How 19th Century Immigration Made New York City Rethink Its Parks

Some of the leaders in the development and redevelopment of New York City have been urban planners who did not see the city as a whole, but rather prioritized social classes based on how much their wealth can contribute to the success of NYC as the financial capital of world. Brian Tochterman’s article points out that Florida’s theory on urban development favored the “creative” class, and ignored the rest of NYC’s population—which made it impractical for its application on the city. Tom Angotti’s chapter discusses how larger and more powerful players have pushed smaller and local property owners and business out of the real estate market throughout the course of NYC’s history. Many other leading theorists in the FIRE fields have shaped NYC to become more of a city for the wealthy and powerful, rather than for the entire population. This priority was subtly expressed in various projects throughout Manhattan—a key project being the creation of Central Park. Central Park was supposed to be a public project designed to boost the social, moral, and biological quality of the city and all of its citizens, but it was manipulated in many aspects to benefit the rich and ignore the poor.

How 19th Century Immigration Made New York City Rethink Its Parks” by Tanvi Misra discusses the grounds on which a need for public parks in NYC came about, and how its vision differed drastically from its result. The two 19th century waves of immigration in the city diversified the city, which in turn mixed up the pre-existing yet unofficial hierarchy in Manhattan. The upper-class elite found a need for a public space to maintain their social circles as well as “regulate” the poor and improve the overall quality of the city. Frederick Law Olmsted designed Central Park as a solution to the rising crime and average poverty of the city—with the aim of avoiding lower property values in Manhattan. The creation of Central Park was pushed for so that property values in the surrounding areas would increase and to prevent the upper class who lived in the area from moving out. Although it was essentially a public park created by the city, it was located in a place that was most easily accessible to the surrounding upper class neighborhoods (such as the Upper East and West Sides). Those of the working class who had the time and money to commute to Central Park were heavily monitored—to ensure that the park was a comfortable space for the upper class it catered to. Although Central Park was meant to be a “democratic space,” it ended up becoming an ideal spot for the upper class and showed just how much the city ignored downtown Manhattan and the working class.

Central Park’s location in Manhattan says a lot about the plans with which it was created. By creating an enormous park funded by the city in Upper Manhattan, NYC succeeded in being a model for green spaces in an urban landscape. The park reflects the idea of central locations rising in land value, as surrounding neighborhoods have benefited greatly in property value. On the other hand, the rest of Manhattan was left without any green spaces, alluding to the idea that the city considered green spaces as a place for the upper class. Parks were no longer built with the idea of creating a healthy social and public space for the city’s residents, but as a way of increasing the value of surrounding land. The blatant disregard for green spaces in poorer parts of the city is only one indicator of the ways many urban planners have discriminated between the different classes in NYC.

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