Elizabeth Barlow Rogers was a married young mother with a master's degree in city planning when she moved to Manhattan in 1964 and fell in love with Central Park. It was good timing, as the 800-plus-acre park needed love. Conceived by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, who won a design competition in 1858 with their plan for a public park that was also a work of landscape art, Central Park went into decline in the 1960s, an era of poor management and relaxed regulations.
Vandalism, financial shortfalls, political intransigence and accusations of elitism were among the obstacles that Rogers faced during her 20-year commitment to return Central Park to its Olmstedian glory. In 1980, she became co-founder and president of the Central Park Conservancy, a joint public-private enterprise that, although no longer under her leadership, continues as a force for civic good.
Replete with black-and-white and color photos, some providing opportunities for before-and-after comparisons, Saving Central Park: A History and a Memoir has an authorial reserve that prevents it from fulfilling its promise as a memoir, but it's a fascinating and invaluable document of a wildly successful restoration effort. Rogers is at her most vivacious when describing on-the-job challenges, as when the bird-watchers of Central Park protested the Conservancy's removal of several trees in order to reinstate some of the park's original view lines. "A tree war can be a nasty kind of turf battle" are just about the harshest words you'll get out of the endearingly patrician Rogers. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer