Our staff of planning, design, and preservation professionals combine thorough knowledge of Central Park and its history with extensive technical expertise to restore and improve the Park for all New Yorkers and visitors from around the world.
When the Conservancy was founded in 1980, Central Park was in a state of severe decline. The lawns were dustbowls, and infrastructure was crumbling. As part of an ambitious planning effort, we performed 10 parkwide studies—topography, geology, hydrology, drainage, soils, vegetation and wildlife, architecture, circulation, use, and management and infrastructure—to provide the basis for a comprehensive plan to rebuild the Park.
Rebuilding Central Park: A Management and Restoration Plan, was completed in 1985, and more than three decades later, it remains the foundation of our work. We believe that the Park’s unique and enduring value is grounded in its original purpose—to provide New Yorkers with an idyllic retreat from daily urban life—and in the timeless vision of its designers toward that end. For more than three decades, Rebuilding Central Park has been continually supplemented by additional studies and plans focused on specific and evolving aspects of the Park, its use, and its management. But the larger vision underpinning each and every restoration and reconstruction project in the Park never changes. It is the original vision established over a century-and-a-half ago.
How We Rebuild the Park
The Conservancy is committed to breaking the "decline-and-restore” cycle, a pattern that is typical of open spaces and facilities in the public realm: they are created or restored, and then immediately neglected. No further investment is made until they decline beyond repair.
Today, our approach focuses on ongoing maintenance to benefit daily visitors and to protect the investment in the restoration work. But just as a well-maintained house ages over time, so does a manmade landscape—especially one that is intensely used and not connected to larger natural systems. Periodic restoration is necessary to renew landscapes, which includes updating the infrastructure and facilities that support them to meet current design standards and codes related to environmental sustainability, public health and safety, and accessibility, among others.
Our work to restore the Park landscape includes rebuilding park paths and infrastructure (including drainage, sanitary, irrigation, and electrical systems); restoring historic buildings, bridges, and shelters; and renovating or reconstructing playgrounds and other recreational facilities. It also includes the restoration and conservation of the Park’s collection of monuments, sculptures, and ornamental fountains.
The Phases of a Project
Our Planning, Design and Construction team studies and evaluates the physical condition of the Park on an ongoing basis. Through thorough analyses we identify new challenges and opportunities, define goals, and outline strategies, which inform our projects and programs of work.
As needs are identified we begin planning specific projects to address them. We compile and analyze detailed information on every aspect of the particular site: existing conditions, history, use patterns, infrastructure constraints and requirements, and any relevant standards and codes. We occasionally engage consultants (such as site surveyors, structural engineers, and soil scientists). We also frequently survey the public to understand how that area serves park users. Through this process, we define the goals and scope of the project, and establish a preliminary budget and timeline.
Once the general parameters of the project are defined, the design process begins. Our team of architects develops the design, collaborating as needed with consultants from specialized engineering disciplines. The design is refined as we test ideas and assumptions, and settle on details. This results in a schematic design—a comprehensive plan for the finished project. The schematic design includes major decisions about design elements, layout, materials, and composition. We then begin on construction documents—the technical drawings and specifications that communicate pertinent details to potential contractors.
Projects that contain noticeable design changes must go through the City’s formal public review and approval process. Projects are reviewed first by the Community Boards, the City’s official forum for public input on issues affecting the local community. Central Park borders five Community Boards. We offer to present any project requiring public review to all five of them, and typically present to at least three.
Community Boards discuss, vote on, and pass resolutions on proposed designs, which are submitted to the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) and Public Design Commission (PDC) for their consideration. Projects in Central Park are subject to LPC review because the Park is a scenic landmark of the City of New York, and to PDC review because they are projects on City-owned property. For most projects in the Park, LPC’s review is advisory, and PDC has final approval authority. The exception is work on historic buildings in the Park, over which LPC has final authority.
After a project is approved, the Conservancy invites pre-qualified contractors to bid on the work. A pre-bid meeting is typically held to walk the site with interested bidders and answer questions. Contractors are selected based on price and responsiveness to the contract requirements. A start date is set once any applicable regulatory approvals or permits are secured. The work is overseen by Conservancy staff focused exclusively on the day-to-day management and supervision of construction contracts.