The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Three cities and their parks

One dates back to the 16th Century, the other to the 19th. One is 350 acres, the other 843 acres. One is a landmark that defines a way of life in London, the other a sprawl that helps Manhattan breathe easy. In both nature and scope, our 750-acre Maidan is a bit of both. Metro pauses at two of the most talked-about patches of urban green, before returning to the Maidan'


Hyde Park

The evolution: Henry VIII acquired Hyde Park from the monks of Westminster Abbey in 1536. It remained a private hunting ground until James I permitted limited access. Charles I opened it to the public in 1637. Queen Caroline had extensive renovations carried out. Hyde Park became a venue for national celebrations. Despite the passage of time, it retains a certain lazy charm.

The sprawl: 350 acres. It has a Playground, The Lookout (an education centre where children learn about nature and wildlife), The Dell (a large terrace and garden with a wide selection of food and drink), The Lido Caf', The Hyde Park Tennis Centre Caf', Refreshment Points and, of course, the ever-popular Speakers Corner.

Crowd-pullers: The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd to the current best British acts have all performed here. Party in the Park, an annual musical extravaganza, is another big affair.

People participation: Park authorities provide free rides on electronic buggies for anyone who wants a look around.

Donations can be made in the form of sponsoring trees or adopting plants (rose bushes) and animals (deer).


Central Park

The evolution: Advocates of creating the park admired the public grounds of London and Paris and insisted that New York needed a comparable facility. In 1853, the state legislature authorised the city of New York to acquire more than 700 acres of land in the centre of Manhattan. The extension of the boundaries in 1863 brought the park to its current size.

In 1857, the Central Park Commission held the country's first landscape design contest and selected the Greensward Plan, submitted by park superintendent Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, an English-born architect.

The sprawl: Over 843 acres, it is six per cent of Manhattan's total acreage, including 150 acres in seven waterbodies, 250 acres of lawns and 136 acres of woodlands. The park has over 9,000 benches, 36 bridges and arches, several fountains, monuments, and sculptures. More than 275 species of migratory birds have been spotted here.

Crowd-pullers: From the legendary Simon & Garfunkel reunion in the 80s to Dave Matthews Band in recent years and the New York Philharmonic and Metropolitan Opera, music concerts galore.

People participation: With 25 million visitors every year, the park is maintained by Central Park Conservancy, a private, not-for-profit organisation founded in 1980. Has raised more than $300 million till date and provides over 85 per cent of Central Park's annual $20 million operating budget.

To help, one can become a member, gardener, protector, etc, paying anything between $35 to $500-plus. One can also endow trees and donate daffodil plants.


The Maidan

The evolution: Around 200 years old, was built as a buffer for Fort William. Initially, there was no plan of planting trees on the Maidan, as it doubled as the firing zone (rampart) for the army. Civilian entry was also not allowed, which changed in late 1870s, when the British realised there was no imminent danger. Now, the overall control of the Maidan rests with the army, but the law-and-order on the greens remains the city police's preserve.

The sprawl: The greens add up to 750 acres (according to a government communiqu'), with only a handful of permanent structures allowed on the vast stretch. In the British era, only Victoria Memorial and few black-top roads were constructed.

In recent years, Manohar Das Tarag and Elliot Park have been beautified. About 70 clubs are engaged in various sporting activities on the Maidan. A huge race course in the southern part adds to the aura of the Maidan but remains off-limits for the passer-through.

Crowd-pullers: From the Book Fair to Brigade Chalo meetings, from sporting matches to industrial fairs, footfall is never at a premium. The clubs have limited but regular crowd flow. But it all invariably adds up to large stretches of the Maidan being messy and mauled.

People participation: Nothing organised. The place for morning-walkers, kids out for a kick in the grass, families seeking an inexpensive and relaxed time out'

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