Photograph by Seth Cohen
Thanks to the efforts of Elizabeth
Barlow Rogers, Frederick Law Olmsteds vision for New
Yorks Central Park lives on for future generations.
A resident of the city since 1964, Rogers was the first person
to hold the title of Central Park Administrator, a position
she assumed in 1979. The following year, she founded and served
as first president of the Central Park Conservancy, created
to bring citizen support to Central Park restoration and management.
She stepped down from the conservancy in 1996. This fall,
she developed a new curriculum as the first director of Garden
History and Landscape Studies at the Bard Graduate Center
for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design, and Culture in
New York City.
me about the new curriculum that you have begun in your role
as director of Garden History and Landscape Studies at Bard.
We are breaking new ground hereóitís
about the future and caring about place. You cannot study
landscape design without learning about literature and history
and philosophy. Other schools have landscape survey courses,
and we have those as well, on the English garden, Baroque
garden, and others. But we also have a course just on Central
Park, including its management techniques and rebuilding methodology.
We have a course called ďReading the LandscapeĒ that will
be about the work of landscape architects and designers. So
itís very new, and itís very exciting to be creating something
The Central Park Conservancy involves
private funds supporting public space. Itís an interesting
marriage of maintenance of the public realm with fund-raising.
Is there any concern that the private realm may have too much
of a role in the care of what should be public space?
Now thereís a question that drives me
crazy every time, but Iím glad you asked it! Itís really based
on results, and I donít think that the issue of rich people
coming in and taking over Central Park has gone very far.
If the city had sufficient funds to care for the park, that
would be ideal, but it doesnít. The Conservancy has a track
record that is admirable, and the city is very pleased that
the money is being raised privately and the park looks so
What are your hopes for the future
of the World Trade Center site?
I donít think those initial designs were
so great. My hope is that there will be a poetic sort of placeósomething
very serious and beautiful. When I think of the poetics of
place, I think of monuments such as the Vietnam Veteranís
Memorial, places that actually move people because theyíve
been done with great sincerity and a kind of poetry. Process
and community dialogue are very important, but my hope is
that somebody of great imagination and talent can do something
that will not get so chewed up in the process. What is needed
is a grand vision that goes beyond commercial needs.
Your book Landscape Design: A Cultural
and Architectural History was published in 2001 (Harry N.
Abrams). There have been a number of books on landscapeóhow
does yours stand out?
What I tried was to write the history
of landscape from a cultural perspectiveóunderstanding the
cultural dimensions of landscape is very important. There
are certain broad themes that are played out in architecture,
painting, music, literature, and in landscape design. None
of us can inhabit the past, but we can think about the forces
that made cultures do what they did, in the way they did it.