The Majestic Central Park

by Rannon Huo, age 14 Best Essay Ages 14 & Up

No natural landmark in New York City is as iconic as its beloved 843-acre park. As Columbia University professor Elizabeth Blackmar notes in her book The Park and the People: A History of Central Park, it's made cameos in high and low culture alike, from the writings of Walt Whitman and J. D. Salinger to pop culture standbys like Wall Street and When Harry Met Sally. These days, 42 million people visit Central Park every year, rambling about its sprawling Sheep Meadow, its lovely lake, and its epic gardens. Seth Kamil, who has led tours of Central Park and other New York City landmarks for a quarter century tells readers a few little-known facts about this historic 19th-century landmark in Smithsonian's Article - 12 Secrets of New York's Central Park. In this essay, I will analyze three of several interesting facts presented by this article, and give my own personal opinion on the importance & meaning of each.

First of all, Kamil reveals that Central Park was probably founded to boost nearby residents' property values. In 1853, the New York State legislature passed the law to set aside 750 acres in Manhattan for America's first major public landscaped park. Although it is true that some rich New Yorkers simply wanted a beautiful park similar to those in London, which would make New York a world-class destination, others had a different perspective about Central Park. Many thought it was created for the sole purpose to bolster property values of the land surrounding the park. Central Park's rocky, craggy stretches were "impossible to dynamite," so the land wasn't used, and it wasn't easy on the eyes for nearby residents too. Additionally, according to the article, Central Park allowed us to compete with European cities. But, as is true of many things in New York, it was actually done for profit. This fact is quite interesting as it not only provides one stereotypical "Parks are always beautiful and heavenly good" perspective, but also shows that Central Park has downsides and not everyone supports this new addition. In reality, this controversy over Central Park is a symbol of beliefs, conveying that everything has a good and bad side to it and it all depends on your personal perspective. For example, I have never been to Central Park, but based on what I know so far, I still believe that it is a safe, fun, and effective place to enjoy yourself, while others may think its noise and environment simply gives it a bad influence on their lives. This example gives the park more meaningful insight because it shows that this park came with much argument and controversy, and the fact that it could be displayed differently in each person's mind can be mind-blowing. Consequently, this detail proves that Central Park emanated with many controversies and arguments on its overall effectiveness, giving it more history, thought, and perspective as time moves on.

Furthermore, Kamil uncovers that Central Park is designed to be a small-scale version of New York State itself. The southern part of the park, which is more formal and less rustic, is meant to evoke New York City and its surrounding wealthy suburbs. As you move north into the ramble with the hills and woods and wonderful gazebos and benches, you should be reminded of the bucolic Catskills and Adirondacks north of the city. This sudden transition contrasts New York City's heavy industry and business with the serenity of the woodlands up north. The underlying meaning of all of this is surprisingly obvious, Central Park was created as an exact microcosm of its location, New York City, and this connection ultimately makes the park more symbolic and attractive to the public. This detail is very interesting because it shows the connection between two very different dimensions, and furthermore extends by stating the contrast between urban & rural life, all in a single, exclusive package (Central Park). Additionally, this fact is very important to the overall image of Central Park, by giving it deeper history and meaning. Creating a symbolic connection between New York City and the park, especially through a comparison of two opposite things, shows the bond of Yorkers and the effort put into making the park into a microcosm of actual New York City. From my personal perspective, I have seen countless pictures about the varying sections of Central Park, including but not limited to a wooden gazebo on the lake in Central Park, large monumental sculptures representing labor aspects of industries, and large serene ecosystems containing ample botany, animals, and an accurate image of the Adirondacks and Catskills. Through these reasons, I believe Central Park is an accurate small--sized NYC, achievable through the creation of two very different worlds inside one public universe.

Finally, Kamil postulates that there was a very specific, open-to-the-public competition to design Central Park. Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux beat out 32 competitors in 1858 for the right to design Central Park. The open contest was very specific: It had to have a parade ground, a principal fountain, a lookout tower, a skating arena, four cross streets, and a place for an exhibition or a concert hall. Olmsted and Vaux seamlessly designed a naturalistic landscape hitting all those notes: Sheep Meadow, Bethesda Fountain, Belvedere Tower, the lake, and the sunken traverse roads in the park's center. Additionally, during the park's ensuring construction, millions of cartloads of dirt and topsoil were shifted to build the terrain, about 5,000,000 trees and shrubs were planted, a water-supply system was laid, and many bridges, arches, and roads were constructed. This fact, like the others, is very interesting because it shows the tedious & specific planning required to erect Central Park and its countless features. Extending off this point, the completed Central Park officially opened in 1876, and it is still one of the greatest achievements in artificial landscaping. The park's terrain and vegetation are highly varied and range from flat grassy swards, gentle slopes, and shady glens to steep, rocky ravines. This detail ultimately allows us to understand how Central Park was morphed into its magnificent state today and its amazing features, and through this analysis, we can tell that the answer is tough, explicit planning. A personal experience of Central Park's arduous planning is when I saw Cleopatra's Needle (an ancient Egyptian obelisk). The caption of the photo revealed the planning involved with this monument; the workers spent days designing it so that it would align with the sun and therefore portray accurate time. This is just one of the many extraordinary structures in Central Park that have been produced through hard work, progress, and preparation. Wrapping this all up, it is apparent that Central Park was created through laborious planning, and this truth bomb makes us realize that we should appreciate the park a little more, and understand its magnificent state it is in today.

In conclusion, Central Park acts as a haven for the people of New York City, and this is due to several factors revealed in Smithsonian's Article - 12 Secrets of New York's Central Park. Central Park came with many doubts on its effectiveness, symbols of the surrounding NYC area, and ample amounts of planning and preparation, and much more. But regardless of its previous history, we can all agree that it is truly a sight to behold today, and that it has provided a great area to enjoy, relax, and appreciate the beauty of our glamorous world.

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