The last of Autumn

The days are getting shorter and colder. This weekend we had what might well be the last warm weather for months to come. It seemed that everyone in the whole city was outside enjoying the sunshine. We had a lovely stroll through Central Park after lunch on the Upper East Side. Andrew Jackson Downing, considered by many to be the father of American Landscape Architecture, had been the first to argue for a large park in New York, a space in the middle of the city with "a real feeling of the breadth and beauty of the green fields, the perfume and freshness of nature... lovely lakes of limpid water, covering many acres, and heightening the charm of the sylvan accessories by the finest natural contrast." In such a park, "pedestrians would find quiet and secluded walks when they wished to be solitary and broad alleys filled with thousands of happy faces when they would be gay." Thanks to Frederick Olmstead and Calvert Vaux's brilliant design, Central Park remains faithful to Downing's vision of sylvan pleasures in our city. But most of all, it was Olmstead's foresight that made Central Park such a welcome reprieve to the city's relentless grid. As he wrote in one of his reports:

"The time will come when New York will be built up, when all the grading and filling will done, and when the picturesquely-varied, rocky formations of the Island, will have been converted into foundations for rows of monotonous straight streets, and piles of erect, angular buildings. There will be no suggestion left of its present varied surface, with the single exception of the Park. The priceless value of the present picturesque outlines of the round will be more distinctly perceived, and its adaptability for its purpose more fully recognized. It therefore seems desirable to interfere with its easy, undulating outlines, and picturesque, rocky scenery as little as possible, and on the other hand, to endeavor rapidly and by every legitimate means, to increase and judiciously develop these particularly individual and characteristic sources of landscape effects."

Nearly a century and a half later, I encountered many solitary pedestrians enjoying moments of quiet and "thousands of happy faces" in the broad alleys of the park, all relishing the last of autumn in anticipation of the sterner season ahead.

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