Central Park, Elitism, and the Destruction of Seneca Village

By | July 12, 2019

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Aerial view of Manhattan looking south over Central Park July 2007 in New York City. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA. Source: (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

Central Park, the 778-acre splash of green in the middle of New York City, is a world-famous urban park that offers city-dwellers a refuge into nature as far as the eye can see. While Central Park is a shining jewel in the Big Apple, the creation of the vast park was not without controversy. To make room for the sprawling green space, the city had to destroy an African-American village and relocate its residents.

Let's look at the history of the United States' first urban park

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New York City was crowded in the 1800s. Source: (approachaarch.wordpress.com)

European Criticism and Snobbery

As the city grew larger and larger, European aristocrats looked down their sophisticated noses at the crowded, dirty, industrial New York City. They expressed the belief that Americans as a whole, and specifically New Yorkers, lacked the refinement and class to appreciate a planned, landscaped, well-maintained outdoor space to beautify a city and provide a gathering place for its people. Faced with this criticism, the elite class of New York City in the 1850s sought to prove the Europeans wrong. When city officials began discussing the creation of a city park, the New York upper crust fully supported that idea. They hoped for a well-manicured green space where they could promenade and flaunt their wealth and style.