Of all the urban turnaround stories of the past 50 years, none is more impressive to me than the restoration of New York’s Central Park. When I got to know Central Park in 1973, it was sliding into urban wasteland.
By Otis White, Governing
Vandals had wrecked its buildings and defaced its statues. Every surface was covered in graffiti, even its rocks. Trails were overgrown with invasive shrubs, and the park’s magnificent meadows had been trampled into dust bowls.
And, then, of course, there was crime. In 1981, police recorded 781 robberies in Central Park, but that was surely only a fraction of what took place there. Many victims did not bother to report crimes. Even the cops who patrolled the park did so only in the safety of two-officer cars.
If this is still your image of Central Park, then you owe it a visit. The 840-acre park, whose first section opened to the public in 1858, has been returned to its original beauty. People are using it in record numbers (there were 43 million visitors last year), but no longer abusing it. The trails are inviting and the grass is lush and green again. And as one who has walked across it recently, I can report it is as safe as any place in the city.
So how did this great turnaround happen? There were many factors, but the most important was that New York found a way of managing public spaces through shared responsibility.