December 12, 2010
Charles Beveridge called Prospect Park “a classic example of [Olmsted and Vaux’s] concept of a great urban park,” and “the most pleasing that they created during their collaboration.”
Olmsted himself had this to say to those involved in the construction of the park in 1865:
“We must study to secure a combination of elements which shall invite and stimulate the simplest, purest and most primeval action of the poetic element of human nature, and thus remove those who are affected by it to the greatest possible distance from the highly elaborate, sophistical and artificial conditions of their ordinary and civilized life.
Thus it must be that parks are beyond anything else recreative, recreative of that which is most apt to be lost or become diseased and debilitated among the dwellers in towns.”
Prospect Park has the unique quality of seclusion in New York City. Where the tall buildings of Manhattan which surround Central Park have come to act as artistic framing elements, Brooklyn benefits from being significantly shorter. Walking through the park today truly offers the illusion of rurality, which Olmsted and Vaux so adamantly sought to create.
Tupper Thomas, who became Administrator of Prospect Park in 1980, and has acted as President of the Prospect Park Alliance since its formation in 1987, prefers to do less talking, more showing when it’s time to convince people of the park’s value.
“I don’t talk history and preservation,” she says. “I take people to look at it, and I say, ‘Look how beautiful this is!'”
She still, though, has plenty to say on the topic:
“It’s gorgeous, multi-use, brilliant in its design, and it’s everlasting. Even today the park still replenishes your soul, does wonderful things for your psyche. It’s still what people need.
The fun thing to do is give people a tour of the park, and tell them it’s designed. The art of [Olmsted and Vaux’s] design is that it doesn’t look like design.”
There are no transverse roads that cut horizontally through Prospect Park, a fact which allows it to get away with the Long Meadow, the longest unbroken meadow in any urban park in America. Prospect Park also posesses 120 acres of woodlands, which shelter tinier meadows of their own, and a 60 acre lake.
Our interview with Tupper Thomas took place on a Saturday afternoon in the Long Meadow. We were surrounded by park users–there to picnic, scooter down paths, play soccer, and celbrate birthdays, which gave the background of our shot some colorful dynamism.
The Long Meadow in Prospect Park is arguably the happiest place in the world in the hours before 9am on Saturdays.
The off-leash initiative started in the 1980s, when Tupper Thomas, Prospect Park Administrator, and now president of the Prospect Park Alliance, needed a way to get people back in the park. Dogs are allowed to be off-leash in the park from 9pm to 1am, when the park closes, and from 5am to 9am in the morning.
Our crew was able to catch a beautifully joyous scene at around 8am on Saturday, June 27. I racked my brain to no avail to see if I had ever been in one place with so many dogs. We strolled among the throngs of dogs and their owners, many of whom also had adorable babies in tow. The cuteness factor was almost too much to handle.
Who knows if Olmsted could have forseen the popularity of this particular activity–early on, in the late 1800s, dogs did come to the park–leashless, it seems–but presumably in the interest of tending sheep. Tennis ball launchers, of course, had not yet been invented.
With no sheep to tend to on Saturday, the raucous canine party left virtually no mess behind them, and by 9am, the dogs were diligently leashed back up and led either to the shaded paths of the Ravine, or the surrounding streets. Later, when I asked Tupper about this incredible display of public respect for the park, she told me about the organization FIDO. FIDO stands for “Fellowship in the Interest of Dogs and their Owners,” and is a community organization that works with the park to educate off-leashers about park rules, while encouraging the maintenance of a safe and healthy place for dogs. Read more about FIDO here: www.fidobrooklyn.org.