Journal of American Studies

The Country in the City: Central Park in Jonas Mekas's Walden and William Greaves's Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One

a1 Division of Humanities, Utica College, Utica, NY 13502-4892, USA


On a map or from the air, nothing defines New York City more clearly than the rectilinearity of Central Park at the heart of the curvilinear island of Manhattan. And nothing encodes the paradox of the thinking that created Frederick Law Olmsted's first great park – and simultaneously distinguishes it from many of the parks inspired by Central Park – than the virtually perfect geometry of its outline. The Park simultaneously confirms the grid structure of the streets of Manhattan and dramatically interrupts this structure: streets that run vertically uptown and downtown or horizontally across town must, when they reach the horizontal and vertical boundaries of the park, leave their verticality and horizontality behind to traverse the Park before rejoining the grid of streets and avenues at the far boundaries of the Park's expanse. If the Cartesian clarity of midtown Manhattan has come to represent the efficiency of American capitalism that was making the United States a major industrial power during the years when the Greensward Plan was designed and Central Park constructed, the Park represented (and continues to represent) a counter-sensibility: as Olmstead and Vaux predicted.