New York Central Park boss says first visit to Birkenhead Park is “a dream come true”
THE boss of New York’s Central Park hailed his first visit to the Merseyside park which inspired its design as “a dream come true”.
Doug Blonsky, president and chief executive of the New York Central Park Conservancy, and Central Park Administrator, was given a guided tour of Birkenhead Park and met civic leaders yesterday.
Birkenhead Park opened in 1847 and was the first publicly- funded park in Britain.
Central Park designer Frederick Law Olmsted visited in 1850 and later commented on the strong impression that Birkenhead Park made on his designs for New York’s famous green space.
Mr Blonsky is in the UK for a four-day visit and was also giving a speech at a North West parks conference in Sefton Park today.
He was welcomed to Wirral with afternoon tea in Birkenhead Park Visitor Centre, arranged by the Friends of Birkenhead Park, before planting a tree in the park to mark his visit.
Mr Blonsky said: “You drive around Birkenhead Park and there is no question the physical similarities between here and Central Park are there.
“To come here and take a look at it is a dream come true for me. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for years. Olmsted really fell in love with the open space. At the time, America did not have a great public space for everyone.
“It’s amazing how he brought the beauty of this park to our park. It is really because of Birkenhead Park that we have Central Park.”
The visit was arranged after Birkenhead Park ranger Paul Davies made contact with Mr Blonsky’s office.
The two men have since had meetings via Skype and there are hopes that the link-up will eventually see exchanges involving rangers, volunteers and young people from deprived areas of New York and Birkenhead.
Mr Davies said: “I got in touch with his office last year and said I would very much like to forge a link between our parks. Since then, we’ve been talking on Skype about how we can develop that connection. He’s always wanted to walk in the footsteps of Olmsted.”
Birkenhead Park manager Adam King added: “The link between our parks is very important and there are things we can learn from each other.
“He is fascinated by how we manage our park and obviously we’re equally fascinated by how they do things over there.
“He wanted to come here to see where Olmsted got his ideas from.”
Mr Blonsky said few Americans – with the exception of landscape designers and enthusiasts, knew that Birkenhead Park was the inspiration for Central Park.
He joked: “Not many people know. Who wants to share that secret? We want to be number one!
“It is fabulous here and it reminds me of being at home in Central Park.
“The similarities are more than just physical. If you look at the timeline, Birkenhead Park went downhill in the 1960s and 70s and Central Park, by the mid to late 70s, was horrible.
“Now both have Friends groups connected to the park. We can share best practice in anything from maintenance to volunteers.”
Professor Robert Lee, chair of the Friends of Birkenhead Park, said: “We are hoping this will be the starting point for real co- operation.
“We can learn together and take our responsibilities for two of the world’s most important parks as seriously as we need to.”