Wednesday, April 10, 2013

New York's Greenacre Park and Green-Wood Cemetery: a Hit and a Miss

Greenacre Park
During my current visit to New York City, I visited two highly praised landscape designs: Green-Wood Cemetery, one of America's first rural cemeteries, and Greenacre Park, a 1970s pocket park. One was a hit and the other a miss.

Greenacre Park, located on East 51st Street between Second and Third Avenues is a small oasis (only 60 by 120 foot) in Midtown Manhattan. Its spaces are well-defined comprising three levels of fixed and movable seating, a gushing 25 foot multilevel waterfall, and lush plantings. The park transports you from the urban intensity of NYC to a place of quiet repose and tranquility. It's Landscape Architecture at its best, and is without a doubt, one of my favorite outdoor spots in the entire world! Central Park is wonderful, but Greenacre Park is magic.

Green-Wood Cemetery
On the other hand, Green-Wood Cemetery, located in Brooklyn, left me cold. In a sense, Green-Wood's success was its undoing. Many of its innovations such as pastoral vistas, meadows, ponds, sculptures, and winding trails are now common features in cemeteries.

Green-Wood comprises 478 acres of hills, valleys, ponds, and winding paths. Founded in 1838, Green-Wood rivaled Niagara Falls as the country's greatest tourist attraction by the 1860s. In fact, Green-Wood inspired the development of the modern cemetery from a place merely to bury the dead (graveyards) to a place of reflection, intimacy, and comfort. 

Today, Green-Wood is a National Historic Landmark, and is the final resting place for many celebrated politicians, artists, entertainers, and captains of industry, including Leonard Bernstein, Boss Tweed, Horace Greeley, and Samuel Morse. Its history is very special, but its innovative features are hard to appreciate since they've been commonplace for over a century. 

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