The green-space of Central Park is glorified as modeling the abundance of urban nature. We map the space of the park, whose green provides a pause and respite from the grey concrete facades of buildings, as well as a site for strolling, by a flat lime-green interruption of the urban grid in the public maps of the city park.
It is an oasis of sorts, ringed by a tan frame of muted buildings–as if a place to experience wilderness, rendered almost life-like in the rain–even if the muted green seems to suggest a “greenspace” to be valued, as a distinct interruption of the built environment. Created in the parks movement that redesigned urban space removed from unsavory elements and moral lassitude, and restored as a reprieve from the pace of urban life, the rebirth of the parks as open green-space has recently occasioned the first complete census of individual trees, those often uncounted inhabitants of Manhattan island, whose enumeration in a sort of ‘green census’ offers cartographers Ken Chaya and Edwar Sibley Barnard a deeply ethical way of directing our attention to urban space, in a comprehensive map of the tree space often rendered as a stretch of undifferentiated lime green. Indeed, the counting of large-trunked oaks, maples, individual pines, and sturdy sycamores in all their varieties offers a detailed abundance that is rarely evident in the parks maps that adopt a single cool shade of idyllic green, and offer a sort of palimpsest that will reward map-readers to pause over, examine, and explore–and indeed pore over, with the botanical level of detail and connoisseurship that the earliest planners of the park might well have appreciated and enjoyed–if not expected of city-dwellers.
Who wouldn’t have expected as much from urban sophisticates?
Map of Central Park: printed for the Department of Public Parks, 1873 (detail)
Yet today, the often-internalized map of the park of light green, far more familiar to all city-dwellers, may risk perpetuating an alienation from its dynamic urban forest, and obscuring the careful level of its botanical detail, or the accumulated palimpsest of urban habitats of its biodiversity.
In part, the duality of Central Park as rural and urban captures the hybrid identity as an urban park. Even though the park seems to lie somewhat incongruously at the very center of Manhattan, as if the apparent preserve of trees and urban wildlife is defined by its porous relation to the urbanized setting of the park. If Central Park was designed in the movement of urban greening and public space, as a site of health and interruption of urban life, the park is increasingly more of a heterotypic combination of urban activity, designed built spaces, and manicured wooded areas, a refuge where Manhattan is in a sense perpetually present, not only bur urban sounds, traffic, and lifestyles, in a dyadic relationship that seems captured by the fact that it offers not only the sole open space to inscribe the toponym of the island in subway maps.
In such maps of urban transit, it may be that Central Park acts less as a park, than it serves as a totem of urban space; the park holds the bold-faced word “MANHATTAN” that identifies the city, its flat green spaces and clear light blue lakes crossed by ribbons of white roads, indicating its nicely settled position as secure in an urban grid, as if fastened by crosstown routes, yet readily available to urbanites at multiple entrances as a site of repose. The image of the interruption of urban space we encounter on subway cars with regularity reminds us of the existence of open greenspace which we can access, even while we ride in eardrum shattering rumbles of subway cars coursing on old tracks while winding one’s way downtown to one’s destination. Is it an important reassuring reminder of the existence of open spaces that are in fact accessible, even while we may not feel it, nearby?
The combination of nature and skyscrapers was a unitary construction, several ecopoets have observed, a conundrum or urban nature explored by ecopoets who take up the gauntlet that the urban spaces throw down. When the poet Gary Snyder described his arrival in New York City, he evoked an ecosystem blending nature and culture that began form its trees and moved settle throughout the island’s sidewalks, streets and skyscrapers, even as it clung to the edges of its shores.
If the “park” is a shared greenspace in the city–and a space where city-dwellers retreat, at times, to smoke some green stuff in a meadow or on a hill, the definition of the park as a set of individual trees has rarely been mapped in detail, examining the arboreal space that inheres within this interruption of the built environment–if only to excavate and explore its complex past. Even if the landscape was built on granite and was defined by concrete and brick, the trees defined its space, however paradoxically, in ways that capture the serendipitous presence of the arboreal variety in the city “Maple, oak, poplar, gingko,” the poet Gary Snyder began rhapsodically and rhythmically incanting the varieties of urban trees he encountered in “Walking the New York Bedrock in the Sea of Information” (1987).
The discrete trees of Central Park are rarely counted, but the attention that is suggested in the list of trees offer a sense of Snyder’s skill as a naturalist, and the surprising application of an arboreal register of variety in an urban environment. For Snyder explores the city by seamlessly blending of nature and culture in New York City in ways that never stops to entertain the reader. “New leaves, “new green” on a rock ledge/ of steep uplift,” lead to”Glass, aluminum, aggregate gravel,/ Iron. Stainless steel,” in a metaphorical map blurring canyons of skyscrapers, plate glass, and electric lights buzzing in an ecosystem driven by big finance that might be submarine. Amidst streams of subways, cars, taxis, rolling carts, people and birds, trees peak out–as “white birch leaves shiver in the breeze” and gingko trees. While each and every tree is inscribed with a detail that might be dwarfed by the old, hulking trunks that serve as hide-outs with dark passages in the Tisch Children’s Zoo–a reminder of the forest before the park–the Park is a hotspot and mirror of the built park.
If the current maps posted in the park invite exploration of its paths, noted in a paler green beside white roadways, snaking around its uniform field, Barnard and Chaya open those Kelly green spaces to the delectation of wanderers who will be able to explore the park in all its arboreal variety.
As ever the eloquent naturalist, Snyder poetically turns to how trees resiliently populate the city’s built environment. He traces an environment partly forest, but hybrid, neither natural or artificial. In a cartographical compliment to his poem, or a modern Georgics of the park, Edward Sibley Barnard and his accomplice in crime Ken Chaya open up a richly bucolic vision of vegetal copia across what is the densest site of urban trees in Central Park Entire (2011). The map provides a complete account and comprehensive tabulation of tree varieties within the city’s Central Park, the serves to celebrate the variety of trees that this special spot in the city preserves, counting the over 19, 630 trees within Central Park that will stand as a modern monument for years–until someone again tries to undertake the counting all over again–presenting it for the visual delectation of viewers in a durable fold-out paper map.
The detailed catalogue of trees and plants in New York’s Central Park displays virtuosity in evoking the variety, range, and density of trees in the city’s largest greenspace, rendering in detail an ecosystem often vaguely mapped, often suggested as a green space amidst built environment. In the heart of the city lies the park. Its odd combination of nature and culture is central to most city maps. When you look at most public maps of New York City that grace public transit, tourist kiosks, or other venues of spatial orientation, the area of Central Park is a monolithic green, less rooted in a survey or in a source of public data, but a light green box, set apart form the city’s streets–a block of greenspace located framed by the overbuilt grey of residences that crowd Manhattan island since the mid-nineteenth century, and landscaped from 1858.
A recent survey of individual trees lovingly unpacks the park’s canopy. The map serves as a guide to the arboreal population, naturalizing the blurring of nature and culture in the planted trees and volunteers that fill the landscapes of Central Park to catalogue its biodiversity, from the great American elms that line the Mall, planted in 1870, to the tuliptrees or elms. Bound by walls, the map of all the trees in Central Park recently published in Central Park Entire (2011) seems to provide something like a time capsule of the arboreal density of the over 115,000 trees in the greenspace of 843 square meters, as if discovering a camera of curiosity in the dense vegetative habitat of a hyper urbanized city. The emblem of the Parks & Recreation Department in New York, while a leaf, is not strictly representation, but if wrongly seen as a version of the flag of Canada–but is emblematic not of the maple, but the most common sycamore of New York:
The Parks Leaf/New York Dept. Parks & Recreation
The image offers a native design of the very trees that were chosen to distinguish New York’s urban space from the Robert Moses era. The emblematic leaf seems modeled after a London Plane tree leaf or Sycamore in the Moses era–most likely because the tree was viewed as the most resistant to pollution!–after Moses selected the tree as most suitable to the city and to widespread planting. But it the image that became a symbol of greenspace in the city, its new bright green shade recalling the break in built space, is not clearly modeled after any specific species, in somewhat felicitous ways, and has being alternatively if incorrectly identified as being either a sycamore or Norse maple. The hybrid nature of the somewhat stylized leaf was the creation of a graphic artist, rather than a naturalist, and its smoothed edges bears the traces of graphic arts fit for a city where a range of leaves almost interchangeably appear to interrupt built space.
The recognizable Parks leaf logo was suggested to be a Platonic ideal of urban tree suited to marking some 1700 parks, playgrounds, and areas of outdoor recreation, but it poses the question of how to map the many urban trees that fill urban space, posing the problem in its streamlining or meshing of arboreal imagery about the actual distribution of trees only recently resolved. As if the conundrum of Snyder’s own list of city trees were synthesized in one image, the map offers an admirable poring over of the park landscape that remains the most varied in the city as a whole, making the visual variety of trees able to be studied at close hand, in order to illustrate the variety of the abundance of trees that constitute something like an ideal microcosm of the melting pot of New York, if in a largely unbuilt range of greenspace.
Snyder describes New York as something of a perpetuum mobile moved by wind that “shakes the limbs on the planted/ trees growing new green” beside the “gridlock of structures” of soaring buildings and socially stratified condominiums, unfolding “New York like a sea anemone/ wide and waving in the Sea of Economy,” where trees are attached to its living mobile surface. To drill down into the range of trees that cluster on the bedrock of Central Park, Ed Barnard and Ken Chaya focus a snapshot of the Park’s arboreal population in Central Park Entire (2011). The result is an elegant cataloguing of individual trees by isolating each and every tree that settled in this region–whose variety is so often obscured as a matte sea of green. Indeed, in the maps that orient visitors to New York City often mask the complex ecosystem that developed in the park hemmed in by skyscrapers, as if it were a drive-through space–
rather than emphasize the porous nature of its boundaries of buildings and rushing traffic that courses noisily beneath traffic lights along storied city blocks, the new map reveals an intense attention to arboreal detail and variety never compiled.
The attention to its arboreal detail is supported and in a sense animated by the Central Park Conservancy, dedicated to preserving the park’s landscape, cares for the vestiges of the natural that are carefully curated in the park, which it treats as something close to the cultural patrimony of the city, on a level parallel to the works of art in the museums that flank its greenspace from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the Guggenheim to the Museum of Natural History. By embracing the combination of old planted trees and more recent arrivals, or volunteers, the map charts the rich contents of a greenspace that attracts some 3.5 million visitors annually, focussing attention on each of its plants, even as most maps of the city treat it as a block of green that the underground rivers of transportation of subway routes coast beside.
The wealth of the trees in the Park accreted over time, as the park provides something of a fragment of the green that once covered Manhattan island–although, as Barnard and Chaya show, a hybrid space whose trees come now from a wide range of nearby regions and unexpected vectors. The green of the island is however lost, and the concentration of green space in the park is definitely the prime reason for each tree’s increased value. In a 1865 topographical map detailing the entire island–created just years before the park was completed, as it was planned–whose generous expansive shades of rich green–arboreal density reaches across the island from its shores, stretching along the meander of creeks, if concentrated on its coastal perimeter–
–the density of trees are almost obsessively catalogued as rare treasures of nature in the map of the historical aggregation of tree cover that defines today’s Central Park.
The expansion of the park, and its values, reflects in some sense the degreening of Manhattan over the centuries. For the confining of the arboreal in current maps of Manhattan that is the result of a new economy of greenspace after a century and a half of real estate development, asphalt, and concrete and the density of the expansion of urban real estate along its streets: the current map is a space which blends nature and culture, but where nature is rare and green space diminished, each and every tree commands valuation as a scarce resource. The isolaged open green space in the midst of a hyper-urbanized island documents the radical recession of where green once lay in mid-seventeenth Dutch maps of the region, which colors green the island beside the Noort (Hudson) River and gives surprising primacy of place to Staten Eylant (Staten Island) in “Manatus,” coloring the region of present-day Manhattan as a somewhat surprisingly mountainous terrain–
When the German graphic artist Herrman Bollmann blended the German tradition of bird’s eye city views in a 1964 3-D picture map of midtown Manhattan, he seems to celebrate the built environment of New York for the World’s Fair, showing towering skyscrapers rising from the blocks of midtown Manhattan that are juxtaposed against trees clustered in Central Park, a manicured oasis in a built environment that jumps out from the page, each labeled, as if disembodied against a grid of white streets, crowded with generic if almost identical trees. Bollmann’s project is generic–the trees are shown as a mass, and the buildings are focussed on as distinct–
Herrman Bollmann, New York City Picture Map: A 3-D View of Midtown Manhattan (1964)
–but the object of mapping is inverted in the elegant The complete absence of greenery outside the park in Barnard and Chaya’s Central Park Entire, which takes stock of the entire content of the park.
Bollmann’s image of each and every building of Manhattan renders the park as a counterpart to the built landscape–a set of distinct trees, as if to remind viewers of the care of its construction.
The growing depletion of green space in an age of rapid real estate turnover has led few to detect the variations the green, or not just compartmentalize it in a blur.
Rather than chart the dispersal of a generic tree-by-tree census as that which MapZen created of San Francisco ‘s range of street-trees show their clustering as a sort of virtual green space along streets–and by which one can detect the matrix of streets, even once they are subtracted–as a dispersed greenspace, including acacia, martens, gingko biloba, cherry trees, red maples, ficus, olive trees, magnolia, loquats, stately Victorian box, and evergreen shrubs in its microclimates–all noted by individual green dots. The export from a street trees dataset from SF OpenData, helps allow the range of 116,000 trees across the city better pop out to its viewer.
In contrast, the static drawn map by Barnard and Chaya was intentionally created to value each and every tree in the rare block of green space of Manhattan. The map’s very subject may call for a denser sort of tree-by-tree mapping, and not only better reflects deep observation of local variety by the cartographers, but the distinct value of the relative rarity of trees in New York City’s urban space–and the unique sense of open space that the park still offers visitors. For in New York, the park trees are a precious resource–as well as a microcosm whose arboreal treasures one is able to unpack. Barnard and Chaya’s Central Park Entire locates some 19,630 trees in the park’s stone gated boundaries byspecies, health, and relation to other plant life to unpack the greatest compression of green space in the city in full detail. The dense microcosm of the park’s trees unpacks the hidden settlement of settlers, native plants, non-natives, and avian-born seeds that create a mosaic of green in the park that viewers can unpack with far more care, focussing on the species and provenance of each in a mirror of the social and cultural mosaic of the more inhabited regions of the city itself.
The project of mapping each tree, stone, lake, and bush in Central Park is a concrete exercise in the pastoral that animated the project of designing the park undertaken long ago by Olmstead and Vaux, bringing up to date the cornucopia of the ecosystem that evolved around the park and within its walls. Indeed, the one-to-one map of each tree in the park creates the same bucolic preserve as a pastoral lists the presence of each plant, tree, river and lake for the reader. If every map is an argument, even an imaginary map, Barnard and Chaya’s “Central Park Entire” (2011) is an argument about the preserve that the park perfectly constitutes from the city that surrounds, or, in a weird turn around, the nature that the city surrounds. The ancient Virgil evoked a landscape where “Spring adorns the woods and groves with leaves,” when “birdsong is heard in every secluded thicket,” and Barnard and Chaya mapped the park as a truly green world, outside and beyond the city, and frozen in a permanent Spring in glorious color. As much as Snyder saw a technological ecosystem of built, they offer a Virgilian catalogue of trees, flowers, and plants verged on a primer of ancient botany. Chaya and Barnard link their observational passion with graphic design, in a self-funded project of mapping that is a testament to preserving arboreal variety, and a sort of time capsule of urban greenspace.
Indeed, the map provides a sort of analytic attention to detail that few existing maps made today approximate. In registering floral variety in encyclopedic comprehensiveness, the map stakes a different sort of truth claim, indeed, than any of its predecessors, allowing one to view not only range of trees that exist but to depart from its icons to explore the variety of trees within the park itself, returning cartography to an age of exploration by tempting anyone to undertake their own self-designed survey. “Entire” is a sort of cartographical response of painstaking draftsmanship to the new horizon of expectations generated by a computerized GIS, or the promise of the totalistic and comprehensive coverage of Google Earth:
It may be that Virgilian topoi of variety and abundance that seem to shine through the maps’s loving detail. Building on the tree censuses of the Central Park Conservancy, but taking them to the next degree by actual foot-by-foot comparison of the park, they have mapped almost 20,000 of the 23,000 that the park has itself identified. As a recent article on its composition from the New York Times cited Chaya as saying, “This is an example of a map that’s never finished” and a snapshot of the evolving project of Central Park: the map captures the microcosm of plant variety that unfolded over time of pin oaks, European Beech trees and Camperdown elms to London Plane Trees with the wonder of an avid birder; both Chaya and Sibley Barnard are self-described birders of urban space.
The utopic preserve of the park is recreated for readers in glorious detail in this stunningly detailed map. For this post, an entry on Chaya’s map of the trees, landscape, and built structures of Central Park in New York, is an Arbor Day special–for in a sort of preserve of nature in the city, Chaya’s map offers an arboreal museum of wandering and a habitat for birds. This two-year-old map includes short of 20,000 trees of some 170 species–several of which are unique examples in the park and city as a whole–the map charts with new detail every path, rock, built structure, lake, waterway, and pond with a comprehensive updating of the space that was planned designed by Olmsted and Vaux as a preserve from metropolitan life. The scale of this folding map allows inclusion each and every tree in the park, with an implicit promise of future updates. While only some 150 trees from the “original” plantings in the park of the 1860’s, it presents the story of the expansion of vegetal life throughout the park’s confines over almost fifty years, mapping some 85% of its total vegetation with loving detail.
More a living document than schematic guide, the fruit in ways of the expansion of the Central Park Conservancy, which offers it on its website, and at http://www.centralparknature.com, reveals each and every tree as Chaya saw and drew it over the two years he studied its terrain–a composite of drawings, photographs, and repeated consultations and revisions of existing cartographical records with the actual terrain, as if to present in detail every aspect of the park whose more regular visitors know its monuments and vegetation so well.
The project of mapping the known–the park’s walks and its pathways and each building–raises the stakes of the content of maps, because the bar is set considerably high: it reveals what one might not notice, despite the huge collective knowledge of so many city-dwellers and park-walkers, of providing and compiling account of observations that extends beyond the notion of mapping the unknown, and indeed presents the sort of detailed accounting of vegetation and landmarks that perpetuate a complete cartographical fantasy.
To put this in some cartographic context, contrast it to the image of the Central Park Conservancy, in black-and-white, which is confined to the paths that traverse areas of the park which highlighted the dispersion of emergency call boxes:
Or the range of information designed for park users in this far more detailed colored, and more iconographically dense, image of the sort that probably provided one of the basic templates for Chaya’s “Central Park Entire,” but notes restrooms most clearly and elides arboreal variety in a uniform kelly green:
The above map, that similarly bound a green rectangle of nature by blocks of anonymous urban grey, provided a somewhat more detailed and text-rich colored surface, but without the detail Chaya’s comprehensive map boasts of every square foot of the park’s terrain. For the park-goer, this is a sort of mythical return to the Borgesian fable of a map of one-to-one size, in ways that encourages readers to navigate its copious vegetative variety:
The map tells a story–and presents an argument–about the extent of the graphic techniques and representational conventions that Chaya adapted, drawing from pencils and sightings to software, to design the map from a set of basically abstract conventions and a standard palate to refine the image on which he worked during visits to the site he so intensely mapped. Indeed, the visits that he made over two years to the park allowed him to document some 85% of its entire vegetation over the 843 acres of the park with a patience that reveals a cultivated reverence for its land.
The careful iconography of the map goes far beyond a simple road map, in other words, to focus on the ‘true inhabitants’ that are growing in the park, the site of some of the sole representatives of entire plant species. Speaking of Arbor Day, an excerpt from its legend reveals the fine distinctions by which the map orients readers to the park’s arboreal life:
An abbreviated story of the map and the two-year period of its planning and making is nicely told below by the mapmakers themselves:
Rather than allow the greenspace of the Park to recede into the unclear interface of transit diagrams–a light green space that stands apart form the destinations of travelers–the map is a condensation designed for park wandering, and virtual travel among its trees.