LESSONS FROM AMERICA'S GREATEST PUBLIC SPACE

Jacob & Liza Stoner in Central Park January 23, 2016

Jacob & Liza Stoner in Central Park January 23, 2016

I spent the weekend with my family in New York City last weekend and had the good fortune to witness the largest 1 day snowfall ever recorded in Central Park.  Sunday afternoon, thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people of all ages were out enjoying the snow.  We heard at least 5 different languages and I've never seen a more creative assortment of snow men, women and children.  People were sledding on all manner of flat bottomed objects and there were shrieks of joy and laughter everywhere.  Snow has magical powers; we know that.  But great spaces can have the same effect and the scene sparked my curiosity about the history of Central Park and what lessons might actually apply to our public plaza in Crozet.  Here's what I learned about the history of the park:

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  1. The park, established in 1857 on 778 acres at what was then the north end of the City. It was designed by Fredrick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux.  The park was not part of the original master plan for Manhattan; it was added some 30 years after the master plan was completed. 
  2. The park was under the control of local government and inadquate resources were dedicated to the ongoing maintenance of the park.  Consequently, the park quickly slipped into a first period of decline from the 1870's until 1934.  In that year, management of the park was restructured and a single individual, Robert Moses, was empowered to manage the park restoration.
  3. Again, in the early 1960's the park began a serious decline and it wasn't until citizen volunteers stepped in the late 70's to save the park that good things began to happen. In 1979, management of the park was restructured again and control was given to a citizen based board of directors.  What followed was a large scale public/private partnership that raised money for the restoration of the park and then actually built an endowment to support maintenance of the park in perpetuity.  

So what can the history of this iconic American park teach us about building a downtown plaza/park in Crozet?  Here are some initial thoughts:

  • Plans can, should, and will evolve over time.  
  • The size should be in scale with the buildings around it, it's purpose in the community, and the number of people we envision using the space.
  • Don't count on local government to build or maintain the park or, in time,  you're likely to be disappointed.
  • Citizen involvement is essential in every aspect of design and implementation of public space.
  • Effective management of public space is critical.
  • Maintenance costs should be considered during the design process and adequately funded from day one.

Please share stories, thoughts and ideas about this important community asset that's coming to downtown Crozet.

Thanks!

Frank Stoner