Opposition to Public Parks ~ SD Union, November 19, 1902

November 19, 1902, 5:4


Some of It Has Cropped Out at Former Times in This City

What Objections Were Then Made —

Growing Appreciation of  Landscape Gardening

In view of the general appreciation of public parks in these times, it is interesting to consider the prevailing sentiment when the first American parks were founded, less than fifty years ago. Mrs. Mary C. Robbins, who for years has been in close relation with the best park work and workers, records many facts connected with park development in the Atlantic Monthly for January, 1901. The first improvements on Central Park in 1858 were the occasion for violent opposition by the public, and the grossest misapprehension prevailed as to the functions and influence of a public park. The New York Herald, seven years after the enterprise was begun, remonstrated editorially that “Central Park will be nothing but a great bear [sic] garden for the lowest denizens of the city, and unfavorable to property in its neighborhood.” Doubtless, the most costly residence sites in New York at this time are those facing Central Park, the richest men of the continent vying with each other to secure these lots at fabulous prices, thus contributing through taxes to the support of the park. It would be interesting to know the amount of taxes which result to the city from the enhancement of real estate values as a direct outcome of park improvements. The growing love of natural beauty is perhaps shown most clearly in the increasing demand for building lots which afford beautiful outlook. In this city, the portions of streets and sections which command a view of mountains, bay or ocean, contain the most costly and beautiful homes. “View” has come to be a potent factor in improving the character of a neighborhood and increasing property values. In the larger cities proximity to a park is likely to mean the only opportunity for an outlook on shrubbery and greensward.

In the opposition to the founding of Central Park, a citizen of good standing seriously urged in the newspapers that the ground should be rented for a sheep-walk, that the sheep-trails would serve the public for footpaths, and nature might be trusted to plant shrubs and trees near them in sufficiently picturesque fashion to make a suitable strolling ground. With similar lack of art-sense, another leading citizen suggested that all that was required in the way of a plan was to plow up a strip just within the boundary of the ground and plant it with young trees, chiefly cuttings of poplars, which might be transplanted later into the interior. State and city officials opposed and hindered the work, and the park commissioners, who were distinguished and public-spirited citizens, rushed the work as fast as possible, by night and day, so as to make the plan of the landscape architect a reality, and the park an assured fact. Gradually the beauty and use of Central Park came to be appreciated, and in the four years preceding 1870, thirty million visits were made by actual count. From the original area of 600 acres in Central Park in 1853, the park system of Greater New York now includes more than 100 parks, large and small, besides parkways and river and ocean boulevards. The park area of New York City along is now nearly 6,000 acres.

The difficulties which met the early friends of Central Park were not limited to that enterprise, but were common to park construction everywhere. Parks have been their own best argument, and their history of public benefit is their most eloquent plea. As a nation we seem to be growing into an art-loving people largely through the appreciation of landscape gardening effects. The fact that the best artistic landscape gardening, and that more people come in contact with parks than with other forms of art, indicates the influence of parks in this particular. It is by such striking contrasts as the change of public opinion regarding parks that the development of a people is indicated and their progress assured. The remotest community would not now suggest that sheep and haphazard planting would make good the lack of a trained artist whose business it is to provide for the convenience and enjoyment of the public in the beautiful arrangement of a pleasure ground.

M. B. C.

Return to Samuel Parsons and Balboa Park.