Prospect Park

Bounded by Flatbush Ave., Prospect Park West and Prospect Park South
Brooklyn, NY

Contributed by Project for Public Spaces

Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux considered this 526-acre park, completed in 1877, to be their masterpiece.

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Why It Works

Sublimely beautiful, Prospect Park is a flexible space which accommodates almost any pastime. Its distinguishing features include woodlands and streams, ponds, picnic areas, playing fields, a children's zoo, a bandshell -- and the world-renowned Long Meadow, an undulating lawn stretching across the entire west end of the park, bordered by trees and a ravine. Rather than separating uses into active or passive areas, the design of the Meadow allows for all to occur together. Along with sports such as organized baseball, pick-up soccer and volleyball, it welcomes quiet picnics and people-watching along its shady borders and on the grassy hills that provide perfect vantage points. All these activities are well-integrated into one of Olmsted and Vaux's finest landscapes.

Prospect Park's six million annual visitors reflect the diverse populations and interests of central Brooklyn. West Indians, Mexicans, African Americans and Caucasians use the park for sports, kite-flying, family and community picnics and barbecues, and music at the Drummer's Grove. Park use has increased 600% since 1980, largely due to the financial support and extensive community outreach efforts of the Prospect Park Alliance, a public/private partnership.

History & Background

Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux designed Prospect Park soon after completing their plan for Central Park. The design represents Olmsted's belief that there are two types of social interaction: gregarious and neighborly. Wide, open spaces, such as the Long Meadow (gregarious), are balanced by small, intimate spaces and forest paths (neighborly).

To its 19th century designers, the park expressed core values about a person's relation to nature and to art. The park was a peaceful escape from the urban environment, where one could recharge the mind and soul; it was accessible not only to the wealthy, but also to those who could not afford to travel out of the city. In addition, Olmsted and Vaux considered Prospect Park to be a work of art. The vistas, which seem so natural, were in fact painstakingly planned to create smooth, undulating spaces. Hills and vantage points were purposely constructed to look out over the vistas and the people in them. As with all parks by these two great designers, Prospect Park's unbroken expanse accommodates almost any type of user, almost anywhere. However, under pressure from today's more active users such as ball players and mountain bikers, park staff has been hard-pressed to maintain certain areas of the meadows and woodland pathways.

Since the early 1980s, the park has overcome public perception that it was an unsafe and unsavory place. This is largely thanks to the Prospect Park Alliance, established in 1980 to raise funds and generally support the park. In the late 1990s, the Alliance has undertaken a massive renovation of the woodlands, its ravines and waterways. Its strategies for attracting new park users have focused on community outreach: surveys and interviews to understand the interests of different populations around the park; special events that highlight the culture of specific populations; presentations about program offerings at local community groups; and a Community Committee representing more than 50 neighborhood clubs and associations that advises on park improvements and helps organize major events. Other areas worth special mention include: the Imagination Playground, Drummer's Grove, the Carousel, the Children's Zoo, the Quaker cemetery, the Boathouse, and the Bandshell and surrounding picnicking areas.

Contact Info:

Prospect Park Alliance: 718-965-8951
Prospect Park contact page

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