This "exemplary social history" (Kirkus Reviews) is the first full-scale account of Central Park ever published. Elizabeth Blackmar and Roy Rosenzweig tell the story of Central Park's people-the merchants and landowners who launched the project; the immigrant and African-American residents who were displaced by the park; the politicians, gentlemen, and artists who disputed its design and operation; the German gardeners, Irish laborers, and Yankee engineers who built it; and the generations of New Yorkers for whom Central Park was their only backyard. In tracing the park's history, Blackmar and Rosenzweig give us the history of New York, and bring to life larger issues about the meaning of the word "public" in a democratic society.
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(238mm x 168mm x 34mm)
Cornell University Press
Publisher: Cornell University Press
Country of Publication:
US Kirkus Review »
Now embraced as a cultural treasure and called the most democratic space in New York, Central Park has a contentious and elitist history - expertly chronicled here by Rosenzweig (History/George Mason Univ.) and Blackmar (History/Columbia Univ.). Conceived by a small group of the wealthy in the 1850s as an answer to Europe's society gathering spaces, the park sparked debates from the beginning: Why did New Yorkers need an uptown park when Hoboken's Elysian Fields were half the distance away? Where should the park be located? What kind of park should it be? A civic monument? A programmed pleasure garden? A commons for public assembly? Or a landscaped preserve of artificial nature, as essentially proposed and executed by chosen designers Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux? And just what public should the park attract? There was not much debate, though, about displacing the site's "squatters," whom Rosenzweig and Blackmar find were members of stable communities: Some owned their property, most probably paid rent, and many were black. And there was no protest when the park became a venue for the rich to see and be seen in their fashionable carriages. While the masses took their pleasure at commercial gardens elsewhere, Olmstead - a tyrant who drove and underpaid park workers, enforced strict decorum among visitors, and elbowed the more sympathetic Vaux out of his share of credit - maintained the park as a landscape to be viewed. Though the park's creation and early decades are extensively detailed here, the authors complete the political, class-conscious story through years of realestate speculation, Tammany patronage, and reformers' penury; and then, in the 20th century, through a growing diversity of use and users, and - with homeless residents and millionaire neighbors - an evolving debate over the question of "whose park is this, anyway?" Neither dry chronology nor anecdotal diversion, but exemplary social history. (Kirkus Reviews)
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