The greenspace of Central Park has long been glorified as an almost normative sense of urban nature. We map the space of the park, whose green provides a respite from the grey concrete facades of buildings, so much as to be colored a flat lime-green in the public maps of the city park, 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.
–even though the park seems 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.
As ever the good nagturalist, Snyder returns to trees that resiliently populate its artificial built environment, as an environment partly forest, but hybrid, neither natural or artificial, open to the observer, in ways that Edward Sibley Barnard and his accomplice in crime Ken Chaya offer in Central Park Entire (2011), in provide something like a total tabulation of tree varieties within the city’s Central Park, which seems to celebrate the variety of trees that this special spot in the city preserves, counting the 19, 630 trees within Central Park that will stand as a monument for years, until someone tries to undertake the counting all over again–and presenting it to the visual delectation of viewers in a 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.