Exploring the History of NYC's Iconic Public Parks

New York City is home to some of the most iconic public parks in the world, from Central Park to Battery Park. But what is the history of these parks and how did they come to be? The earliest public parks in New York City were outdoor markets and public commons purchased under the 1686 Dongan Charter. This charter granted the New York City Council, formerly known as the Common Council, the power to use all “vacant, unpatented and inappropriate land” for municipal use. William Cullen Bryant, poet and namesake of Bryant Park, a park located in the center of Manhattan, called for the creation of a central green space in New York City to alleviate overcrowding caused by rising population rates. In 1771, a wrought-iron fence was erected around the irregular oval of Bowling Green to protect the park and its royal monument; this fence still stands today and is designated as a New York City monument.

Stuyvesant Square, which opened as a public park in 1850, has a direct link to the early history of New York. In 1858, Central Park was created to meet the recreational needs of the rapidly growing city. Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, Central Park influenced the development of urban parks across the country and is considered a masterpiece of landscape architecture. Central Park is owned by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, but has been managed by the Central Park Conservancy since 1998, under a contract with the city government in a public-private partnership. Located on the southern tip of Manhattan, with easy access to the harbor and the Hudson River, Battery Park is where the history of New York City began. Its original purpose was to offer city residents an experience in the countryside, a place to escape the stress of urban life and to be in communion with nature and with fellow New York citizens. In 1930, a new era began when Robert Moses was appointed commissioner of the New York City Parks Department.

This marked an important milestone in public parks history as Moses was responsible for creating many new parks throughout New York City. He also introduced an introduction to Seneca Village, which was once the largest community of free African-American landlords in New York before the Civil War. Today, New York City alone is home to more than 1,700 parks, playgrounds and recreational facilities in its districts, which represent 14% of the city in total. Play Fair, a campaign for parks and open spaces co-founded by New Yorkers for Parks, the League of Conservation Voters of New York, the 37th District Council and the New York City park workers union, has created the Five-Point Plan for Equity in Parks, which they are asking the mayor and city council to adopt. From its earliest days as outdoor markets and public commons purchased under Dongan Charter to its current status as home to some of world's most iconic public parks like Central Park and Battery Park, New York City's public parks have come a long way.

The city's commitment to preserving its parks has allowed them to remain an integral part of life for many generations.

Beatrice Flesher
Beatrice Flesher

Professional web geek. Passionate food scholar. Subtly charming twitter practitioner. Amateur travel junkie. Certified beer junkie. Hardcore foodaholic.

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