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Saving Central Park: A History and a Memoir

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The story of how one woman's long love affair with New York's Central Park led her to organize its rescue from a state of serious decline, returning it to the beautiful place of recreational opportunity and spiritual sustenance that it is today. Elizabeth Barlow Rogers opens with a quick survey of her early life--a middle-class upbringing in Texas; college at Wellesley, mar The story of how one woman's long love affair with New York's Central Park led her to organize its rescue from a state of serious decline, returning it to the beautiful place of recreational opportunity and spiritual sustenance that it is today. Elizabeth Barlow Rogers opens with a quick survey of her early life--a middle-class upbringing in Texas; college at Wellesley, marriage, a master's degree in city planning at Yale. And then her move to New York, where she starts a family and, when she finds being a mother and a housewife is not enough, pours herself into the protection and enhancement of the city's green spaces. Interwoven into her own story is a comprehensive history of Central Park: its design and construction as a scenic masterpiece; the alterations of each succeeding era; the addition of numerous facilities for sports and play; and finally, the "anything goes" phase of the 1960s and 70s, which was often fun but nearly destroyed the park. The two narratives continue to entwine as she finds a job in the administration of Central Park, founds the Central Park Conservancy, and transforms both the park and herself--a transformation that has led to the writing of her many books, to travels that have taken her to parks and gardens around the world, and to solidifying the prestige of one of New York's most conspicuous landmarks.


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The story of how one woman's long love affair with New York's Central Park led her to organize its rescue from a state of serious decline, returning it to the beautiful place of recreational opportunity and spiritual sustenance that it is today. Elizabeth Barlow Rogers opens with a quick survey of her early life--a middle-class upbringing in Texas; college at Wellesley, mar The story of how one woman's long love affair with New York's Central Park led her to organize its rescue from a state of serious decline, returning it to the beautiful place of recreational opportunity and spiritual sustenance that it is today. Elizabeth Barlow Rogers opens with a quick survey of her early life--a middle-class upbringing in Texas; college at Wellesley, marriage, a master's degree in city planning at Yale. And then her move to New York, where she starts a family and, when she finds being a mother and a housewife is not enough, pours herself into the protection and enhancement of the city's green spaces. Interwoven into her own story is a comprehensive history of Central Park: its design and construction as a scenic masterpiece; the alterations of each succeeding era; the addition of numerous facilities for sports and play; and finally, the "anything goes" phase of the 1960s and 70s, which was often fun but nearly destroyed the park. The two narratives continue to entwine as she finds a job in the administration of Central Park, founds the Central Park Conservancy, and transforms both the park and herself--a transformation that has led to the writing of her many books, to travels that have taken her to parks and gardens around the world, and to solidifying the prestige of one of New York's most conspicuous landmarks.

50 review for Saving Central Park: A History and a Memoir

  1. 4 out of 5

    3goldens

    It’s always sad when an author feels it necessary to degrade the memory of others, in their writing. Especially when the person they are degrading is not alive to defend themselves. In her very self serving, self promoting and verbose book entitled, “Saving Central Park: A History and a Memoir”, and even before she reveals herself to be the grand savior of Central Park, she begins her first chapter called “Near Death” by placing the blame for the parks demise on one if it’s past Commissioners, t It’s always sad when an author feels it necessary to degrade the memory of others, in their writing. Especially when the person they are degrading is not alive to defend themselves. In her very self serving, self promoting and verbose book entitled, “Saving Central Park: A History and a Memoir”, and even before she reveals herself to be the grand savior of Central Park, she begins her first chapter called “Near Death” by placing the blame for the parks demise on one if it’s past Commissioners, the late Thomas Hoving. Hoving had written an outstanding and exciting position paper for Lindsay during his campaign while he was curator of medieval art at the Metropolitan Museum. As a result he subsequently was appointed by the new mayor. This is not mentioned by Rodgers. In her jaded revisionist opinion, the parks decline into the dark ages is a direct result of Mr. Hoving’s tenure as commissioner, noting in an an old guard parochial manner that because he was a “a scion of the establishment” he should have taken the course and “perspective of a historical preservationist. Instead, he chose the path of radical showmanship”. That the young commissioner went about, “aligning himself with the vibrant hippie era of psychedelic drugs, mass rock concerts, student riots, and Vietnam War protests, he shook things up from the day he took office. It’s understandable after learning a little about the writers privileged middle class background that she would take this parochial buttoned up position. Did he shake things up, yes and thank god! The park was simply too dismal for words before he became commissioner. But how this author can make an undocumented statement that Mr. Hoving had aligned himself with “ hippie era of psychedelic drugs” I am not sure. It’s a patently false statement. I highly doubt the Metropolitan Museum of Art would have hired him to be the Director had he been hanging out with Jerry Garcia. I’m sure this would be frowned on by the matronly Rogers but Hoving did permit the Grateful Dead to play at the Nuremberg Bandshell while he was commissioner, not once but twice! The Conservancy tried to demolish this bandshell, but were stopped due to public intervention, thank god! Sadly, the Conservancy has erected a scaffolding around it and refuses to allocate funds to refurbish it. Hard feelings, I guess. She accuses Hoving of being a part of the student riots, and Vietnam War protests of the era, which is again patently false and misleading. Personally I don’t recall Hoving taking a position on this but the right to protest is as American as apple pie. In places like New York City the space for large scale protests are few. I suppose the author would have preferred that everyone just stayed home during Vietnam and not protested a war we had no business being in. The conflicts the U.S. inserted themselves in after Vietnam had no draft and hence there no protests, so I guess the Park was saved from undue wear and tear as a result. With regard to her attributing the “mass rock concerts” with its accompanying alcohol consumption, drug dealing and the environmental damage done to the park to Hoving, this again, is her attempt at distorting the actual facts and timeline. The massive extravaganza shows, like the Simon & Garfunkel concert, with more than 500,00 people, took place in 1982, long after Hoving was Commissioner. It should be noted that these large scale events are still permitted by the Central Park Conservancy today and for very large fees, or donations to the Conservancy. What Hoving was responsible for was accepting the proposal of a young man named Ron Delsner, recently honored by the Conservancy, to promote and organize some small concerts at The Wollman Skating ring . These were sponsored by Schaefer Beer. Mr. Delsner went on to a long and prosperous career promoting Rock concerts and bringing huge amount of revenue to the New York area and thanks in a very large large part to Hoving’s keen vision and judgement of character. According to the Rogers “Hoving also met with community leaders in East Harlem to say that from now on there would be town-hall meetings to hear what kind of parks people wanted.” This is just a really good example of the autocratic nature the conservancy under Rogers was! Who in their right mind would make a statement that meeting with community representatives to hear what the was on their minds was a bad thing. After all who were the parks established for, the people of New York. I don’t recall the author ever reaching out to the communities surrounding the park. What the Central Park Conservancy did was to establish strict rules and regulations with no feedback from the citizens of New York City. They just essentially took over and they did this in an extremely autocratic non inclusive manner that essentially said, we know what is good for the parks and you all don’t. So yes Commissioner Hoving met with the community and quite frankly you should have to when the Conservancy was established because the parks belong to the people. While I will give credit where credit is due The Central Park Conservancy is responsible for the great rejuvenation and restoration of Central Park. No doubt in mind there. But it came at a great sacrifice and cost to the people who live around Central Park in favor of those who simply occasionally visit the park. What the author fails to mention is the Conservancy has problems. due to it’s always has been an elitist organization. There is little community involvement because they do not want the community involved, they want those with money involved. They exclusively cater to very wealthy people, most of whom never actually use the park, but are in a financial position to donate large amounts of their money to the cause in exchange for a plaque or their name on a bench. The Conservancy ignores and cares little for those who actually use the park. As a result of the city’s complete abdication they began placing strict restrictions and fencing off huge areas of the park, keeping the public off the grass, because it was resting, really the grass needs to rest? Another problem the Conservancy continues to ignoring is taking some common sense advise from the people who have dogs and use the park several times a day. Allowing unleashed dogs roam around the park in the morning and evening is great. Essentially the entire park becomes essentially the nation’s largest dog run during certain hours. But that comes with a cost because the Conservancy refuses to establish some basic ground rules that every dog run run the nation has clearly posted prior to entering. It would be both dangerous and irresponsible not to have basic rules but so far there are none set by the Conservancy accompanying their off leash policy. Because there are many irresponsible dog owners out there that create many problems for all the other dog owners. The most important rule of any dog run is no intact males are allowed in. Why? Ask any male dog owner! Intact males create problems that lead to fights that often can’t be controlled and end in an injury either human or canine . People who simply refuse to have their male dogs fixed should not be allowed the privilege of letting their dogs roam free, period. It is disruptive to the other dogs and always ends up in a vicious uncontrollable dog fight. I have personally witnessed and been involved in several and am tired of it. Yet the Conservancy ignores the many requests from the responsible dog owners to do something like enact some basic rules for those unleashed hours. The Central Park Conservancy created initially to restore the park has today become simply one big greedy self promoting money making operation that thinks they own the park. They operate it as though it was their personal venue and they successfully hire it out every single weekend during the spring, summer and fall to whoever is the highest bidder or donor I should say. The people who actually live around the park and use the park actually hate the circus like atmosphere they have to experience every single weekend during these months. But the Central Park Conservancy never bothers to ask the community how they would like to see the park that was created for the people used, because they simply don’t care. To point finger and accuse the late Thomas Hoving for being responsible for bringing Central park close to death in part because of the number of events held in the park during his tenure s an just an irresponsible exaggeration that shows little insight for the actual facts and circumstances. What is really ironic and a sad testament to the Conservancy’s administration today is they have essentially turned around and done far worse with their never ending corporate events and promotion. It is just pure hypocrisy. The number of events and large scale concerts taking place today under the autocratic regime of the Conservancy in Central Park pale in comparison to those during Commissioner Hoving’s brief tenure.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    As James Joyce would say, I have a strong weakness for Central Park. "Saving Central Park" takes the reader through the up and down history of the park, picking up during its lowest "down" period in the mid 1970s. When Central Park was originally conceived in the 1850s it was intended to be a quiet and restful retreat from the burgeoning hustle and bustle of the city for all New Yorkers. Designed by Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvin Vaux, they blasted rock, felled, planted, and replanted trees, As James Joyce would say, I have a strong weakness for Central Park. "Saving Central Park" takes the reader through the up and down history of the park, picking up during its lowest "down" period in the mid 1970s. When Central Park was originally conceived in the 1850s it was intended to be a quiet and restful retreat from the burgeoning hustle and bustle of the city for all New Yorkers. Designed by Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvin Vaux, they blasted rock, felled, planted, and replanted trees, imported dirt, sodded meadows and grass-seeded acres of land to provide a beautiful oasis in a city that was growing, and not so pleasantly, by leaps and bounds. And there the park remained for decades until mismanagement and funding cutbacks brought it to a state of disrepair. Enter Robert Moses in the 1930s who, with good intentions toward those most affected by the depression, repurposed much of the park by installing playgrounds, paving over acres of land, and building Tavern-on-the-Green and other money-making ventures. Again, all this until the money ran out and budgets were cut back in the 1970s. Add in the impact of the 1960s when the social order of the city broke down and vandalism, symbolized by the scourge of graffiti on 50,000 square feet of rock and other park property (a truly staggering figure), was rampant. This is where Ms. Rogers enters who, through the Central Park Conservancy which she founded, attempted to take the best of both the Olmstead and Moses models. But leaning toward the Olmstead view which created a more artistic view of the park. Times being what they were there were plenty of opponents on each side as well as rules and regulations, environmental laws, and politics that forced her to compromise and give in on some issues that seemed pretty obvious to rational thinkers. But for the most part her views prevailed and her work and impact is obvious to anyone entering the park today. A beautiful read but I could have done without the details of her personal life. But the book's subtitle is "A History and A Memoir" so I was warned. I hope you read this most enjoyable book about one of my favorite spots in the best city in the world.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Azabu

    An elegant memoir stitched from decades of diary entries and personal photos by the co-founder of the Central Park Conservancy. With unwavering devotion Rogers adhered to the original design of partners Frederick Olmsted and Calvert Vaux who in 1857 bested 33 other contestants with their grass-rich plan. The lively narrative spans the park’s deterioration from a repository of graffiti and litter in 1965 to its resurgence 40 years later, culminating with the artist Christo’s orange Gates in 2005. An elegant memoir stitched from decades of diary entries and personal photos by the co-founder of the Central Park Conservancy. With unwavering devotion Rogers adhered to the original design of partners Frederick Olmsted and Calvert Vaux who in 1857 bested 33 other contestants with their grass-rich plan. The lively narrative spans the park’s deterioration from a repository of graffiti and litter in 1965 to its resurgence 40 years later, culminating with the artist Christo’s orange Gates in 2005.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Valerie

    As a lover of New York City and Central Park in particular, I enjoyed learning more about the history of the park. I found the juxtaposition of Rogers' interpretation of Olmsted and Vaux's vision for the park with the changes wrought by Robert Moses fascinating. The overall arc of the book's timeline for the park and for the development of the Central Park Conservancy brought clarity to some of the changes that have occurred in the Park's history. The writing at times was uneven and repetitive b As a lover of New York City and Central Park in particular, I enjoyed learning more about the history of the park. I found the juxtaposition of Rogers' interpretation of Olmsted and Vaux's vision for the park with the changes wrought by Robert Moses fascinating. The overall arc of the book's timeline for the park and for the development of the Central Park Conservancy brought clarity to some of the changes that have occurred in the Park's history. The writing at times was uneven and repetitive but if these topics are of interested to you, the book is worth reading.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    Interesting history of Centerl Park and personal journal of author Elizabeth Barlow Rogers that coincides with the narrative. Central Park is a fantastic place filled with natural wonder, romance, activity, scenic landscapes and open spaces. For those who have felt is magic or are interested in it's history, stories of restoration and learing more about it, will find this book by a long term New Yorker and naturalist an informative and good read.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    I might have preferred this to be a bit more linear in structure as I had some trouble following it. It was also a bit uneven with some parts that were really interesting and others that were a bit too bureaucratic and detailed especially for someone who doesn't live in NYC. I do appreciate what a jewel the park is though.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Randi Abel

    This book made me miss running in Central Park very much, but I found the story rather boring.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Leigh

    Inspiring book which shows the huge difference one person can make in the life of a whole city — or least in the greatest borough of what many would say is the greatest city in the world. Central Park in the 1960’s and 70’s was increasingly becoming a place for sports, recreation, and commerce, and losing its original intent as a scenic haven from the stresses of urban life. The author was committed to bringing Central Park back to its original glory as envisioned by its designers Frederick Law Inspiring book which shows the huge difference one person can make in the life of a whole city — or least in the greatest borough of what many would say is the greatest city in the world. Central Park in the 1960’s and 70’s was increasingly becoming a place for sports, recreation, and commerce, and losing its original intent as a scenic haven from the stresses of urban life. The author was committed to bringing Central Park back to its original glory as envisioned by its designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. A must for anyone who believes in historic preservation and/or the central role of parks in the lives of great cities and their inhabitants.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Schenkenberg

  10. 4 out of 5

    Christine

  11. 4 out of 5

    Edith

  12. 4 out of 5

    Patriciachailey

  13. 4 out of 5

    John T.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jean Matthews

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jen

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    Luke

  17. 5 out of 5

    Betsy Miller

  18. 5 out of 5

    Judy Owens

  19. 4 out of 5

    Janie Davies

  20. 4 out of 5

    Charlotte

  21. 5 out of 5

    Katie

  22. 5 out of 5

    Maria

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ellen

  24. 4 out of 5

    Cherie

  25. 4 out of 5

    Amy Lafleur

  26. 4 out of 5

    Barbara7551

  27. 4 out of 5

    K.O.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Miyan

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jon Rogers

  30. 5 out of 5

    Terry S.

  31. 4 out of 5

    Dianne Durante

  32. 5 out of 5

    Gtanner1

  33. 4 out of 5

    Sue

  34. 4 out of 5

    Ariel

  35. 5 out of 5

    Marianne

  36. 4 out of 5

    Emily

  37. 4 out of 5

    Igrowastreesgrow

  38. 5 out of 5

    Garrett King

  39. 5 out of 5

    Marleah

  40. 4 out of 5

    Kenneth

  41. 4 out of 5

    Natasha Sacoto

  42. 5 out of 5

    Michael Pellagatti

  43. 4 out of 5

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  44. 4 out of 5

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  45. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Lazar

  46. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

  47. 5 out of 5

    Caroline Milliken

  48. 5 out of 5

    Jochem

  49. 4 out of 5

    Briana

  50. 5 out of 5

    Amy

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