Central Park’s Decision to Open Sheep Meadow and Other Lawns Early Starts Debate on Safety

Normally, a decision by Central Park to open Sheep Meadow, the sweeping lawn around 67th Street inside the park, would be met with cheers. But the conservancy’s choice to let people onto the lawn and others throughout the park as much of the rest of the city shuts down sparked a debate on social media on Saturday as thousands of people in the city tested positive for the coronavirus.

The conservancy said it is opening the lawn in order to give people more room to roam so that they’re not too crowded-together. “In order to assist Park users in safely practicing social distancing at this time, we are working to open all lawns that have been closed for the winter, the conservancy said on Instagram. “The Great Lawn, Sheep Meadow, North Meadow, and East Meadow are open now.

That led to some angry replies. “Anyone with common sense knows this is a terrible mistake. Central Park just DOES NOT GET IT,” wrote one person.

“This is ludicrous,” another wrote. “Nobody will do the right thing and this virus will take much longer to control.

The conservancy responded to some of the criticism.

Others expressed gratitude for the decision.

“I think it is great that the city is offering the option to be outdoors,” wrote one person. “It is essential for many people’s happiness to absorb sun and be around nature. I will still be precautious when I take a breather at Central Park.

Hannah August, an Upper West Side resident, had reached out to Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver to try to get him to open the lawns.

“I’m an UWS resident and am so grateful Commissioner Silver is opening all the lawns,” she told us.

Told about the criticism of the decision from some people, she wrote “From my perspective people will go no matter what, and should for their mental and physical health, so we should make it as spacious as possible for people to stay distant.”

The conservancy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

West Side Rag also received some criticism from commenters because we mentioned a new exercise group that has group classes for people who have to stand at least six feet away from each other. We reached out the organizers for a comment, but haven’t heard back. It’s a fair criticism — given the rising threat, people shouldn’t be exercising in groups even if they’re not bunched together.

NEWS, OUTDOORS | 28 comments | permalink
    1. james says:

      I regularly bike through the park for work and take great joy in this daily ritual. in attempt to maintain this minimum amount of exercise, I maintained the ride during the first days of Home Office.

      after concluding my work for the day, i took a ride on Friday at 5pm and knew it’d be my last time out unnecessarily. Far too many people in the park. I entered at 77th and exited at 72nd, from where I rode south along West End Ave. until reaching the lower 50′ and then transferring to the Hudson River Greenway. Again, far, far too many people. I turned around and went home. See you in June.

    2. stayhome says:

      I tried to go for walk in Riverside Park but I came right back because there are hundreds of people there. It is not possible to stay 6 feet away from other people.

    3. UWSider says:

      They should also be locking the playgrounds so they can’t be used. The entire playground is already a germ fest for kids. Parents please understand it’s not the kids we are worried about but the kids transmitting it to others who may be at risk (and may not know it).

    4. This is the most ignorant thing the park could.do. Do you want us to be like Italy in a week! This just encourages people to congregate in groups. We are on lockdown and you are opening up lawns which are equivalent of beaches! History will judge you!! This is so disturbing we are on a lockdown and the governor said that he only reason to go out is to run , bike or walk in solitude and you are encouraging and rolled to congregate in Central Park ! Shame on you !!! You are spreading this invisible disease through out our community!! Step up for NYC!!

      • ReadingComp says:

        Actually Cuomo is pushing for more space since he is telling people it’s ok to go outside with social distancing. We need more distance. He’s hoping that will alleviate some of the congregating. Because there seem to be so many selfish humans, it may not. But this is 100% in line with the mandates and trying to make them work. Questioning the mandates is another topic altogether. Frankly what we’ve learned from Italy is that the cat is already out of the bag in NYC. We should keep trying, but Italy shows us that we are likely on a runaway train in our area.

      • Trevor says:

        Calm down

      • Ros.A.G. says:

        Protect the people who are working for the park and their family!

    5. yoma says:

      I fully agree with opening the grassy areas to reduce the density of humans in the Park – and advocate for going a step further. Let’s get rid of the miles of extra fencing that has been increasingly put up to protect every little patch of grass since the Guiliani administration.

      Why should landscaping be important than human sanity and human lives right now? I think the Park can handle it.

      • Keith says:

        This may be an ok policy for now, but if the weather suddenly gets warm, young people will want to hang out together in the sun, and that’s when distances will shrink.

        And it could happen very quickly. I hope the department at least monitors the situation and adjusts the policy if needed.

    6. runner says:

      I run in Central Park daily and I have seen more people there in the last 2 weeks because it is likely the only thing people are doing now besides grocery shopping. Gym folks that never worked out in the park are now there because gyms are closed. Surely one can think of ways to keep parks open for SOLO activities for the sake of our mental health in the next 2 months while banning all group activities of more than 2 people. Another suggestion would be to close car traffic for certain sections of the city (with the exception for emergency vehicles) to further free space for solo walking/taking sun. COVID19 is not airborne and transmits only with close or prolonged contact with someone infected, so taking draconian measure like closing public parks in their entirety doesn’t seem the most effective and efficient way of stopping the spread of the virus.

    7. Charles says:

      Close all parks now! I just looked out my window at RS Park, there are thousands, yes thousands of people there. Just now the report for NYC is the epicenter. Why these people are not following directives to stay home? Many are children, who do not understand what is happing, and not their fault. What about the parents who are putting not only their putting children at risk, but all else. particularly the elder. Why are these people not listening. We have been warned. Selfish? Stupid?
      It ie hopefully one-two months we can do this. Please be responsible. It is our LIVES we are asking for. Think about it!

    8. AC says:

      CP is over 750 acres , , , plenty of room to practice social distancing. As for Mass Transit, if you shut that down, you’ll be causing a Life/Safety issue for those essential workers who need to get to their Hospitals or Health Facilities.

    9. Terry says:

      I’m in Central Park often, generally The Ramble area, and have found that most are abiding by the 6-ft. apart rule. The exceptions I see are families with children who walk 4-abreast (difficult to give them a 6-ft. berth)– but this happens often on city sidewalks as well. Kids on scooters tend not to stay far enough away from those of us walking on paths. Some tourists (yes, there are still some here) don’t keep to the right on pathways.
      Please, all park visitors, adults and children alike, keep to the right, don’t walk more than 2-abreast, and if you see someone walking directly in your path, move to the other side.
      We don’t want the parks to be closed and lose our right to fresh air and the solace of Mother Nature.

    10. Sherman says:

      I went for a long run in CP on Saturday and I went for a long walk along the Hudson with my family today.

      It was crowded in the park and along the water but I avoided clusters of people.

      It’s therapeutic to go outside and the city needs to preserve open space.

    11. Nina says:

      Thank you for posting the exercise group. So many people want to criticize at this time and in panic which isn’t healthy. Fresh air and exercise are not medically contraindicated at this time and are healthy. The exercise group organizer was mindful of social distancing and other precaution. I’m glad the parks are open. I have been running in Riverside park alone and it’s been very healthy for my mind and body at this anxiety provoking time. #FreshAir

    12. Many millenials already do not observe the 6 ft. rule. Giving them more space will not keep them away from Seniors who are trying to get a little air. They are very selfish people, even before the virus. Parks are closed in Italy. How about blocking off some areas for seniors only? Like Whole Foods 7-8 am. That worked for me.

      • Lisa says:

        Thus far the only people who have entered my 6-foot bubble have been baby boomers, but please continue to blame folks ages 25-40. It is helpful.

    13. Kate says:

      I wish people would stop saying that the Millennials don’t get it. We do! It’s not us! We are all staying home and telling our parents to stay home too. It’s Gen Z you need to be mad at!!

      • UWS_lifer says:

        This is absolutely true.

        All these kids on Spring Break on the Florida beaches, etc. are Gen Z NOT Millennials.

        The older Millenials are pushing 40 and have families and careers of their own. Anyone under 25 or so is Gen Z. Just FYI.:)

    14. Ladybug says:

      Thank you Central Park for opening the lawns. My dog and I appreciate being able to walk more freely and have enough room to maneuver away from the kids who still approach us far too closely in an effort to pet my dog. Parents please rein in your children!

      • geoff says:

        dogs are vectors in virus transmission. do not let anyone touch your dog. YOU are most at risk becasue of general ongoing proximity, then others.

        follow the American Kennel Club advice:

        “If you test positive for COVID-19 or have been exposed to the novel coronavirus, experts recommend that you should “restrict contact with [your] animals — both to avoid exposing the pets and to prevent getting the virus on their skin or fur, which might be passed on to another person who touches the animal.”

    15. Frank says:

      What about bathrooms?

    16. RB says:

      I’m seeing so many senior citizens ‘window shop’ right now or hang out on a bench in the park or ones around the neighborhood while people are walking within 1-2 feet of them. I don’t understand how anyone is okay with this. Or couples who think walking side by side and blocking the sidewalk so it’s impossible to be more a 1-2 feet away from them. Lot of selfish people who will turn NYC into the next Spain or Italy within 1-2 weeks. We’ll be under the same lockdown then and you can forget your ‘fresh air’ and need for a long walk.

    17. Lorene Farnsworth says:

      I commend that decision, not all of us are content to stay at home to stew, more space will do a world of good for many people, especially the young.

    18. RB says:

      I understand and appreciate the thinking of the CP Conservancy in opening the lawns. I’m in the park twice a day with my dog, who craves a grassy place. The last few days have been alarming seeing how so many people who seem to be unaware of the danger. They walk close together, in groups, like it’s a normal every day condition. I have had to seek out of the way places to feel protected and I didnt even enter the park on Sat. because of the crowds. I dont trust all people to do the right thing and observe the 6′ rule.
      An UWS Senior

    19. DC says:

      This is a time of crisis. We need to put people’s happiness on the back burner for the greater good. Nobody wants to be on lockdown, but it’s the only thing that will help. People need to suck it up and stay indoors and isolate themselves. These people who are making exceptions to everything to keep THEMSELVES happy are too fragile to go without the luxury of running around. Movement of people is how the disease spreads, period.

      • Consider this says:

        It must be really easy for most of the people I see commenting on recent posts, all saying to “stay in, don’t go outside at all, quarantine for the next 3 months” etc. etc. etc.

        Real east to say that when you’re either
        A. An adult couple with funds and necessity to rent a decent sized or more 600+ sf 1 bedroom

        B. An elderly person who lives in their comfy, 30+ year old $687.52 a month rent stabilized apartment (that for your life you actually can’t leave)

        or C. Wealthy, with a nice-a** apartment

        Have some damn consideration for all the people who live in cramped, unfairly priced NYC apartments, usually a 300sf little box (Studio) with almost no furniture, no sunlight, and constantly being told to go, well, nowhere.

        It’s disheartening to say the least. Queue the smart-a** responders in 3-2..1….