Central Park, New York City

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A photograph of Central Park, only open for less than three years, 1862. Young trees in the foreground and the clear view of buildings on the park's border are a reminder that the landscaping took decades to be fully established. Courtesy of The New York Public Library.

Between 1821 and 1855, the size of New York City's population skyrocketed. Urbanization led to congestion and over-crowded housing for workers while industrialization led to pollution and fatigue. Reformers seeking ways to address these societal and health issues called for public parks as one approach. Parks would provide open green space where everyone, regardless of class, could escape the noise and pollution of the city.

To this end, in 1853, authorization was given to the City of New York for the purchase of a huge swath of land in central Manhattan. Filled with marshes and rocky outcroppings, the parcel would not have been attractive for commercial or agricultural development. In fact, when the park was eventually developed, topsoil had to be carted in from New Jersey as the existing soil would not have supported trees and shrubs.

A contest for the design of the park was won in 1858 by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. Their submission was notable for the way it combined formal and naturalistic settings with architectural flourishes like Bethesda Terrace and the ornate bridges that circulated traffic through the park.

Construction and landscaping took fifteen years. Over the years elements such as a zoo, museums and recreational facilities were added as the park was shaped by the public that used it.

Central Park, more than 150 years old, receives more than 35 million visitors annually and is an iconic and beloved feature of New York City.