Guiding Principle of the Plan for Play

In the context of the Park’s original purpose, “recreation” meant the restoration of mental and physical health. From crowded housing and unsanitary streets to poorly ventilated factory and school buildings to a lack of clean water and fresh milk, nineteenth-century city life exacted its toll. The Park was created as an antidote. It provided the opportunity for weary city dwellers to connect with nature (and with fellow New Yorkers under more “civilized” conditions), to breathe fresh air and drink spring water and fresh milk, and to exercise. Such activity included walking or horseback riding for adults and sports for children. The Park design and all forms of physical activity that were to take place therein were meant to improve mental health. Park designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux frequently identified the opportunity for psychological escape from the city as the most essential form of recreation provided by the Park.

Access to “healthful recreation,” in every sense of the phrase, is as relevant in 2013 as it was when the Park was created in 1858. The Internet, video games, mobile communications, and portable entertainment provide many advantages, but can exert an alienating and isolating effect on both adults and children. The technological revolution has sparked a renewed focus on the importance of outdoor activity for physical and mental health. In addition to obesity and asthma and the need for exercise and fresh air, attention is increasingly being paid to the psychological and developmental consequences experienced by children who are not exposed to natural environments. In the one-hundred-fifty years since the Park was built, the language used to describe the problem may have changed, but the answer has not. Healthful recreation that includes physical exercise, fresh air, and above all, a connection with scenic beauty and with other people is a timeless idea, and the reason for Central Park’s existence. The vision for the future of the Park’s playgrounds is therefore firmly rooted in the original vision for the Park; the plan, at its core, is to connect play more directly to broader meaning and experience of recreation within the Park.