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Urban Realities in New York: Use of Public Space

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Use of Public Space in New York City
Andrew Pellegrini
Molloy College
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Public Spaces are all around New York City. These are places that are accessible
to the public and anyone can go there. Some of the places that are included in theses
public spaces are the Public Libraries, plazas, parks, squares and even the beaches are
included. From the very first park established in 1733, New Yorkers have been fond of a
green space outside of the hustle and bustle of the city streets. As the city would grow
with the number of people living in it, the amount of green spaces available would soon
start to diminish. If New York wanted to be considered a great city it needed a great park.
The life of a New Yorker during the 19
th
century was harsh. The living conditions
for an average person in Lower Manhattan where know as crowded homes with poor
ventilation and disease. If a person wanted to escape for a few moments (from) the harsh
realities of their turbulent urban lives they could be found in one of the local cemeteries.
(Essential New York pg.149) This one of the few places that people can refuge with some
green grass. Understanding that the green space brought enjoyment and provided an
oases of tranquil green space that help take some of the harsh edges off urban living,
the New York Legislature bought 700 acres (stretching) from 59
th
to 106
th
streets.
(Essential New York pg.149) This is where the park was to be set. An additional 65 acres
from 106
th
to 110
th
streets were purchased and added to the park in 1860 to make it a
grand total of 765 acres in Central Park. There was a competition to see who would win
the honor of landscaping and designing the park.
The winning entry (was) the Greenwards Plan (which was) submitted
by Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux. Inspired by the parks that
he visited while in Europe as well as by landscaped cemeteries like Green
Wood Brooklyn, Olmstead envisioned the park as a bucolic, naturalistic
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landscape with separate circulation systems for pedestrians, horseback
riders and vehicles.
This park had it all. It had all the accommodations the city needed by using its four roads
built in it and all of the 36 bridges and tunnels throughout the park. There was plenty of
room for everyone.
According to a study done by William H. Whyte he studied the street life and
public spaces in major cities across the country. This project came to be known as the
Street Life Project. Whyte gathered a group of researchers, some cameras and notebooks,
and set out to observe strangers in public space. (The Science of New York Citys
Public Spaces November 14, 2013) He found a trend in his research and figured out a
formula for the perfect public space (a park). In his ideal park there must be these key
factors: Sitting Space, Sun, Wind, Trees, Water, Food and the Street. With a certain
balance of each these, there becomes a comfortable environment and people will
congregate where they feel safe and welcomed. Whytes research would be used for
urban planning initiatives in the years to come. Many zoning incentives were created
around Whytes research; the more an architect followed Whytes suggestions, the taller
his skyscraper could be. (The Science of New York Citys Public Spaces Nov.14, 2013)
Whytes suggestions where specific; for example to have the ideal sitting space you
should be physically comfortable with backrests and contours that mimic
the human body. Sitting space should also be socially comfortable so that
visitors have a seemingly unlimited amount of choice: sitting up front, in
back, to the side, in the sun, in the shade, in groups, off alone. So,
architects must think creatively; they must build ledges that can be seats,
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tabletops, and foot rests all at once.
Seventeen inches is considered the optimum height for sitting space, but
Whyte calculated that successful sitting space could be anywhere from one
foot to three feet tall. Ledges should be at least 30 inches deep, although
36 inches deep is optimal. This specific width is enough for two
backsides to comfortably sit on a ledge without physical or social
discomfort. (S.N.Y.C. Public Spaces Nov.14, 2013)
The amount of time and effort put into this research was evident in the results and
showed how he was able to give these architects such detailed suggestions on how to
make a park thrive. There had to be a reason for everything and a duel purpose for it all.
The architects had to be creative and ingenuitive with the designs of the parks and the
materials they used.
The government came to realize that these beautiful lush green spaces we have for
the public are expensive to maintain. By the early 20
th
century the park started to fall
apart and it was neglected. In 1934 Mayor Fiorello La Guardia placed Robert Moses in
charge of all of New York Citys parks and tasked him with rehabilitating Central Park.
(Essential New York pg.!50) This was a short-lived victory for Mr. Moses. Once he left
office in 1960 the park went down again and people wound not dare go in there past dark.
By 1980 there was a non-profit organization called Central Park Conservancy that was
formed to raise funds for the park and restore it to its former glory. The conservancy did
such a great job at raising money and maintaing all the parks that by the early 21
st

century, the Conservancy provided over 80% of the parks operating budget and was
placed in charge of all basic maintenance for the park. (Essential New York pg.150)
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Exploring New York City as it today, there are dozens of places for people to
meet and hang out in a public space. This makes New York a unique place. New Yorkers
have been very clever with the use of space from their tiny apartments to the small green
spaces available. Public spaces have brought serenity and happiness to New Yorkers and
will hopefully be around for generations to come and enjoy.
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Works Cited

Russo, Michael S., and Meritta Cullinan. Essential New York. New York: Ars Omnia,
2014. Print.

"The Science of New York City's Public Spaces." Mental Floss. 14 Nov. 2013. Web. 1
Oct. 2014.