For what is believed to be the first time in over 150 years, an official from New York has paid a visit to Birkenhead Park in Birkenhead, England. In a way, Doug Blonsky, the Conservancy's President and CEO, already knew Birkenhead before crossing the Atlantic Ocean to see it this month. Though he had never visited the park, he sees reflections of Birkenhead daily in the landscapes and spirit of Central Park. Birkenhead Park, the first publicly funded park in Britain, and one of the first in the world, was a major influence on Central Park's designers, particularly Frederick Law Olmsted.
In 1850, the 28-year-old Olmsted visited the newly created park with his brother and a friend. The park, designed by Sir Joseph Paxton, was only three years old then. Birkenhead's naturalistic design made an impression on Olmsted, but the philosophy behind the park had an even stronger influence. Olmsted loved the idea of a beautiful, bucolic space that was free and available to the public. Years after the visit, Olmsted wrote that he was "glad to observe that the privileges of the garden were enjoyed about equally by all classes." He claimed that all it took was a few minutes in Birkenhead to "admit that in democratic America there was nothing to be thought of as comparable with this People's Garden." In 1858 when he and his British co-designer Calvert Vaux created the Greensward plan that went on to win the competition to design "the Central Park," Birkenhead and a "park for the people" was foremost in both their minds.
During his visit this month, on a tour with British civic leaders and park managers, Doug was deeply impressed by the similarities between the two "sister" parks. "You drive around Birkenhead," Doug remarked, "and there is no question that the physical similarities between here and Central Park are there."
The purpose of his visit was to share the Conservancy's expertise in park management and restoration. This isn't the first international trip Doug has made to share the Conservancy's lessons from over 30 years of park management. In May, 2012, he visited Moscow to meet with park officials there. Central Park is an international treasure, and the Conservancy is glad to share its knowledge with park managers around the world.
To see more from Doug's trip to Birkenhead Park, check out this video of his trip by the BBC.
Located across from the Harlem Meer, Central Park's northernmost playground has been completely rebuild by the Conservancy, featuring the latest in playground design.