on December 2, 2010
I have been to some cities in my time which have forgotten one of the key things to make a city liveable: parks. Green spaces provide a heavenly respite from the monochrome city. As New York is perhaps the finest example of a modern city it should come as no surprise that it has perhaps the finest example of a city park. Central Park is adored equally by residents and tourists.Central Park is an 843 acre rectangle of greenery slapped down right in the heart of Manhattan, 2.5 miles long and 0.5 mile wide. Yet it somehow manages to feel more spacious than this, as though one has stepped through a magic portal and been magically transported away from the concrete jungle to the woods of Narnia. Where the trees are close packed you cannot see or hear the surrounding city at all. Where the trees give way to open spaces the surrounding buildings can be seen above the tree-line, but only in the distance, like the peaks of some far-away mountain chain. The twisty paths and the frequent obstructions (bodies of water, transverse roads, cordoned-off lawns) combine to make the pedestrian take long, looping, circuitous routes. There is a way to find out roughly where you are by reference to a unique code on each lamp-post, but both times we visited we ended up emerging quite some difference from where we thought we would. Obviously, this is not a problem during the day, but at night the darkness and shadows (and recollections of lurid headlines from the Taxi Driver New York of the ‘70s and ‘80s) combined to make me feel very edgy. I should state for the record however that not once did we witness any form of anti-social behaviour in the park. There are many iconic locations within Cantral Park, immortalised by hundreds of TV series or films. In fact there may even be one more soon – we came across a filmcrew parked across the northern reaches of the Mall shooting a picture entitled Friends With Benefits and waiting for ‘the talent’ (Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis) to arrive. The woods are dotted with expanses of water, each with unique names to tell them apart: Turtle Pond, The Lake, Conservatory Water, Harlem Meer, The Pool, The Loch and the massive Reservoir that almost cuts the park in two two-thirds of its way up. It is also cut back to provide several open spaces: the Great Lawn, the Sheep Meadow, Strawberry Fields (devoted to the memory of John Lennon). There are also entertainment facilities: the ice rink, the zoo, the Delacorte Theater and Swiss Cottage, the Belvedere castle and – for the hungry – the Loeb Boathouse. But most of all it is a recreational utility that New Yorkers always strive to get the best out of. People sunbathe on the lawns, read under the shade of trees, picnic in the Ramble, jog around the circumference of the Reservoir, walk their dogs, play baseball against rival teams or just come to walk and talk. Here we saw what new York does when it is not busy making money and getting ahead. Other than possibly the Statue of Liberty I would say that Central Park is the thing to see in New York. Only when the city is New York can the contrast of escaping from the city in a park be so great.
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