and a castle.

The original creators of Central Park, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, understood that this immense, protected park would be an inspiration, a form of escape, mentally and physically from the relentless urbanization of the island, a place of serenity and healthy endeavors for the city’s occupants, and stand as a symbol of civility. They were right on all counts in 1858 when they presented their plan, 159 years ago.

The Central Park Conservancy (“Official Caretakers of Central Park”) recently published a blog post about “How Central Park Keeps New York City Healthy.” We urge you to go to their website (centralparknyc.org) and read how the trees (more than 20,000) increase oxygen and keep the city cooler; provides outdoor access for healthy exercise, as well as solitude; and is a thriving habitat for a range of wildlife.

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Steven_J._SchleiderBy Steven J. Schleider, MAI, LEED-AP BD + C President, Metropolitan Valuation Services