As Crime Falls, Central Park’s Night Use Grows

Here’s an excerpt from a recent article in the New York Times about increased use of Central Park at night.  Who uses Golden Gate Park at night, I wonder?

“For as long as most New Yorkers can remember, the rules have been clear:  Enjoy Central Park by day.  Keep out at night.

Someone, however, forgot to tell Fleur Bailey, a petite Wall Street trader who was walking her two Dalmatians in the park after 10 the other night.

“I can’t remember the last time I came across something that made me uncomfortable,” said Ms. Bailey, who lives on the Upper West Side and takes her dogs into the park as late as midnight. “Some people say, ‘You walk your dogs where at night?’ But I tell them that it’s perfectly fine.”

And she is hardly alone. On any given evening, the park now hums with life well into the night. Couples stroll under pools of lamplight, while the park drive pulses with the footfalls of runners, the whir of cyclists and the desultory clop of carriage horses. Men and women jog happily around the reservoir.

“It’s boringly safe,” said Christopher Moloney, 34, who cuts through the park at night, usually around 9, to get from his job in the Time Warner Center to his home on East 70th Street. “I’ve walked through the park at 3 in the morning, and there are always a couple of people here and there”  .  .  .

Those who use the park at night tend to have their own set of safety rules. A few nights a week, Pernilla Blomgren, 29, a consultant for the Swedish Trade Council, runs between 9 and 10 p.m. She usually heads for the path around the reservoir, where Victorian-style lampposts give ample light. She enters at Fifth Avenue and 90th Street, where joggers stretch out, and eschews an iPod. “I feel like you should have your senses clear so you can register what’s happening around you,” said Ms. Blomgren, who moved from Chicago and said she was unfamiliar with the Central Park jogger case.  .  .  .

Still, she said, but for the fact that she has to wake up early for work, she would run even later. “I’ve never seen anything bad happen,” she said. “It feels like the streets might be more dangerous than the park.”

The park conservancy’s own surveys show a marked rise in the proportion of women and older New Yorkers using the park, regardless of the hour. From the early 1980s to today, the percentage of adult parkgoers over age 50 climbed to 40 percent, from 12. Women’s presence in the park rose to 52 percent, from 32.

In a major study of Central Park usage released this year, nearly 80 percent of the visitors who were interviewed reported that there was no part of the park they avoided for safety reasons. Only 3.4 percent cited “safety concerns” as a major issue.

Park use has tripled since the early 1980s, when the conservancy began caring for the park and started a successful fund-raising effort. The private money it raises has helped cover the cost of meticulous restoration work across the park’s 843 acres. “A lot of people take the park for granted, but 25 years ago, the lights were broken, the benches were broken,” Douglas Blonsky, the conservancy’s president, said.

Over all, the city’s 1,700 parks have grown safer, like the city as a whole. New Yorkers for Parks, an advocacy group, reported in 2008 that half of the city’s 20 largest parks had five or fewer major felonies in 18 months.

Some people who frequent the park after sundown say they often have to reassure worried, often older, relatives. Others just tell fibs. Martin Blumberg, a 25-year-old theater director who lives on the Upper East Side, runs five nights a week around the six-mile park drive, usually no later than 10. But he tells his mother that he runs before dark. “She’s a worrywart,” he said.

Mr. Blumberg prefers the park at night, when it is cooler in the summer and less congested in the winter. “It’s never really desolate,” he said. “Every 100 feet, I see other runners.”

Some veteran parkgoers, like Dianne Montague, say that their fear of Central Park after dark had become so ingrained over the years that changing their perception was a slow process. Mrs. Montague, a native New Yorker who lives on 86th Street and Madison Avenue, walks her four dogs (boxer, pug, beagle and poodle) every night there. As the years have passed, she has ventured into the park later and later. These days, a final pit stop at 11:30 is not unusual.

“I’m a little more cautious than my children, because they grew up in a safer New York,” said Mrs. Montague, who rescues dogs and teaches horseback riding to people with disabilities. “I’m old-school. It took me a while to realize that the park is safe.”

via As Crime Falls, Central Park’s Night Use Grows – NYTimes.com.

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About fromthethicket

I'm a landscape historian and professor emeritus of landscape architecture, UC Davis. I live in San Francisco.
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2 Responses to As Crime Falls, Central Park’s Night Use Grows

  1. Technically, one isn’t supposed to be using GGP after 10 p.m. I’ve driven through sometimes… it feels deserted, though I expect some homeless people camp there. The area around the De Young is more alive at night. I’d love to see a few more places in the park “wake up.”

  2. Chris N says:

    I have found New York to be a far far safer place than San Francisco, and like-wise with it’s parks.

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