New York is home to what is arguably one of the most famous parks in the world: Central Park. It is definitely the most famous public park of New York itself, and the most visited in the United States, with a whopping 25 million visitors every year.
Public parks are a relatively novel invention. At the end of the 19th century, the need for more open space arose – as people in the bustling and booming city felt the need to escape the noisy and chaotic city streets.
Central Park, located on the island of Manhattan, was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, in a naturalistic style with manmade lakes, elaborate walkways, ice rinks, plenty of playgrounds and even a pet cemetery.
In Europe, at that time, parks like the Bois de Boulogne in Paris or Hyde Park in London had already proven their usefulness – socially and aesthetically – which is why Central Park was designed to follow their example. In 1853, the city of New York made budgets free for the project, which was completed 1869.
It’s interesting to ponder the emergence of parks in Europa and subsequently the U.S. in conjunction with an exhibition at the MET dedicated to the horticultural boom that reshaped the French landscape during the 19th century.
‘Public Parks, Private Garden: Paris to Provence’ exposes the influence of colonization – which brought in exotic botanical specimens into Europe by the shipload – and scientific progress – the exploration of hybridization – on the exponential growth of the availability and variety of plants and flowers.
Formerly royal properties were opened to the public around that era, and the streets of Paris underwent a major transformation into tree-lined boulevards. Parks were seen as open-air salons, and those living outside of cities were encouraged to tend to their own flower gardens.
Art, as always, reflected this shift in priorities. Artists from Corot to Matisse were eager documenters of this new urban greenery and were avid gardeners themselves. In the decorative arts, too, botanical and floral motifs were popular. From paintings by the Impressionists to photographs of the era and vases used to display lush bouquets, the exhibition shows some 150 works that illustrate the emergence of modern society’s love for greenery and florals.
Even today, there’s a re-emergence of the theme, with house plants taking centre stage in much photography and graphic work – have you not noticed the ubiquity of the Monstera leaf of late? Dive into this abundant green world of yore, and go for a refreshing walk in Central Park afterwards – it’s only a few minutes walking away from its Belvedere Castle. Make sure you stay at The Greenwich Hotel in TirBeCa, comeplete with its very own green oasis, venture further afield to explore the parks of Paris.