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Central Park and Battle Park

John Wilson

 

            The urban wild interface is an important resource in many of today’s communities. In an era in which urbanization is rapidly increasing, many citizens have limited access to the outdoors and urban wild interfaces play an important role in fostering a visceral connection with the environment. The urban wild interface is the name given to those natural areas surrounded by urban areas. Forests in the urban wild interface allow observers a space in which it is possible to remember that there is an entirely different world from the glass and concrete one that often surround us. It is extremely important for all age groups to remember and be exposed to the natural world close to home.

At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill students and locals are privileged to have access to Battle Park. This sprawling forest bordering campus allows anyone to take a brief retreat from the rest of the world by walking through the many secluded trails or by resting on a conveniently placed bench far from the sounds of the town. Chapel Hill is thankfully not the only city that has taken steps to preserve a small slice of nature. Perhaps the most famous urban wild interface in the United States is New York’s Central Park. The Park occupies the heart of one of America’s most crowded cities and is impossible not to notice.

            Central Park’s inception was far more complicated, however, than that of Battle Park. That park was so named for a former chancellor Kemp Plummer Battle (1876-1891) who was often seen in those woods, walking and creating trails[1]. Due to his passion the 90 acres of forest bordering Chapel Hill were named for him. The impetus for the creation of New York’s Central Park rests with William Cullen Bryant and Andrew Jackson Downing[2]. These two were prolific writers whose efforts served to create a rising tide of interest amongst the populace for the creation of a public park in New York. Thanks to these men public interest was aroused and soon the talk of whether or not to construct a park was an important piece of the political debate. The creation of a public parks were seen as “essential aids to the public health…, the great breathing places of the toiling masses”[3].  It is in part thanks to the writings of these two men that the New York landscape was changed forever. Like Central Park, Battle Park provides an important space for students to catch their breath and relax in an environment far classrooms and labs.

            Central Park and Battle Park have much in common. Both serve as the urban wild interface for their community. Each Park must be protected from various interests who seek to develop the land for alternate uses. This paper will seek to compare and contrast the two parks and the different ways in which they seek to fulfill the same goal as a populated areas urban wild interface.

             An obvious difference between the two is the size of the city they border. Chapel Hill is a medium sized town and Battle Park’s borders come into contact with both. Once inside the forest the only changes are the addition of railroad ties to shore up certain paths, a bridge or two, and a few scattered benches. Trails connect the park to other portions of the community. Furthermore, while Battle Park is indisputably an important resource, especially for students who have limited access to travel farther afield, there are other natural areas close by such as Mason Farm. Now compare that to New York City’s Central Park. Anyone who has seen a movie that takes place in New York has probably seen a flyover shot of the city in which a large green rectangle occupies part of the city.  That is Central Park. The park is now “renowned as an island of solitude in the midst of a throbbing metropolis”[4]. Bordered by a city orders of magnitude larger than Chapel Hill, Central Park has served as an important city landmark for decades.  Not clear what the point is here.

            Central Park has a prominent place in New York City not only because of its notable location but also because a number of television shows have used the location as part of their stories, notably the Law and Order television show, to name one of many. This television prominence has cemented the images of Central Park into the wider public consciousness. Unlike Battle Park, which is bordered by peaceful neighborhoods and the University, Central Park is surrounded by one of America’s busiest metropolises and the skyscrapers that come with it.

            Central Park has also been shaped much more by man than its smaller cousin Battle Park. It features a boathouse, a zoo, many more tables, and permanent ice cream stands on the corners. However the park likely also sees more use than Carolina’s Battle Park because it stands alone as the sole urban wild interface in Manhattan. When I visited the park early summer of last year I was struck by the differences. My experience running in Battle Park and now this semester spends many hours taking field notes and observations of a plot allow me to say that in Battle Park it is rare to see many other groups of people. However Central Park is occupied by vast throngs of people making their way to or from one destination or the other. The other aspect that struck me was the noise. In Battle Park it is possible to sit and listen to the wind in the branches and the slow sonorous life of the forest around you. In Central Park I felt the life of the forest was the people who filled it day after day. This is likely due to the size of New York as compared to Chapel Hill. Manhattan alone boasts a population of 8.3 million people, compared to Chapel Hill’s just over 57,000 [5],[6]. The scale of the difference is massive, likely contributing to the crowding I felt while within the Park.

            Unfortunately my trip to Central Park did not permit me to spend as many hours exploring as I would have liked. I hope that there are sections of the forest in which it is possible to experience the peace and serenity that I feel when walking through Battle Park. But Central Park does fulfill its purpose very well despite the demands of the multitude, as I strolled through the park I observed children climbing on rock formations and running around trees with their peers. Without Central Park New York would be a dreary grey city devoid of the sounds of nature. Although both parks have since their inception been developed very differently, each plays an important role within their respective communities. It is as impossible to imagine UNC without Battle Park as it is to imagine a scene of New York without Central Park. Both serve as excellent examples of the strong place in our minds the urban wild interface can have in shaping the way we view a city.

 

John Wilson

Economics 2014

Charlotte, NC

 

Bibliography

1. White, P. (2005). Re-dedicating the Battle Park Trails. Retrieved from http://ncbg.unc.edu/new-trails-open-in-battle-park/

2. Heckscher, M. H. (2008). Creating Central Park. New York, NY: The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin. (page 11)

3. Ibid. 12

4. Miller, S. C. (2003). Central Park, An American Masterpiece. New York, NY: Harry N. Abrams Inc.

5. Department of City Planning of New York. Retrieved from http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/html/census/popcur.shtm

6. Town of Chapel Hill. Retrieved from http://www.townofchapelhill.org/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=12