Twenty years ago I moved to New York City and lived in the Bronx. I commuted into the city, gazing longingly at Central Park from the express bus, wishing I was one of those walkers or cyclists enjoying its 843 acres.
Ten years later I moved into a tiny apartment in Manhattan one block from Central Park. It was the Park that helped me thrive in that 90-square-foot studio. It became my backyard. I ran the Reservoir, enjoyed concerts on the Great Lawn, and read books on one of the Park’s 9,000 benches.
Now, twenty years later, I am a volunteer Gardener’s Assistant with the Central Park Conservancy. Every Wednesday morning I lace up work boots, grab my ID, and head to the Park. Each week it’s a new project. While raking the North Meadow or mulching quiet paths in the Ramble, I chat with other volunteers about their lives, which part of the city they live in, and which Broadway shows they’ve just attended. And as we beautify the Park we feel good, knowing we are making a difference.
Exactly three weeks ago I pruned an entire section in the Dene Slope, a native meadow near the Central Park Zoo, chatting with my new bestie Carol about her upcoming trip to Denmark. At that point she was still going. Who knew the world would come to a halt days later? With the sun on our faces, clippers in hand, tourists walking by, we had no idea a makeshift hospital would be erected inside our cherished park a few weeks later.
But this isn’t the first time Central Park has come to the rescue for the residents of New York City. In the late 1800s, after a number of cholera outbreaks and a tainted milk scare, children were in critical need of fresh milk. Calvert Vaux, the Park architect and designer, had built the Dairy, a fairy tale-like cottage inside Central Park, as a place for children to get it.
New Yorkers are resilient, and we will get through this together. Already, we have bonded in a unique way, opening our windows each evening at 7pm and cheering our thanks to the health care workers and first responders. Central Park may be essential to New Yorkers, but it’s New Yorkers who are essential to Central Park.