Central Park is a very large park (843 acres = 3.4 km2, a rectangle of 4 km by 800 m) in Manhattan, New York. An oasis for Manhattanites escaping from their skyscrapers, the park is well-known worldwide after its appearance in many movies and television shows.
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 grassyy 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.
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 line of the New York Marathon.
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Central Park was the first large landscape park in an American city. The need for a great public park as New York Cityy expanded was voiced by the poet William Cullen Bryant and by the first American landcape architect, Alexander Jackson Downing. A stylish place for open-air driving, like the Bois de Boulogne in Paris or London's Hyde Park was felt by many influential New Yorkers. In 1853, the New York legislature designated an area from 59th to 106th Streets (a section from 106th to 110th Streets was added later) for the creation of the park, and a competition for a design was opened, and won the partnership of Olmsted and Vaux. Sculptural detail (see illustration) was provided by Jacob Wrey Mould. The park actually opened three years later, but celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2003.
Several influences came together in the design, called "Green-sward" which won a blind competition, 1858. Landscaped cemetaries, such as Mount Auburn (Cambridge, Massachusetts) and Green-Wood (Brooklyn, New York) had set an example of idyllic naturalistic landscapes. The most influential innovations in Central Park's design were the separate circulation systems for pedestrians, horseback riders and pleasure vehicles, with "crosstown" commercial traffic (almost non-extistant at the time of the design) entirely concealed in sunken roadways with densely planted shrub belts, so as not to disturb the impression of a rustic scene. There are some 36 bridges designed by Vaux, ranging from rugged spans of Manhattan schist or granite, to lacy neo-gothic cast iron, no two alike. The ensemble of the formal line of the Mall's doubled allées of elms culminating at Bethesda Terrace, with a composed view beyond of lake and woodland, is at the heart of the larger design.
The Saw Kill was dammed to make the Lake, and the spoil was laid as a curving earthen dam, with the carriage drive laid on it so naturally, that few today realize it is a dam.
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 NYC Dept. of Parks and Recreation, an early successful public/private partnership. The city has transferred direction of ongoing restoration and maintenance to the Conservancy.
Certain features of Central Park have separate entries: Strawberry Fields, Bethesda Terrace, the Belvedere castle.
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.
Though Olmsted disapproved of the clutter of sculpture, a good deal has crept in. The oldest sculpture is "Cleopatra's Needle," actually a much older Egyptian obelisk, of Tutmose III, donated to New York by the Khedive of Egypt. Sculptors represented in Central Park include Augustus Saint-Gaudens, John Quincy Adams Ward George Gray Barnard. The "Angel of the Waters" at Bethesda Terrace by Emma Stebbins, 1873, was the first large public commission for an American woman sculptor.
The New York Philharmonic gives an open-air concert every summer on the Great Lawn and the Metropolitan Opera presents two operas. Many concerts have been given in the park: the Simon and Garfunkel reunion; Diana Ross, 1983.
Central Park has one of the last stands of American Elms in the northeastern U.S., 1700 of them, protected by their very isolation from Dutch Elm Disease. Central Park was the site of the unfortunate unleashing of starlings in North America (cf. Invasive species) Over a quarter of all the bird species found in the United States have been seen in Central park.
In 2002 a new genus and species of centipede was discovered in Central Park. The centipede is about four-tenths of an inch long, making it one of the smallest in the world. It is named Nannarrup hoffmani, after the man who discovered it, and lives in the park's leaf litter, the crumbling organic debris that accumulates under the trees.