THIRTEEN spoke with Douglas Blonsky, President and CEO of the Central Park Conservancy, the organization responsible for the restoration and everyday maintenance of Central Park. Here, Blonsky discusses the Conservancy’s role in transforming Central Park over the past three decades and how the park and the city impact one another.
Mr. Blonsky answered our questions via email.
How has the Central Park Conservancy’s role changed through the years since its founding in 1980?
In the Conservancy’s early years, we made extraordinary and visible strides in the quality of Central Park. The Park was at its worst: no grass on its lawns, trash soaking in all of its water bodies, graffiti on every surface, unsafe playgrounds… Our earliest restoration and management efforts set important precedents and had an enormous impact on the role of Central Park in the lives of New Yorkers and its impact on the city’s economy. Today, although nearly every acre of the Park has been restored from the state of neglect in which we found it, we still carry out important restoration efforts. But day-to-day maintenance of the improvements we’ve made, as well as maintaining the Park even as it is visited by an unprecedented number people every year, are our most significant challenges today.
The Conservancy’s in-house design team carries the torch of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the Park’s original co-creators. They have studied the original creators’ vision and intent, restoring the Park acre by acre in a way that remains true to its original design and plan. The Park you see today features all of the most significant elements introduced by Olmsted and Vaux, from the rolling meadows and lawns to the denser woodlands (or “Manhattan Adirondacks”) to the formal gardens and plazas.
How has the city’s economy shaped Central Park over time, from the Depression to the renovation in recent decades?
The state of Central Park and the state of the city’s economy mirror one another. We always say that as the Park goes, so goes the city – Central Park reflects the entrepreneurial spirit of New Yorkers, their community engagement and involvement, and the ability and interest of New Yorkers to support a public park beloved by tens of millions of people. Central Park has helped to shape the economy of the neighborhoods around it, making them more livable, more desirable, and more economically vibrant. The Park, through real estate values and job creation, contributes more than $1 billion to the city’s economy annually.
Are there any common misconceptions about Central Park?
Seventy five percent of visitors stick to the south end of Central Park. Not many realize that the best way to visit the Park is to start at 110th Street and work your way south rather than the other way around – you’ll get treated to the most serene and beautiful Park landscapes this way, along with a chance to appreciate the real escape from urban life that Central Park has to offer.