Cities and Parks: With Special Reference to the New York Central Park
THE first murderer was the first citybuilder; and a good deal of murdering has been carried on in the interest of city-building ever since Cain’s day. Narrow and crooked streets, want of proper sewerage and ventilation, the absence of forethought in providing open spaces for the recreation of the people, the allowance of intramural burials, and of fetid nuisances, such as slaughter-houses and manufactories of offensive stuffs, have converted cities into pestilential inclosures, and kept Jefferson's saying — “ Great cities are great sores ” — true in its most literal and mortifying sense.
There is some excuse for the crowded and irregular character of Old-World cities. They grew, and were not builded. Accumulations of people, who lighted like bees upon a chance branch, they found themselves hived in obdurate brick and mortar before they knew it; and then, to meet the necessities of their cribbed, cabined, and confined condition, they must tear down sacred landmarks, sacrifice invaluable possessions, and trample on prescriptive rights, to provide breathing-room for their gasping population. Besides, air, water, light, and cleanliness are modern innovations. The nose seems to have acquired its sensitiveness within a hundred years,— the lungs their objection to foul air, and the palate its disgust at ditch-water like the Thames, within a more recent period. Honestly dirty, and robustly indifferent to what mortally offends our squeamish senses, our happy ancestors fattened on carbonic acid gas, and took the exhalations of graveyards and gutters with a placidity of stomach that excites our physiological admiration. If they died, it was not for want of air. The pestilence carried them off, — and that was a providential enemy, whose home-bred origin nobody suspected.
It must seem to foreigners of all things the strangest, that, in a country where land is sold at one dollar and twentyfive cents the acre by the square mile, there should in any considerable part of it be a want of room, — any necessity for crowding the population into pent-up cities,— any narrowness of streets, or want of commons and parks. And yet it is an undeniable truth that our American cities are all suffering the want of ample thoroughfares, destitute of adequate parks and commons, and too much crowded for health, convenience, or beauty. Boston has for its main street a serpentine lane, wide enough to drive the cows home from their pastures, but totally and almost fatally inadequate to be the great artery of a city of two hundred thousand people. Philadelphia is little better off with her narrow Chestnut Street, which purchases what accommodation it affords by admitting the parallel streets to nearly equal use, and thus sacrificing the very idea of a metropolitan thoroughfare, in which the splendor and motion and life of a metropolis ought to be concentrated. New York succeeds in making Broadway what the Toledo, the Strand, the Linden Strasse, the Italian Boulevards are; but the street is notoriously blocked and confused, and occasions more loss of time and temper and life and limb than would amply repay, once in five years, the widening of it to double its present breadth.
It is a great misfortune, that our commercial metropolis, the predestined home of five millions of people, should not have a single street worthy of the population, the wealth, the architectural ambition ready to fill and adorn it. Wholesale trade, bankers, brokers, and lawyers seek narrow streets. There must be swift communication between the opposite sides, and easy recognition of faces across the way. But retail trade requires no such conditions. The passers up and down on opposite sides of Broadway are as if in different streets, and neither expect to recognize each other nor to pass from one to the other without set effort. It took a good while to make Broad and Canal Streets attractive business-streets, and to get the importers and jobbers out of Pearl Street; but the work is now done. The Bowery affords the only remaining chance of building a magnificent metropolitan thoroughfare in New York; and we anticipate the day when Broadway will surrender its pretensions to that now modest Cheapside. Already, about the confluence of the Third and Fourth Avenues at Eighth Street are congregated some of the chief institutions of the city, —the Bible House, the Cooper Institute, the Astor Library, the Mercantile Library. Farther down, the continuation of Canal Street affords the most commanding sites for future public edifices; while the neighborhoods of Franklin and Chatham Squares ought to be seized upon to embellish the city at imperial points with its finest architectural piles. The capacities of New York, below Union Square, for metropolitan splendor are entirely undeveloped ; the best points are still occupied by comparatively worthless buildings, and the future will produce a nowunlooked-for change in the whole character of that great district.
The huddling together of our American cities is due to the recentness of the time when space was our greatest enemy and sparseness our chief discouragement. Our founders hated room as much as a backwoods farmer hates trees. The protecting walls, which narrowed the ways and cramped the houses of the Old-World cities, did not put a severer compress upon them than the disgust of solitude and the craving for “ the sweet security of streets ” threw about our city-builders. In the Western towns now, they carefully give a city air to their villages by crowding the few stores and houses of which they are composed into the likeliest appearance of an absolute scarcity of space.
They labor unconsciously to look crowded, and would sooner go into a cellar to eat their oysters than have them in the finest saloon above ground. And so, if a peninsula like Boston, or a miniature Mesopotamia like New York, or a basin like Cincinnati, could be found to tuck away a town in, in which there was a decent chance of covering over the nakedness of the land within a thousand years, they rejoiced to seize on it and warm their shivering imaginations in the idea of the possible snugness which their distant posterity might enjoy.
Boston owes its only park worth naming— the celebrated Common — to the necessity of leaving a convenient cowpasture for the babes and sucklings of that now mature community. Forty acres were certainly never more fortunately situated for their predestined service, nor more providentially rescued for the higher uses of man. May the memory of the weaning babes who pleaded for the spot where their “ milky mothers ” fed be ever sacred in our Athens, and may the cows of Boston be embalmed with the bulls of Egypt ! A white heifer should be perpetually grazing, at her tether, in the shadow of the Great Elm. Would it be wholly unbecoming one born in full view of that lovely inclosure to suggest that the straightness of the lines in which the trees are planted on Boston Common, and the rapidly increasing thickness of their foliage, destroy in the summer season the effect of breadth and liberty, hide both the immediate and the distant landscape, stifle the breeze, and diminish the attractiveness of the spot ? Fewer trees, scattered in clumps and paying little regard to paths, would vastly improve the effect. The colonnades of the malls furnish all the shade desirable in so small an inclosure.
For the most part, the proper layingout of cities is both a matter of greater ease and greater importance in America than anywhere else. We are much in the condition of those old Scriptural worthies, of whom it could be so coolly said, “ So he went and built a city,” as if it were a matter of not much greater account than “ So he went and built a log-house.” Very likely some of those Biblical cities, extemporized so tersely, were not much more finished than those we now and then encounter in our Western and Southern tours, where a poor shed at four cross-roads is dignified with the title. We believe it was Samuel Dexter, the pattern of Webster, who, on hanging out his shingle in a New England village, where a tavern, a schoolhouse, a church, and a blacksmith’s shop constituted the whole settlement, gave as a reason, that, having to break into the world somewhere, he had chosen the weakest place. He would have tried a new Western city, had they then been in fashion, as a still softer spot in the social crust. But this rage for cities in America is prophetic. The name is a spell; and most of the sites, surveyed and distributed into town-lots with squares and parks staked out, are only a century before their time, and will redound to the future credit, however fatal to the immediate cash of their projectors. Who can doubt that Cairo of Illinois—the standing joke of tourists, (and the standing-water of the Ohio and Mississippi,) though no joke to its founders — will one day rival its Egyptian prototype ? America runs to cities, and particularly in its Northern latitudes. As cities have been the nurses of democratic institutions and ideas, democratic nations, for very obvious reasons, tend to produce them. They are the natural fruits of a democracy. And with no people are great cities so important, or likely to be so increasingly populous, as with a great agricultural and commercial nation like our own, covered with a free and equal population. The vast wealth of such a people, evenly distributed, and prevented from over-accumulation in special families by the absence of primogeniture and entail,—their general education and refined tastes,— the intense community of ideas, through the all-pervading influence of a daily press reaching with simultaneous diffusion over thousands of square miles, — the facilities of locomotion,— all inevitably cooperate with commercial necessities to create great cities, —not merely as the homes of the mercantile and wealthy class, but as centres where the leisure, the tastes, the pride, and the wants of the people at large repair more and more for satisfaction. Free populations, educated in public schools and with an open career for all, soon instinctively settle the high economies of life.
Many observers have ascribed the rapid change which for twenty years past has been going on in the relative character of towns and villages on the one hand, and cities on the other, to the mere operation of the railroad-system. But that system itself grew out of higher instincts. Equal communities demand equal privileges and advantages. They tend to produce a common level. The country does not acquiesce in the superiority of the city in manners, comforts, or luxuries. It demands a market at its door, — first-rate men for its advisers in all medical, legal, moral, and political matters. It demands for itself the amusements, the refinements, the privileges of the city. This is to be brought about only by the application, at any cost, of the most immediate methods of communication with the city; and behold our railroad system, — the Briarean shaking of hands which the country gives the city ! The growth of this system is a curious commentary on the purely mercenary policy which is ordinarily supposed to govern the investments of capital. The railroads of the United States are as much the products of social rivalries and the fruits of an ineradicable democratic instinct for popularizing all advantages, as of any commercial emulation. The people have willingly bandaged their own eyes, and allowed themselves to believe a profitable investment was made, because their inclinations were so determined to have the roads, profitable or not. Their wives and daughters would shop in the city ; the choicest sights and sounds were there ; there concentrated themselves the intellectual and moral lights; there were the representative splendors of the state or nation; — and a swift access to them was essential to true equality and self-respect.
One does not need to be a graybeard to recall the time when every countytown in New England had, because it needs must have, its first-rate lawyer, its distinguished surgeon, its comprehensive business-man, — and when a fixed and unchanging population gave to our villages a more solid and a more elegant air than they now possess. The Connecticut river-villages, with a considerable increase in population, and a vast improvement in the general character of the dwellings, have nevertheless lost their most characterizing features, — the large and dignified residences of their founders, and the presence of the once able and widely known men that were identified with their local importance and pride. The railroads have concentrated the ability of all the professions in the cities, and carried thither the wealth of all the old families. To them, and not to the county-town, repair the people for advice in all critical matters, for supplies in all important purchases, for all their rarest pleasures, and all their most prized and memorable opportunities.
Cities, and the immediate neighborhood of cities, are rapidly becoming the chosen residences of the enterprising, successful, and intelligent. As might be supposed, the movement works both ways: the locomotive facilities carry citizens into the country, as well as countrymen into the city. But those who have once tasted the city are never wholly weaned from it, and every citizen who moves into a village-community sends two countrymen back to take his place. He infects the country with civic tastes, and acts as a great conductor between the town and the country. It is apparent, too, that the experience of ten years, during which some strong reaction upon the centripetal tendencies of the previous ten vears drove many of the wealthy and the self-supposed lovers of quietude and space into the country, has dispersed several very natural prejudices, and returned the larger part of the truants to their original ways. One of these prejudices was, that our ordinary Northern climate was as favorable to the outdoor habits of the leisurely class as the English climate; whereas, besides not having a leisurely class, and never being destined to have any, under our wise wealth-distributing customs, and not having any out-door habits, which grow up only on estates and on hereditary fortunes, experience has convinced most who have tried it that we have only six months when out-of-doors allows any comfort, health, or pleasure away from the city. The roads are sloughs; side-walks are wanting; shelter is gone with the leaves; non-intercourse is proclaimed; companionship cannot be found; leisure is a drug; books grow stupid; the country is a stupendous bore. Another prejudice was the anticipated economy of the country. This has turned out to be, as might have been expected, an economy to those who fall in with its ways, which citizens are wholly inapt and unprepared to do. It is very economical not to want city comforts and conveniences. But it proves more expensive to those who go into the country to want them there than it did to have them where they abound. They are not to be had in the country at any price,— water, gas, fuel, food, attendance, amusement, locomotion in all weathers ; but such a moderate measure of them as a city-bred family cannot live without involves so great an expense, that the expected economy of life in the country to those not actually brought up there turns out a delusion. The expensiveness of life in the city comes of the generous and grand scale on which it there proceeds, not from the superior cost of the necessaries or comforts of life. They are undoubtedly cheaper in the city, all things considered, than anywhere in the country. Where everything is to be had, in the smallest or the largest quantities, — where every form of service can be commanded at a moment’s notice,—where the wit, skill, competition of a country are concentrated upon the furnishing of all commodities at the most taking rates,—there prices will, of course, be most reasonable; and the expensiveness of such communities, we repeat, is entirely due to the abundant wealth which makes such enormous demands and secures such various comforts and luxuries; — in short, it is the high standard of living, not the cost of the necessaries of life. This high standard is, of course, an evil to those whose social ambition drives them to a rivalry for which they are not prepared. But no special pity is due to hardships self-imposed by pride and folly. The probability is, that, proportioned to their income from labor, the cost of living in the city, for the bulk of its population, is lighter, their degree of comfort considered, than in the country. And for the wealthy class of society, no doubt, on the whole, economy is served by living in the city. Our most expensive class is that which lives in the country after the manner of the city.
A literary man, of talents and thorough respectability, lately informed us, that, after trying all places, cities, villages, farmhouses, boarding-houses, hotels, taverns, he had discovered that keeping house in New York was the cheapest way to live, — vastly the cheapest, if the amount of convenience and comfort was considered, —and absolutely cheapest in fact. To be sure, being a bachelor, his housekeeping was done in a single room, the back-room of a third-story, in a respectable and convenient house and neighborhood. His rent was ninety-six dollars a year. His expenses of every other kind, (clothing excepted,) one dollar a week. He could not get his chop or steak cooked well enough, nor his coffee made right, until he took them in hand himself,— nor his bed made, nor his room cleaned. His conveniences were incredibly great. He cooked by alcohol, and expected to warm himself the winter through on two gallons of alcohol at seventy-five cents a gallon. This admirable housekeeping is equalled in economy only by that of a millionnaire, a New-Yorker, and a bachelor also, whose accounts, all accurately kept by his own hand, showed, after death, that (1st) his own living, (2d) his support of religion, (3d) his charities, (4th) his gifts to a favorite niece, had not averaged, for twenty years, over five hundred dollars. Truly, the city is a cheap place to live in, for those who know how ! And what place is cheap for those who do not ?
Contrary to the old notion, the more accurate statistics of recent times have proved the city, as compared with the country, the more healthy, the more moral, and the more religious place. What used to be considered the great superiority of the country—hardship, absence of social excitements and public amusements, simple food, freedom from moral exposure — a better knowledge of the human constitution, considered either physically or morally, has shown to be decidedly opposed to health and virtue. More constitutions are broken down In the hardening process than survive and profit by it. Cold houses, coarse food unskilfully cooked, long winters, harsh springs, however favorable to the heroism of the stomach, the lungs, and the spirits, are not found conducive to longevity. In like manner, monotony, seclusion, lack of variety and of social stimulus lower the tone of humanity, drive to sensual pleasures and secret vices, and nourish a miserable pack of mean and degrading immoralities, of which scandal, gossip, backbiting, talebearing are the better examples.
In the Old World, the wealth of states is freely expended in the embellishment of their capitals. It is well understood, not only that loyalty is never more economically secured than by a lavish appeal to the pride of the citizen in the magnificence of the public buildings and grounds which he identifies with his nationality, but that popular restlessness is exhaled and dangerous passions drained off in the roominess which parks and gardens afford the common people. In the New World, it has not yet proved necessary to provide against popular discontents or to bribe popular patriotism with spectacles and state-parade; and if it were so, there is no government with an interest of its own separate from that of the people to adopt this policy. It has therefore been concluded that democratic institutions must necessarily lack splendor and great public provision for the gratification of the æsthetic tastes or the indulgence of the leisure of the common people. The people being, then, our sovereigns, it has not been felt that they would or could have the largeness of view, the foresight, the sympathy with leisure, elegance, and ease, to provide liberally and expensively for their own recreation and refreshment. A bald utility has been the anticipated genius of our public policy. Our national Mercury was to be simply the god of the post-office, or the sprite of the barometer, — our Pan, to keep the crows from the corn-fields, — our Muses, to preside over district-schools. It begins now to appear that the people are not likely to think anything too good for themselves, or to higgle about the expense of whatever ministers largely to their tastes and fancies, — that political freedom, popular education, the circulation of newspapers, books, engravings, pictures, have already created a public which understands that man does not live by bread alone, — which demands leisure, beauty, space, architecture, landscape, music, elegance, with an imperative voice, and is ready to back its demands with the necessary self-taxation. This experience our absolute faith in free institutions enabled us to anticipate as the inevitable result of our political system; but let us confess that the rapidity with which it has developed itself has taken us by surprise. We knew, that, when the people truly realized their sovereignty, they would claim not only the utilitarian, but the artistic and munificent attributes of their throne, — and that all the splendors and decorations, all the provisions for leisure, taste, and recreation, which kings and courts have made, would be found to be mere preludes and rehearsals to the grander arrangements and achievements of the vastly richer and more legitimate sovereign, the People, when he understood his own right and duty. As dynasties and thrones have been predictions of the royalty of the people, so old courts and old capitals, with all their pomp and circumstance, their parks and gardens, galleries and statues, are but dim prefigurings of the glories of architecture, the grandeur of the grounds, the splendor and richness of the museums and conservatories with which the people will finally crown their own self-respect and decorate their own majesty. But we did not expect to see this sure prophecy turning itself into history in our day. We thought the people were too busy with the spade and the quill to care for any other sceptres at present. But it is now plain that they have been dreaming princely dreams and thinking royal thoughts all the while, and are now ready to put them into costly expression.
Passing by all other evidences of this, we come at once to the most majestic and indisputable witness of this fact, the actual existence of the Central Park in New York, — the most striking evidence of the sovereignty of the people yet afforded in the history of free institutions, — the best answer yet given to the doubts and fears which have frowned on the theory of self-government, — the first grand proof that the people do not mean to give up the advantages and victories of aristocratic governments, in maintaining a popular one, but to engraft the energy, foresight, and liberality of concentrated powers upon democratic ideas, and keep all that has adorned and improved the past, while abandoning what has impaired and disgraced it. That the American people appreciate and are ready to support what is most elegant, refined, and beautiful in the greatest capitals of Europe, —that they value and intend to provide the largest and most costly opportunities for the enjoyment of their own leisure, artistic tastes, and rural instincts, is emphatically declared in the history, progress, and manifest destiny of the Central Park ; while their competency to use wisely, to enjoy peacefully, to protect sacredly, and to improve industriously the expensive, exposed, and elegant pleasure-ground they have devised, is proved with redundant testimony by the year and more of experience we have had in the use of the Park, under circumstances far less favorable than any that can ever again arise. As a test of the ability of the people to know their own higher wants, of the power of their artistic instincts, their docility to the counsels of their most judicious representatives, their superiority to petty economies, their strength to resist the natural opposition of heavy tax-payers to expensive public works, their gentleness and amenableness to just authority in the pursuit of their pleasures, of their susceptibility to the Softening influences of elegance and beauty, of their honest pride and rejoicing in their own splendor, of their superior fondness for what is innocent and elevating over what is base and degrading, when brought within equal reach, the Central Park has already afforded most encouraging, nay, most decisive proof.
The Central Park is an anomaly to those who have not deeply studied the tendencies of popular governments. It is a royal work, undertaken and achieved by the Democracy,—surprising equally themselves and their skeptical friends at home and abroad,— and developing, both in its creation and growth, in its use and application, new and almost incredible tastes, aptitudes, capacities, and powers in the people themselves. That the people should be capable of the magnanimity of laying down their authority, when necessary to concentrate it in the hands of energetic and responsible trustees requiring large powers,—that they should be willing to tax themselves heavily for the benefit of future generations, — that they should be wise enough to distrust their own judgment and defer modestly to the counsels of experts, — that they should be in favor of the most solid and substantial work,— that they should be willing to have the better half of their money under ground and out of sight, invested in drains and foundations of roads,— that they should acquiesce cheerfully in all the restrictions necessary to the achievement of the work, while admitted freely to the use and enjoyment of its inchoate processes,— that their conduct and manners should prove so unexceptionable,— their disposition to trespass upon strict rules so small,— their use and improvement of the work so free, so easy, and so immediately justificatory of all the cost of so generous and grand an enterprise: these things throw light and cheer upon the prospects of popular institutions, at a period when they are seriously clouded from other quarters.
We do not propose to enter into any description of the Central Park. Those who have not already visited it will find a description, accompanying a study for the plan submitted for competition in 1858, by Messrs. Olmsted and Vaux, and published among the Documents of the New York Senate, which will satisfy their utmost expectations. We wish merely to throw out some replies to the leading objections we have met in the papers and other quarters to the plan itself. We need hardly say that the Central Park requires no advocate and no defence. Its great proprietor, the Public, is perfectly satisfied with his purchase and his agents. He thinks himself providentially guided in the choice of his Superintendent, and does not vainly pique himself upon his sagacity in selecting Mr. Frederick Law Olmsted for the post. This gentleman, in his place, offsets at least a thousand square plugs in round holes. He is precisely the man for the place, — and that is precisely the place for the man. Among final causes, it would be difficult not to assign the Central Park as the reason of his existence. To fill the duties of his office as he has filled them, —to prove himself equally competent as original designer, patient executor, potent disciplinarian, and model police-officer,— to enforce a method, precision, and strictness, equally marked in the workmanship, in the accounts, and in the police of the Park,— to be equally studious of the highest possible use and enjoyment of the work by the public of to-day, and of the prospects and privileges of the coming generations, — to sympathize with the outside people, while in the closest fellowship with the inside, — to make himself equally the favorite and friend of the people and of the workmen : this proves an original adaptation, most Carefully improved, which we seriously believe not capable of being paralleled in any other public work, ot similar magnitude, ever undertaken. The union of prosaic sense with poetical feeling, of democratic sympathies with refined and scholarly tastes, of punctilious respect for facts with tender hospitality for ideas, has enabled him to appreciate and embody, both in the conception and execution of the Park, the beau-ideal of a people’s pleasure-ground. If he had not borne, as an agriculturist, and as the keenest, most candid, and instructive of all our writers on the moral and political economy of our American Slavery, a name to be long remembered, be might safely trust his reputation to the keeping of New York city and all her successive citizens, as the author and achiever of the Central Park, — which, when completed, will prove, we are confident, the most splendid, satisfactory, and popular park in the world.
Two grand assumptions have controlled the design from the inception.
First, That the Park would be the only park deserving the name, for a town of twice or thrice the present population of New York ; that this town would be built compactly around it (and in this respect of centrality it would differ from any extant metropolitan park of magnitude); and that it would be a town of greater wealth and more luxurious demands than any now existing.
Second, That, while in harmony with the luxury of the rich, the Park should and would be used more than any existing park by people of moderate wealth and by poor people, and that its use by these people must be made safe, convenient, agreeable ; that they must be expected to have a pride and pleasure in using it rightly, in cherishing and protecting it against all causes of injury and dilapidation, and that this is to be provided for and encouraged.
A want of appreciation of the first assumption is the cause of all sincere criticism against the Transverse Roads. Some engineers originally pronounced them impracticable of construction; but all their grounds of apprehension have been removed by the construction of two of them, especially by the completion of the tunnel under Vista Rock, and below the foundation of the Reservoir embankment and wall. They were planned for the future ; they are being built solidly, massively, permanently, for the future. Less thoroughly and expensively constructed, they would need to be rebuilt in the future at enormously increased cost, and with great interruption to the use of the Park ; and the grounds in their vicinity, losing the advantage of age, would need to be remodelled and remade. An engineer, visiting the Park for the first time, and hearing the criticism to which we refer applied to the walls and bridges of the Transverse Roads, observed, — “ People in this country are so unaccustomed to see genuine substantial work, they do not know what it means when they meet with it.” We think he did not do the people justice.
The Transverse Roads passing through the Park will not be seen from it; and although they will not be, when deep in the shadow of the overhanging bridges and groves, without a very grand beauty, this will be the beauty of utility and of permanence, not of imaginative grace. The various bridges and archways of the Park proper, while equally thorough in their mode of construction, and consequently expensive, are in all cases embellished each with special decorations in form and color. These decorations have the same quality of substantiality and thorough good workmanship. Note the clean under-cutting of the leaves, (of which there are more than fifty different forms in the decorations of the Terrace arch,) and their consequent sharp and expressive shadows. Admitting the need of these structures, and the economy of a method of construction which would render them permanenr, the additional cost of their permanent decoration in this way could not have been rationally grudged.
Regard for the distant future has likewise controlled the planting; and the Commissioners, in so far as they have resisted the clamor of the day, that the Park must he immediately shaded, have done wisely. Every horticulturist knows that this immediate shade would be purchased at an expense of dwarfed, diseased, and deformed trees, with stinted shade, in the future. No man has planted large and small trees together without regretting the former within twenty years. The same consideration answers an objection which has been made, that the trees are too much arranged in masses of color. Imagine a growth of twenty years, with the proper thinnings, and most of these masses will resolve each into one tree, singled out, as the best individual of its mass, to remain. There is a large scale in the planting, as in everything else.
Regard to the convenience, comfort, and safety of those who cannot afford to visit the Park in carriages has led to an unusual extent and variety of character in the walks, and also to a peculiar arrangement by which they are carried in many instances beneath and across the line of the carriage-roads. Tims access can be had by pedestrians to all parts of the Park at times when the roads are thronged with vehicles, without any delays or dangers in crossing the roads, and without the humiliation to sensitive democrats of being spattered or dusted, or looked down upon from luxurious equipages.
The great irregularity of the surface offers facilities for this purpose, — the walks being carried through the heads of valleys which are crossed by the carriageways upon arches of masonry. Now with regard to these archways, if no purposes of convenience were to be served by them, the Park would not, we may admit, be beautified by them. But we assume that the population of New York is to be doubled ; that, when it is so, if not sooner, the walks and drives of the Park will often be densely thronged; and, for the comfort of the people, when that shall be the case, we consider that these archways will be absolutely necessary.* Assuming further, then, that they are to be built, and, if ever, built now, — since it would involve an entirely now-modelling of the Park to introduce them in the future, — it was necessary to pay some attention to make them agreeable and unmonotonous objects, or the general impression of ease, freedom, and variety would be interfered with very materially. It is not to make the Park architectural, as is commonly supposed, that various and somewhat expensive design is introduced; on the contrary, it is the intention to plant closely in the vicinity of all the arches, so that they may be unnoticed in the general effect, and he seen only just at the time they are being used, when, of course, they must come under notice.
The charge is made, that the features of the natural landscape have been disregarded in the plan. To which we answer, that on the ground of the Lower Park there was originally no landscape, in the artistic sense. There were hills, and hillocks, and rocks, and swampy valleys. It would have been easy to flood the swamps into ponds, to clothe the hillocks with grass and the hills with fo-
* The length of roads, walks, etc., completed, will be found in the last Annual Report, pp. 47-52.
The length of the famous drive in Hyde Park (the Ring Road) is 2½ miles. There is another road, straight between two gates, 1¼ miles in length. “ Rotten Row” (tiie Ride) is a trifle over a mile in length.
The length of Drive in Central Park will be 9⅓ miles; the length of Bridle Roads, 5⅓ miles ; the length of Walks, 20 miles.
Ten miles of walk, gravelled and substantially underlaid, are now finished.
Eighteen archways are planned, beside those of the Transverse Roads, equal t to 46 acres. When the planting is well-grown, no two of the archways will be visible from tiie same point.
liage, and leave the rocks each unscathed in its picturesqueness. And this would have been a great improvement; yet there would be no landscape: there would be an unassociated succession ot objects, — many nice “bits ” of scenery, appropriate to a villa-garden or to an artist’s sketch-book, but no scenery such as an artist arranges for his broad canvas, no composition, no park-like prospect. It would have afforded a good place for loitering; but if this were all that was desirable, forty acres would have done as well as a thousand, as is shown in the Ramble. Space, breadth, objects in the distance, clear in outline, but obscure, mysterious, exciting curiosity, in their detail, were wanting.
To their supply there were hard limitations. On each side, within half a mile of each other, there were to be lines of stone and brick houses, cutting off any great lateral distance. Suppose one to have entered the Park at the south end, and to have moved far enough within it to dispossess his mind of the sentiments of the streets : he will have threaded his way between hillocks and rocks, one after another, differing in magnitude, but never opening a landscape having breadth or distance. He ascends a hill and looks northward: the most distant object is the hard, straight, horizontal line of the stone wall of the Reservoir, flanked on one side by the peak of Vista Rock. It is a little over a mile distant,—but, standing clear out against the horizon, appears much less than that. Hide it with foliage, as well as the houses right and left, and the limitation of distance is a mile in front and a quarter of a mile upon each side. Low hills or ridges of rock in a great degree cut off the intermediate ground from view : cross these, and the same unassociated succession of objects might be visited, but no one of them would have engaged the visitor’s attention and attracted him onward from a distance. The plan has evidently been to make a selection of the natural features to form the leading ideas of the new scenery, to magnify the most important quality of each of these, and to remove or tone down all the irregularities of the ground between them, and by all means to make the limit of vision undefined and obscure. Thus, in the central portion of the Lower Park the low grounds have been generally filled, and the high grounds reduced ; but the two largest areas of low ground have been excavated, the excavation being carried laterally into the hills as far as was possible, without extravagant removal of rock, and the earth obtained transferred to higher ground connecting hillocks with hills. Excavations have also been made about the base of all the more remarkable ledges and peaks of rock, while additional material has been conveyed to their sides and summits to increase their size and dignity.
This general rule of the plan was calculated to give, in the first place, breadth, and, in the second, emphasis, to any general prospect of the Park. A want of unity, or rather, if we may use the word, of assemblage, belonged to the ground; and it must have been one of the first problems to establish some one conspicuous, salient idea which should take the lead in the composition, and about which all minor features should seem naturally to group as accessories. The straight, evidently artificial, and hence distinctive and notable, Mall, with its terminating Terrace, was the resolution of this problem. It will be, when the trees are fully grown, a feature of the requisite importance,—and will serve the further purpose of opening the view toward, and, as it were, framing and. keeping attention directed upon, Vista Rock, which from the southern end of the Mall is the most distant object that, can be brought into view.
For the same purpose, evidently, it was thought desirable to insist, as far as possible, upon a pause at the point where, to the visitor proceeding northward, the whole hill-side and glen before Vista Rock first came under view, and where an effect of distance in that direction was yet attainable. This is provided for by the Terrace, with its several stairs and stages, and temptations to linger and rest. The introduction of the Lake to the northward of the Terrace also obliges a diversion from the direct line of proceeding; the visitor’s attention is henceforth directed laterally, or held by local objects, until at length by a circuitous route he reaches and ascends (if he chooses) the summit ot Vista Rock, when a new landscape ot entirely different character, and one not within our control, is opened to him. Thus the apparent distance of Vista Rock from the lower part of the Park (which is increased by means which we have not thought it necessary to describe) is not falsified by any experience of the visitor in his subsequent journey to it.
There was a fine and completely natural landscape in the Upper Park. The plan only simplifies it, — removing and modifying those objects which were incongruous with its best predominating character, and here and there adding emphasis or shadow.
The Park (with the extension) is two and three quarter miles in length and nearly half a mile wide. It contains 843 acres,including the Reservoir (130 acres).
Original cost of land to 106th Street, . . . $5,444,369.90
Of this, assessed on adjoining property, . . . 1,657,590.00
To be paid by corporation direct, . . . . 3,786,779.90
Assessed value of extension land, (106th to 110th,) . 1,400,000.00
Total cost of land, . . . . . . $6,800,000.00 1
In all European parks, there is more or less land the only use of which is to give a greater length to,the roads which pass around it,— it being out of sight, and, in American phrase, unimproved. There is not an acre of land in Central Park, which, if not wanted lor Park purposes, would not sell for at least as much as the land surrounding the Park and beyond its limits, — that is to say, for at least $60,000, the legal annual interest of which is $4.200. This would be the ratio of the annual waste of property in the case of any land not put to use; but, in elaborating the plan, care has been taken that no part of the Park should be without its special advantages, attractions, or valuable uses, and that these should as far as possible be made immediately available to the public.
The comprehensiveness of purpose and the variety of detail of the plan far exceed those of any other park in the world, and have involved, and continue to involve, a greater amount of study and invention than has ever before been given to a park. A consideration of this should enforce an unusually careful method of maintenance, both in the gardening and police departments. Sweeping with a broom of brush-wood once a week is well enough for a hovel; but the floors of a palace must needs be daily waxed and polished, to justify their original cost. We are unused to thorough gardening in this country. There are not in all the United States a dozen lawns or grass-plots so well kept as the majority of tradesmen’s door-yards in England or Holland. Few of our citizens have ever seen a really well-kept ground. During the last summer, much of the Park was in a state of which the Superintendent professed himself to be ashamed; but it caused not the slightest comment with the public, so far as we heard. As nearly all men in office, who have not a personal taste to satisfy, are well content, if they succeed in satisfying the public, we fear the Superintendent will be forced to “ economize ” on the keeping of the Park, as he was the past year, to a degree which will be as far from true economy as the cleaning of mosaic floors with birch brooms. The Park is laid out in a manner which assumes and requires cleanly and orderly habits in those who use it; much of its good quality will be lost, if it be not very neatly kept; and such negligence in the keeping will tend to negligence in the using.
In the plan, there is taken for granted a generally good inclination, a cleanly, temperate, orderly disposition, on the part of the public which is to frequent the Park, and finally to be the governors of its keeping, and a good, well-disposed, and well-disciplined police force, who would, in spite of “ the inabilities of a republic,” adequately control the cases exceptional to the assumed general good habits of that public, — at the same time neglecting no precaution to facilitate the convenient enforcement of the laws, and reduce the temptation to disorderly practices to a minimum.
How thoroughly justified has been this confidence in the people, taking into account the novelty of a good public ground, of cleanliness in our public places, and indeed the novelty of the whole undertaking, we have already intimated. How much the privileges of the Park in its present incomplete condition are appreciated, and how generally the requirements of order are satisfied, t he following summary, compiled from the Park-keeper’s reports of the first summer’s use after the roads of the Lower Park were opened, will inadequately show.
|Number of visitors in six months.||Foot.||Saddle.||Carriages.|
|Usual number of visitors on a fine summer's day,||2,000||90||1,200|
|Usual number of visitors on a fine Sunday,||35,000||60||1,500|
|(Men 20,000, Women 13,000, Children 2,000.)|
|Sunday, May 29, entrances counted,||75,000||120||3,200|
|Usual number of visitors, fine Concert day,||7,500||180||2,500|
|Saturday, Sept. 22, (Concert day,) entrances counted,||13,000||225||4,650|
During this time, (six months,) but thirty persons were detected upon the Park tipsy. Of these, twenty-four were sufficiently drunk to justify their arrest, — the remainder going quietly off the grounds, when requested to do so. That is to say, it is not oftener than once a week that a man is observed to be the worse for liquor while on the Park; and this, while three to four thousand laboring men are at work within it, are paid upon it, and grog-shops for their accommodation are all along its boundaries. In other words, about one in thirty thousand of the visitors to the Park has been under the influence of drink when induced to visit it.
On Christmas and New-Year’s Days, it was estimated by many experienced reporters that over 100,000 persons, each day, were on the Park, generally in a frolicksome mood. Of these, but one (a small boy) was observed by the keepers to be drunk; there was not an instance of quarrelling, and no disorderly conduct, except a generally good-natured resistance to the efforts of the police to maintain safety on the ice.
The Bloomingdale Road and Harlem Lane, two famous trotting-courses, where several hundred famously fast horses may be seen at the top of their speed any fine afternoon, both touch an entrance to the Park. The Park roads are, of course, vastly attractive to the trotters, and for a few weeks there were daily instances of fast driving there: as soon, however, as the law and custom of the Park, restricting speed to a moderate rate, could be made generally understood, fast driving became very rare, — more so, probably, than in Hyde Park or the Bois de Boulogne. As far as possible, an arrest has been made in every case of intentionally fast driving observed by the keepers: those arrested number less than one to ten thousand of the vehicles entering the Park for pleasure-driving. In each case a fine (usually three dollars) has been imposed by the magistrate.
In six months there have been sixtyfour arrests for all sorts of “disorderly conduct,” including walking on the grass after being requested to quit it, quarrelling, firing crackers, etc., —one in eighteen thousand visitors. So thoroughly established is the good conduct of people on the Park, that many ladies walk daily in the Ramble without attendance.
A protest, as already intimated, is occasionally made against the completeness of detail to which the Commissioners are disposed to carry their work, on the ground that the habits of the masses of our city-population are ill-calculated for its appreciation, and that loss and damage to expensive work must often be the result. To which we would answer, that, if the authorities of the city hitherto have so far misapprehended or neglected their duty as to allow a large industrious population to continue so long without the opportunity for public recreations that it has grown up ignorant of the rights and duties appertaining to the general use of a well-kept pleasure-ground, any losses of the kind apprehended, which may in consequence occur, should be cheerfully borne as a necessary part of the responsibility of a good government. Experience thus far, however, does not justify these apprehensions.
To collect exact evidence showing that the Park is already exercising a good influence upon the character of the people is not in the nature of the case practicable. It has been observed that rude, noisy fellows, after entering the more advanced or finished parts of the Park, become hushed, moderate, and careful. Observing the generally tranquil and pleased expression, and the quiet, sauntering movement, the frequent exclamations of pleasure in the general view or in the sight of some special object of natural beauty, on the part of the crowds of idlers in the Ramble on a Sunday afternoon, and recollecting the totally opposite character of feeling, thought, purpose, and sentiment which is expressed by a crowd assembled anywhere else, especially in the public streets of the city, the conviction cannot well be avoided that the Park already exercises a beneficent influence of no inconsiderable value, and of a kind which could have been gained in no other way. We speak of Sunday afternoons and of a crowd ; but the Park evidently does induce many a poor family, and many a poor seamstress and journeyman, to take a day or a halfday from the working-time of the week, to the end of retaining their youth and their youthful relations with purer Nature, and to their gain in strength, goodhumor, safe citizenship, and — if the economists must be satisfied — money-value to the commonwealth. Already, too, there are several thousand men, women, and children who resort to the Park habitually: some daily, before business or after business, and women and children at regular hours during the day; some weekly ; and some at irregular, but certain frequent chances of their business. Mr. Astor, when in town, rarely misses his daily ride; nor Mr. Bancroft; Mr. Mayor Harper never his drive. And there are certain working-men with their families equally sure to be met walking on Sunday morning or Sunday afternoon ; others on Saturday. The number of these habitués constantly increases. When we meet those who depend on the Park as on the butcher and the omnibus, and the thousands who are again drawn by whatever impulse and suggestion of the hour, we often ask, What would they have done, where would they have been, to what sort of recreation would they have turned, if to any, had there been no park ? Of one sort the answer is supplied by the keeper of a certain saloon, who came to the Park, as he said, to see his old Sunday customers. The enjoyment of the ice had made them forget their grog.
Six or seven years ago, an opposition brought down the prices and quadrupled the accommodations of the Staten Island ferry-boats. Clifton Park and numerous German gardens were opened; and the consequence was described, in common phrase, as the transformation of a portion of the island, on Sunday, to a Pandemonium. We thought we would, like Dante, have a cool look at it. We had read so much about it, and heard it talked about and preached about so much, that we were greatly surprised to find the throng upon the sidewalks quite as orderly and a great deal more evidently good-natured than any we ever saw before in the United States. We spent some time in what we had been led to suppose the hottest place, Clifton Park, in which there was a band of music and several thousand persons, chiefly Germans, though with a good sprinkling of Irish servant-girls with their lovers and brothers, with beer and ices ; but we saw no rudeness, and no more impropriety, no more excitement, no more (weekday) sin, than we had seen at the church in the morning. Every face, however, was foreign. By-and-by came in three Americans, talking loudly, moving rudely, proclaiming contempt for “ lager ” and yelling for “ liquor,” bantering and offering fight, joking coarsely, profane, noisy, demonstrative in any and every way, to the end of attracting attention to themselves, and proclaiming that they were “ on a spree ” and highly excited. They could not keep it up ; they became awkward, ill at ease, and at length silent, standing looking about them in stupid wonder. Evidently they could not understand what it meant: people drinking, smoking in public, on Sunday, and yet not excited, not trying to make it a spree. It was not comprehensible. We ascertained that one of the ferry-boat bars had disposed of an enormous stock of lemonade, ginger-beer, and soda-water before three o’clock,— but, till this was all gone, not half a dozen glasses of intoxicating drinks. We saw no quarrelling, no drunkenness, and nothing like the fearful disorder which had been described,— with a few such exceptions as we have mentioned of native Americans who had no conception of enjoyment free from bodily excitement.
To teach and induce habits of orderly, tranquil, contemplative, or social amusement, moderate exercises and recreation, soothing to the nerves, has been the most needed “mission” for New York. We think we see daily evidence that the Park accomplishes not a little in this way. Unfortunately, the evidence is not of a character to be expressed in Federal currency, else the Commissioners would not he hesitating about taking the ground from One-Hundred-and-Sixth to One-Hundred-and-Tenth Street, because it is to cost half a million more than was anticipated. What the Park is worth to us to-day is, we trust, but a trifle to what it will be worth when the bulk of our hard-working people, of our over-anxious Marthas, and our gutter-skating children shall live nearer to it, and more generally understand what it offers them,—when its play-grounds are ready, its walks more shaded, — when cheap and wholesome meals, to the saving, occasionally, of the dreary housewife’s daily pottering, are to be had upon it,—when its system of cheap cabs shall have been successfully inaugurated, — and when a daily discourse of sweet sounds shall have been made an essential part of its functions in the body-politic.
We shall not probably live to see “ the gentility of Sir Philip Sidney made universal,” but we do hope that we shall live to know many residents of towns of ten thousand population who will be ashamed to subscribe for the building of new churches while no public play-ground is being prepared for their people.
- The amount thus far expended in construction and maintenance is nearly $3,000,000. The plan upon which the work is proceeding will require a further expenditure of $1,600,000. The expenditure is not squandered. Much the larger part of it is paid for day-labor. Account with laborers is kept by the hour, the rate of wages being scarcely above the lowest contractor’s rates, and 30 per cent, below the rate of other public works of the city; always paid directly into the laborer’s hands,— in specie, however.↩
- The thorough government of the work, and the general efficiency of its direction, are indicated by the remarkable good order and absence of “accidents” which have characterized it. See p. 64 of Annual Keport, 1860. For some particulars of cost, see pp. 61, 62, of same Report.↩