Olmsted’s Legacy

We didn’t get to go into the history of the relationship between parks and real estate in today’s Observer article on Hudson River Park, but Frederick Law Olmsted used it more than 100 years ago to justify the expense of building Central Park. Olmsted submitted calculations to the Board of Commissioners of Central Park showing that as a result of the park, annual tax receipts for the three adjacent wards had increased by $5.2 million from 1856 to 1873. That’s the increase in taxes in a single year, mind you, and compared to far smaller increases in other wards in the city. The total cost of constructing the park at that point was $13.9 million.

A New York City neighborhood activist named Tom Fox, now president of New York Water Taxi, discovered the calculations in papers while a Loeb Fellow at Harvard in 1988-89 and published the findings in a monograph. He introduced the idea of a park tax district first to the planning group for a West Side park, of which he was a member, and more recently to the Friends of the Hudson River Park, on whose board of directors he sits.

-Matthew Schuerman