New York City’s Central Park

This report is based on my site visit to the central park.  The objective of the report is to enable me to have a deeper understanding of the sense of place and how historic places and buildings reveal the culture and aspirations of the American people. Another objective is for a better understanding of the work of a historian by engaging in field research.

Central Park is an urban park in Manhattan, New York City. The park is bounded from the east by the 5th avenue, 8th avenue on the west, 59th street on the south and 110th street on the north. Prior to the visit I conducted some research on its history and found out that The Park was advocated primarily by the wealthy residents of New York City who had for a long time admired the public grounds in London and Paris. The facility was therefore put in place mainly to establish an international reputation as Americans had for a long time been labeled capitalists and non-social (“History of Central Park, New York”).

Over the years, central park has earned a reputation as the most visited public park in the United States of America and one of the most filmed locations globally. The park also boasts a wide range of public attractions such as Cleopatra’s needle, the zoo, the Belvedere castle among many others.

History of the park

Central Park was established in 1857 by the city of New York after the state legislature authorized it in 1853. The primary purpose of the establishment of this park was to refute the view held by many European countries that Americans lacked a sense of cultural refinement and civic duty but were instead materialistic. The park which sits on a massive 843 acres of land was constructed by Fredrick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux after they won the park design contest; this was the “Greensward plan”.  The park would later be designated a national historic landmark in 1962 by the U.S department of interior.

This park provided the high society of New York an avenue to socialize, and the poor were able to benefit from the clean air and uplifting recreation without necessarily having to spend money, and this gives the basis for the original sense of place of the park.( “History of Central Park, New York”).

Sense of place

The term Sense of place refers to the characteristics of a place that makes it unique to other sites or as I like to put it, it is the characteristics of a place that foster some sense of authentic human attachment.(“Sense Of Place.”). For central park, New Yorkers find this place to be a perfect escape from the busy and congested city life of New York. The residents mainly use the park for recreation, relaxation and most importantly socialization. I was particularly eager to visit the famous Belvedere castle, named for the Italian meaning “beautiful view” this castle has two balconies that offer visitors a panoramic view of some of central park’s most beautiful landmarks and therefore this was the first place I visited. At the Belvedere castle, I met 67-year-old Dana James who explained to me that central park was a great place to meet and interact with people and that most New Yorkers used the park as their backyard, to escape the city environment. I interacted with several people at the castle including a group of students who were out on recreation, and I deduced that the sense of place of the park or rather the human attachment of the park has not changed since its establishment in 1857. Since the park was created, it has been used as a place where people go for a change of environment and to socialize. Therefore the sense of place of this historic site has not changed from the original.

The sense of place of this historic site has been influenced greatly by the architecture, and land use of the park.  The park boasts many gardens, meadows sculptures and statues all which shape the human attachment to it. I figured during my visit that almost 90 percent of the park is nature. My visit to the mall, for example, got me surprised; beautiful American elm trees cover the area. The trees not only provide a picturesque location but also reduce flooding and erosion, keeping the park beautiful. The trees also serve to lower the temperatures during summer. The Great Lawn is the most famous green spaces in the world covering 55 acres of land. The park also gives visitors an opportunity to reminisce events in the history of America such as the Friedsan Memorial Carousel located on the 64th street. The architecture of the park also includes some statues to remember great and famous people an example of Cleopatra’s needle.

The central park fits perfectly in the surrounding area of Manhattan since it is almost the only place that New York City dwellers get the chance to interact with green space due to the congestion in the city. Getting deeper into the park, I almost forgot that I was in the middle of a big city. Central Park also goes a long way in improving the economic development of New York. According to a report by the Conservancy, the park generates up to one billion dollars both regarding direct and indirect revenue per year. The value of real estate has also increased around the park over the years. The park has also employed 1679 workers on a fulltime basis which amounts to 135 million dollars in economic output. Almost one-fifth of the park come from outside New York and generate more than 80 million dollars worth of economic activity around the park annually.( M. Kreinin-Souccar).

By creating jobs, increasing the value of real estate and increasing the economic activity around it, the park has contributed to rapid urbanization of the surrounding area, and this has enhanced the sense of place of the park even more since the residents turn to the park as their only escape to green space.

However, central park has a greater significance to its surroundings. The park protects the natural ecosystem hence providing natural habitats for different animals. The trees also serve to remove a wide variety of pollutants from the air of the very industrialized city of New York. On top of that, the park is vital when it comes to the collection of water from storms because its unpaved grounds absorb lots of water. ( Green Ribbon).

Central Park has helped a lot In building community in New York since residents can interact with each other and also meet new people. Most of the people I had interacted with during the visit had come alone as had I. There are also many spaces for events and recreational activities; this helps foster a sense of community. I also realized that the vast majority of visitors to central park engage in passive forms of leisure that are basically to relax, contemplate or to socialize and that a few; approximately 15 percent engage themselves actively.( Green Ribbon).

What gives the park historical significance is the fact that the park was the first of its kind in the United States of America. Also the park was established to step on the myth of most European countries that Americans lacked a sense of civic duty. The setting up of the park established the people of America as social beings and not individualistic and materialistic as was the notion among Europeans.

Conclusion

After the site visit, I was able to see how different it is to acquire knowledge first hand from the field. It was a whole new experience for me, and I must say it is more stringent than I had expected. This experience also helped me to get finer details on the meaning of sense of place and even to understand how different historical features have impacted the lives of American citizens. By conducting the research, I was able to have a deeper understanding of the work done by historians by analyzing the importance of central park as a historic site.

Despite having gone on an academic site visit, central park is one place I have come to know where fun cannot be avoided. The visit also took my interaction with nature and by extension to a whole new level. I could feel the sense of place of central park on a firsthand basis.

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