Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, New York’s first Central Park administrator, graduated from Wellesley with a degree in art history. She earned her master’s degree in city planning in 1964 from Yale University. She moved to New York in 1964 and began her efforts to conserve Central Park by volunteering with the parks council as an open space consultant.
Central Park was built in the mid-nineteenth century, designed by Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmstead. It was created to “supply hundreds of thousands of tired workers, who have no opportunity to spend summers in the country, a specimen of God’s handiwork.” The “crown jewel” of the city’s park system was maintained until the 1970s, when a financial crisis deprived funds for even basic maintenance. In 1970, Rogers was sworn in as the Central Park administrator, a position created by Mayor Edward I. Koch, and she is credited with the revitalization of Central Park.
In 1980, Rogers was the founder and first president of the Central Park Conservancy, a not-for-profit organization designed to bring citizen support to the restoration and renewed management of Central Park. She served as the Central Park Administrator until 1996, when she formed the Cityscape Institute, another not-for-profit organization dedicated to assisting citizens and public officials in the improvement of public places. This organization is the public outreach branch of the Central Park Conservancy. Rogers was also the founding director of Garden History and Landscape Studies at the Bard Graduate Center in New York City between 2001 and 2005.
Rogers has written several books, including The Forests and Wetlands of New York City (1971), Frederick Law Olmstead’s New York (1972), and Rebuilding Central Park: A Management and Restoration Plan (1987). She has also received an honorary doctorate of fine arts from Miami University; the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ 2001 Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts; and the American Society of Landscape Architects’ 2005 LaGasse Medal.
A bronze plaque on a boulder on the slope above the Diana Ross Playground honors Elizabeth Barlow Rogers’ service to Central Park.
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