The role of Democracy in Design : A case of Central Park, NY

Democracy refers to a system where power resides with the people and the government is given the right to rule because the people say it may. Democracy is a powerful tool. It shapes cities in a way that favours the overall good and the majority. It enhances quality of life of its people.


The phenomenon Central Park was born with the attempt to embrace democratic value. Bounded by Fifth Avenue on East, Eight Avenue on the west, Fifty ninth Avenue on the South and One Hundred and Tenth Avenue on the North, Central Park is an urban park, one of its kind. Its realization saw many political conflicts. It underwent changes and interventions at various stages of the design and execution process. But today, it is a park that stands for democracy and for the people.

Panoramic View of Central Park © Martin St. Amant


Turning public interest into political propaganda

The issue of parks started coming into picture during the 1851 mayoral elections. The candidates for the elections knew the people’s interest in parks. They helped the movement to gain popularity by advocating it.


The New York Legislature authorized acquisition of the central site as well as Jones’s Wood along East River. The mayoral candidates made sure to talk about the job opportunities generated from the project for the unemployed immigrants out on the street. It will help settle social unrest is what they assumed.


Soon it was realized that the park would promote good morals and order by encouraging a wholesome work and play environment.


Central Park over the years © Jet Lowe


Many opinions, one goal

There are always various opinions on what can be done in a given situation. But, it is what the majority wants that gets translated into a city.


People had contrary claims to the idea of a Central Park. Uptown Gentlemen assumed that it will create a splendid centre for fashionable life and high rents with no regard to the happiness of the people who will bear its expenses. Some thought of an alternate concept of many smaller parks instead of one large park. Some wanted no park for they believed that it will increase traffic, eventually impacting the community established there.


Other concerns were of Public taxes being used to make a Central Park of which upper Manhattan reaped most benefits.


While Democrats stressed on stable economy and thriving labour markets, Republicans responded that instead of government focusing on business, what the government needs to do first is to strengthen the culture of New York. And a new park in New York would be the best way to demonstrate the power of nature. It will be the first step to repair the society.


One notable aspect was that, if not all, majority of the people wanted the project to be a success. New Yorkers were now on the same page. The government too had to consider the project’s success as it was the people’s demand.

Lake was one of the first things executed while the making of Central Park © David Shankbone


Political bias

A political bias, often a result of various forces in action, decides for and against the financial fluidity towards a project. A project backed up by a majority of people is difficult to be ignored in a democratic situation.


Democracy made sure to check on financial resources going into the project as it was people’s money. This project, today, is the lungs of New York. It’s one of its kind. It is an expression of social unity and democracy.


High Density Skyline acts as a backdrop to the Central Park © Ajay Suresh


Slow and steady

Democracy has its weakness too in decision making. It procrastinates every aspect of a project or a case, including the obvious good fruit that the project or case would bear.


Political frictions in the government slowed down the project initially. Envisioned to be completed within five years, the project was completed in fifteen years (1858-1873) because of influence of political powers and their conflicting interest (Chow, 2016). Democracy means multiple decision makers at multiple stages. It slows down often.


Because a democracy is by the people, it is their right to question a decision. More so, when public money is used to realise the decision. The reason that democracy is firm is also a reason for its menace. It involves people. Their right to intervene can slow a project, their right to question has the power to change prior decisions. If democracy loses trust on the person who was first thought of as the capable one, it takes no time to appoint a new one.


Democracy brings to power the influential and the visionary. When a government promises to run for the people, of the people and by the people, people get aggressive if they are not able to exercise their rights, or they are not being given what they were promised.


Expanse of Central Park sitting amidst Manhattan's high density development ©Daniel Schwen


The power of people

This project was now a demonstration of how nature can benefit the urban environment. It started a socio-cultural movement that changed the urban landscape and the politics around it.


Promoting social democracy using the power of nature was seen as a solution to urban problems. The park, as a political means, was an opportunity to educate the less privileged about their collective responsibility.


People relaxing in the sun at Central Park © Ingfbruno


The Central Park has developed into a social argument. It has developed into a model for being an Urban Green insert. And more than anything, it has stated the power that lies with people, each one of us.


Forum Shah





References:

Anish, M. (2017, July 10). Barr's news & ephemera.

Chow, K. (2016). Park Politics : Political Influences on Frederick Law Olmsted & the creation of Creation of Central Park. 15.

Schwenkler, J. (2013, January 3). Commonweal. The democratic beauty of Central Park.




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