Rebuilding Central Park: A Management and Restoration Plan

By Elizabeth Barlow Rogers. (MIT Press, 1987)

Between 1982 and 1985, under Elizabeth Barlow Rogers’s leadership, Central Park was studied in its entirety by a team of four landscape architects (Marianne Cramer, Judith L. Heintz, Bruce Kelly, and Phillip N. Winslow) working in conjunction with an urban sociologist (William Kornblum), an historic preservation architect (Jean Phifer), and consultants on soil science, hydrology, and wildlife. This parkwide inventory and analysis was the first such effort since the 1858 Greensward Plan, Olmsted and Vaux’s winning entry in the design competition at the time of the park’s creation.

The plan that Rogers and her team developed was systemic, comprehensive, and integrated. It considered the park organically as a single, 843-acre landscape rather than as a patchwork of lawns, wooded areas, ponds, playgrounds, and ball fields. A user study provided a demography of the park’s multiple constituencies; a circulation study mapped the flow of pedestrian and vehicular traffic; an inventory of the park’s 26,000 trees yielded useful data on species, age, size, and condition; and a ground-plane survey delineated the presence and absence of vegetation, indicating many areas of eroded, bare earth.

Overlays of each of these studies and surveys formed a composite image of existing conditions, enabling the planners to develop a set of parkwide recommendations. Following these overall dictates, they looked at the park section by section, outlining the specific capital needs of each. This approach prevented restoration work from being undertaken on a piecemeal basis and made possible the rebuilding of each section of the park in a manner that links it with every contiguous part. The framework provided by this plan and the management strategies built into the projects that grow out of it continue to guide Central Park’s ongoing landscape rehabilitation today.

Published in 1985 in a tabloid-size edition by the Central Park Conservancy, the plan was reissued in book format by MIT Press in 1987. Since then park managers and citizen support groups in other cities have sought to apply its methodologies to their landscape restoration efforts.