Archive for the ‘Central Park Story – Book Five’ Category:

Central Park Zoo: a Stroll on the Wild Side

Sea_lion_pool_in_Central_Park_Zoo,_New_York_City_2013

The newly renovated sea lion pool has a nice view of midtown Manhattan. Kind of like looking at floating icebergs, no?

One of the reasons I deliberately avoided mentioning the Central Park Zoo, both in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, and thus far in my blog, is that it wasn’t a part of Olmsted and Vaux’s original design. Like the sculptures in the Mall and the baseball fields scattered throughout the rest of the park, the zoo simply happened.

It all began when some people ‘donated’ some swans and a bear to the city, and the poor creatures ended up being housed in the Arsenal Building inside the park on 64th and Fifth.

Animals must attract other animals, because the menagerie expanded until the ‘zoo’ itself was eventually expanded in 1934 with a series of new buildings centered around a naturalistic sea lion pool.

Which brings me to the second reason that I didn’t mention the Central Park Zoo till now. The ‘1934 Zoo’, as it is called, was inhumanely cramped and, by the time I visited it in the 1960s, fallen into horrible disrepair.

I felt so sorry for the animals that, after visiting it once, I never wanted to go back.

The zoo was later renovated and reopened in 1988 with more accommodating and naturalistic environments.

Trellised, vine-clad, glass-roofed pergolas link the three major exhibit areas—tropic, temperate and polar— housed in discreet new buildings of brick trimmed with granite, masked by vines. The zoo is home to an indoor rain forest, leaf-cutter ant colony, a chilled penguin house and currently unoccupied polar bear pool.

Children's Zoo

The renovated Children’s Zoo…where the real wild animals are pushed around by their parents in strollers.

In a city where everyone lives in ‘cages’, so to speak, I suppose I shouldn’t feel too sorry for these animals who are fed and housed in relative comfort for ‘free’, but I do, knowing that they would probably feel more at home and, hence, happier competing for space in the wild!

 

 

 

 

Boss Tweed and the Unwinding of Central Park…What a Mess!

Boss Tweed

Boss Tweed in his prime

Though the majority of the construction of Central Park was completed during the time that ‘Boss’ Tweed was in control of the city government, few people did more damage to it in such a short period of time.

He handed out thousand of unnecessary jobs in park maintenance in return for political favors, resulting in the razing of trees and denuding of entire areas. He even planned to put in a race track in the fashionable south end and a massive zoo in the bucolic North Meadow.

Olmsted stood on the sidelines, watching in helpless agony, fired from his position as consulting architect, as both his and Calvert Vaux’s original design for the park was unwound.

If the New York Times didn’t run a successful campaign to uncover Tweed’s unusually corrupt regime, even more damage would have been done and Olmsted’s own reputation permanently damaged.

As time would have it, Tweed was dethroned and the damage contained and eventually reversed.

In my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, I have tried to recreate much of this corrupt backdrop, at least in spirit, to show my readers that just because it happened in the past doesn’t mean it won’t take place in the future.

Summerstage, New York Marathon, Rock Concerts, Shakespeare–How Much More Can You Fit Into a City Park?

New York Marathon

Feeling claustrophobic? The New York Marathon will test you to the max.

How many different free cultural activities can you fit inside a city park?

If you want to know the answer, you needn’t look any further than Central Park in Manhattan.

First, you have all of the free performing arts festivals such as Central Park Summerstage and the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival, which take place every summer and are free admission.

Add to that the New York Marathon, an annual event since 1970 which has ballooned to over 50,000 participants, and traditionally ends in Central Park.

Shakespeare in the Park

Shakespeare in the Park with the Castle in the background…pretty magical, no?

Then there’s Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater which features the best of Shakespeare and has been attended by over five million spectators since its opening in 1962 (also free on a ‘first come first serve’ basis).

Speaking of the  60s, let’s not forget the many free rock concerts such as Simon and Garfunkle, Carole King, America, Elton John…the list goes on and on.

Simon and Garfunkle concert

A mere 500,000 people attended a concert bu Simon and Garfunkel in 1981!

But if you think the list ends there, think again; which is why I had to be extremely selective in deciding which free cultural events to include in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story.

 

 

Baseball in Central Park–a Real Home Run for the Game

Baseball in the park then...

Baseball in the park in the 50s…

It was sometimes difficult for nineteenth century baseball players to enjoy their newfangled game in Central Park due to competition from cricket players, but by the 1930s, when recreation became a top priority of the Parks Commission, the game was finally embraced.

In 1934, it was formally announced that the informal playing fields in Central Park´s North Meadow would be constructed with permanent bases and backstops. Tournaments would also held for both baseball and softball throughout the 1930s.

Baseball in Central Park

…and now

Today, over twenty baseball fields are distributed more or less evenly over three principal meadows from the south to the north end of the park.

It’s hard to know what Olmsted and Vaux would have thought of their original design being usurped by a game that was barely known at the time. Probably they would have balked, since their intention was to provide a series of unobstructed vistas to reconnect the viewer with the genius of Nature, not the spirit of Babe Ruth. But time and tide bow to no man, and baseball is now a permanent fixture in the park.

In my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, I pay homage to sports in the park by including a baseball game where Christopher Middleton flies in the air and catches a ball (Book V).

Education in America…in Crisis Mode

American Schools

What goes in…

It is well-known that, ever since the 1950s, American schools have been in crisis mode, falling behind other countries such as Russia and Japan and China in core subjects such as mathematics and science.

Congress passed the National Defense of Education Act in 1958, and over the ensuing years, a series of other legislative acts, in an attempt to rectify these problems; but according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, in 2012, American students ranked 25th in math, 17th in science, and 14th in reading compared to students in 27 other countries.

To give you an idea of just how big a drop that is, America once ranked #1.

So, what is the cause, and what can be done to stop its seemingly inexorable slide?

In my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, I attempt to resolve the issue by asking a slightly different question: what is education and how exactly do we learn? If we know the answer to that, the former question might become moot.

To cut to the chase, I don’t offer my readers a scientifically precise answer. After all, I am writing a fictional story meant to entertain! But in clarifying (and dramatizing) the issues, I suggest that a more open curriculum where mentoring plays a major role, is absolutely key.

This puts the burden, not on the curriculum or even the students. but on the quality and training of the teachers and the way they teach.

American Schools

..must come out the other end. But what happens in between? That’s the trillion dollar question.

As is the teacher, so is the student.

 

 

 

Europeans Versus Indigenous Americans–Was Conflict Necessary?

Native-American-Warrior

Indigenous Americans were about as different from Europeans as you could possibly get, but was conflict really necessary?

At the time of first contact, the indigenous cultures were quite different from those of the proto-industrial Christian immigrants. Some of the Northeastern and Southwestern cultures in particular were matrilinear and operated on a more collective basis than Europeans were familiar with. The majority of Indigenous American tribes, for instance, maintained their hunting grounds and agricultural lands for use of the entire tribe, while Europeans at that time had patriarchal cultures and had developed concepts of individual property rights with respect to land that were extremely different from those of indigenous Americans.

These differences in cultures between the established Native Americans and immigrant Europeans make one question whether it made any sense for one to try and assimilate the other.

One of the most beautiful things about our world is the variety of cultures it sustains, and to see a culture disappear, especially by force, is tragic.

I try to raise this point throughout my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, by illustrating that different cultures don’t necessarily have to collide, but can live side by side in harmony…assuming there is respect and restraint exercised on both sides.

 

The New York Times: the Heartbeat of the City and of the Freedom of the Press

The New York Times

The New York Times vs. Freedom of the Press?

The New York Times was founded as the New-York Daily Times on September 18, 1851 and shortened its name to The New York Times in 1857.

It has the largest circulation of any metropolitan newspaper in the US and has won 111 Pulitzer prizes over its history.

No doubt, Frederick Law Olmsted himself read it throughout his life in the city. Coincidentally, The Times began publication the very year he and Calvert Vaux won the design commission to construct Central Park.

As a newspaper, The Times has been involved in a handful of scandals over its history, but the most blatant (in my opinion) was the 13-month delay in publishing the story of the National Security Administrations warrantless surveillance program leaked to the newspaper in 2004, just prior to the presidential election.

The newspaper would have continued to refuse to publish the story under pressure from the Bush administration had one of the reporters not threatened to publish a book on the subject independently.

This egregious violation of the United States Constitution’s Bill of Rights was not something I was going to let pass unnoticed in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, where I seek to demonstrate what happens when freedom of the press becomes non-existent.