Central Park Conservancy
a large urban public park (843 acres or 3.41 km sq; a rectangle 2.5 miles by one-half mile, or 4 km x 800 m). An oasis for Manhattanites escaping from their skyscrapers, the park is well-known worldwide after its appearance in many movies and television shows, which has made it one of the world's most famous city parks. Central Park is bordered on the north by 110th Street, on the east by Fifth Avenue, on the south by 59th Street, and on the west by Eighth Avenue.
The park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, who later created Brooklyn's Prospect Park. While much of the park looks natural, it is in fact highly landscaped. It contains several artificial lakes, extensive walking tracks, two ice-skating rinks, a wildlife sanctuary, and grassy areas used for myriad sporting pursuits, as well as playgrounds for children. The park is a popular oasis for migrating birds, and thus is popular with bird watchers. The 6 mi (10 km) road circling the park is popular with joggers, bicyclists and inline skaters, especially on weekends when automobile traffic is banned.
Each summer, the Public Theatre presents free open-air theatre productions, often starring well-known stage and screen actors, in the Delacorte Theatre. Most, though not all, of the plays presented are by William Shakespeare. Other events include NYC Midsummer and Summerstage, and the finish of the New York Marathon.
The need for a great public park as New York City expanded was voiced by the poet William Cullen Bryant and by the first American landscape architect, Alexander Jackson Downing. A stylish place for open-air driving, like the Bois de Boulogne in Paris or London's Hyde Park, was a need felt by many influential New Yorkers. In 1853, the New York legislature designated a 700 acre (2.8 kmSq) area from 59th to 106th Streets (a section from 106th to 110th Streets was added later) for the creation of the park. The roughly 1,600 working-class residents (most of them African-American and Irish immigrants) occupying the area at the time were evicted under the rule of eminent domain.
The State appointed a Central Park Commission to oversee the development of the park, and in 1857 the commission held a landscape design contest. Writer Frederick Law Olmsted and English architect Calvert Vaux's "Greensward Plan" was selected as the winning design. In the execution, sculptural detail was provided by Jacob Wrey Mould. During the peak years of initial development, Olmsted and Vaux employed some 20,000 skilled and unskilled workers.
Central Park was run down and hit a low at the end of the 1970s, when the Central Park Conservancy was founded (1980). The Conservancy restores and maintains the park under contract from the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, an early successful public private partnership. The city has transferred direction of ongoing restoration and maintenance to the Conservancy. Many encroachments on the park have been fought off over the years: within the Park are the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Central Park Zoo, ranged behind the pre-existing Arsenal, Manhattan's oldest.
Although often regarded as a kind of oasis of tranquility inside a "city that never sleeps," Central Park has had a reputation over the years as a dangerous place, especially after dark. This reputation probably began in the 1930s, when large encampments of homeless people known as "Hoovervilles" sprouted up in the park. Well-publicized incidents of violence and rape, However, as crime has declined in the Park and in the rest of New York City, many of these perceptions have become exaggerated or outdated, and the use of common sense is enough to protect visitors from harm. The New York Police Department designates Central Park as its own precinct, the 22nd, and it has been noted that a large percentage of the crimes in the park, particularly assaults, occur between people who know each other, as opposed to being random attacks. With more than 25 million visitors annually and fewer than a hundred crimes in all of 2004, Central Park is by far one of the safest urban parks in the world.