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The Park and the People

In this superb and handsomely illustrated book - the first full-scale history of the park ever published - Roy Rosenzweig and Elizabeth Blackmar tell the dramatic story of the creation of Central Park, of the people who built it and have used it. The book chronicles the launching of the park project, the disputes surrounding its design and management, the job of constructing it, and the various ways it has served generations of New Yorkers. Throughout, the authors delineate the politicians, business people, artists, immigrant laborers, and city dwellers who are the key players in the tale. In tracing the park's history, the writers also give us the history of New York. They explain how squabbles over politics, taxes, and real estate development shaped the park and describe the acrimonious debates over what a public park should look like, what facilities it should offer, and how it should accommodate the often incompatible expectations of different groups of parkgoers. The authors have uncovered surprising information about the immigrants and African Americans who were displaced from the park site, and they offer a critical reassessment of the famous collaboration of the park's designers, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. In rich detail, they describe working-class New Yorkers fighting for Sunday park concerts and against the practice of renting park seats for a nickel. They look back at the origins of the zoo and museums at the park's borders. They follow the battle between the twentieth-century reformers who wanted to introduce playgrounds and ball fields and the preservationists trying to protect the original Olmsted and Vaux design, and they explain the dramatic changes broughtabout by the social impulses of the New Deal and by Robert Moses. Rounding out the story, the authors take in the park's recent history: rising fears of crime in the 1950s, the "be-ins" and anti-war demonstrations of the 1960s, the devastating fiscal crisis of the 1970s, and the restoration of the park in the 1980s by the Central Park Conservancy. But the authors' aim is much wider: they also show that conflicting visions of how a park should be managed and used raise larger issues about the meaning of the "public" in a democratic society. Who is the public? How can people take part in making decisions about public institutions? How do we create public space where people of diverse social and cultural backgrounds will feel welcome? These are questions that communities across the nation will continue to debate. Parkgoers and city dwellers everywhere will be enthusiastic readers of The Park and the People, as will those interested in urban, architectural, social, and cultural history, urban planning, and landscape architecture.
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Winner of the 1993 Historic Preservation Book Award and the 1993 Urban History Association Prize for Best Book on North American Urban History.


What took 166 tons of dynamite, six million bricks, 19,000 cubic yards of sand, 20,000 men, and $5 million to build? If you answered New York's Central Park, give yourself a perfect grade. The same is awarded this magnificent public works history, a masterpiece combining the story of the park, the history of New York, city and state politics, and the people of the city. Central Park was conceived in the 1840s, built in the depression era of 1857, and renovated during the Great Depression. The authors have exhausted primary and secondary sources to produce this definitive work, which surpasses an earlier photographic history, Circle of Seasons . From the work of park designers Frederic Law Olmsted and Calbert Vaux to New Deal park commissioner Robert Moses to the administration of Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, the volume is a rare combination of scholarship and readable text. The emphasis is on the 19th century and the park's formative decades, including design, property acquisition, and the men whose labor created the world's best-known park. Ignoring neither the vested interests of the propertied class who stood to benefit from the park nor the fear of crime in Central Park, Rosenzweig and Blackmar produce a model history--not just of the park but of the city and people who turn to it for amusement, recreation, relaxation, and more.--Boyd Childress, Auburn Univ. Lib., Ala.

"Original and provocative... A deeply felt celebration of the role of public space."-Robert Fishman, New York Times Book Review "Ambitious and adventurous... A surprising and deeply social account of the park's contentious past. A powerful historical resource for thinking about the shape American public spaces have taken."-Susan G. Davis, The Nation "Prodigiously researched, eloquent. An outstanding study of the evolution of Manhattan's Central Park."-Publishers Weekly (starred review)

In this prodigiously researched, eloquent work, history professors Rosenzweig (George Mason University) and Blackmar (Columbia) have written an outstanding study of the evolution of Manhattan's Central Park, from its early days as a carriage promenade for the rich to its development as a haven from urban stress for all classes of people. Construction of the park, which was conceived by the wealthy both as a boon to the public and as a means to enhance real estate values, began in 1856. The project displaced 1600 park site residents, including Seneca, an African American community; exploited the laborers who cleared the land; and was rife with disputes between Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the architects who won the design competition. Although the emphasis is on the first 50 years of the park's development, Robert Moses's reign as park commissioner from 1934 to 1960 is adequately covered, as is the current controversial dependence on the private sector to finance this beautiful, democratic public space. Illustrated. (Oct.)

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