While Central Park might be New York City’s most prominent urban landscape, there are thriving wetlands, pocket parks, rustic cemeteries, and sculptural topography embedded in the environment of the five boroughs. The What’s Out There Cultural Landscapes Guide to New York City, launched this month by the National Park Service (NPS) and the Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF), is an interactive map that charts over 70 of these popular and unsung environments.
“All of the sites in this guide are in some way connected to the National Park Service,” Charles A. Birnbaum, president & CEO of the Cultural Landscape Foundation, told Hyperallergic. “They include state, municipal, and nonprofit sites that have received a historic designation from and, or, been documented by NPS. This is significant because we think of national parks as big expanses of wilderness, but our cities are rich in natural and cultural systems that are all connected.”
The guide coincides with the 100th anniversary of NPS, and was developed from TCLF’s What’s Out There database as part of a series of five guides highlighting urban landscapes. The New York City edition follows one released in March for Philadelphia, with Boston and Richmond planned for 2017, and Baltimore for 2018. Joining a map, which plots the location of landscapes, there’s a companion history of landscape development, and biographies of designers and city shapers. You can find brief profiles on landscape architect Robert Zion who set the standard for the “vest-pocket” parks in the city with his 1967 commission for Paley Park, rural cemetery visionary Almerin Hotchkiss, and landscape architect Marjorie Sewell Cautley, who worked on Garden City movement communities like the Hillside Homes and Sunnyside Gardens.
Many of the cultural sites are likely familiar, such as the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden at the Museum of Modern Art, or the Arthur Ross Terrace Garden at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, yet considering them together emphasizes the long history of landscaping in New York City. The Old Quaker Meeting House in Flushing, Queens, for instance, dates back to the 17th century and still has its medieval Dutch influence in its timber framing and steep roof, as well as its austere graveyard bordered by weathered elms and oaks. The Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve, meanwhile, on Staten Island, was once a resource for 19th-century terracotta architecture before being protected as a natural haven.
More recent sites, like the 1967 West 67th Street – Adventure Playground by architect Richard Dattner responding to the postwar adventure playgrounds of Europe, Brutalist architecture, and the interactive sculptures of Isamu Noguchi, emphasize the enduring connection between art and everyday design. Furthermore, the guide is an interesting way to explore the names behind landscape design, particularly women, such as at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx where Beatrix Farrand planned a rose garden, Ellen Shipman the perennial border, and a conifer arboretum was envisioned by Marian Coffin. Each of these places, whether the bird-watching refuge Udall’s Park Preserve in Little Neck or the former burial ground James J. Walker Park in Manhattan, is part of the city’s continuously developing landscape heritage.
The What’s Out There Cultural Landscapes Guide to New York City is available online from the National Park Service and the Cultural Landscape Foundation.