Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Olmsted Legacy Documentary: this Saturday at 10pm

If you missed the premiere of The Olmsted Legacy: America's Urban Parks documentary on Sunday night, you have another chance, this Saturday at 10pm, on WHUT-TV, Channel 32, the PBS station run by Howard University. The Post had a preview piece, "A well-timed look at architect of American parks."

From the review:

Known as one of the inventors of landscape architecture and a legendary urban planner from the 19th century, Olmsted is most famous for helping design and create Manhattan's Central Park, cited many times in the film as the crown jewel of America's urban parks, along with hundreds of other parks, academic institutions and public and private buildings across the country.

His accomplishments include famous sites in the District. Credit Olmsted for the aesthetics of Rock Creek Park, the National Zoo, American University and Gallaudet University. The documentary, however, doesn't spend much time on his projects in the nation's capital, squeezing a few sentences between longer segments about his designs in Boston and Chicago.

The documentary would have been even better if it could have been multiple episodes, discussing in more detail the various parks and the innovations and changes in his thinking represented in designing changes over time, plus his son, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., who wrote much of the McMillan Plan, the update of the L'Enfant Plan published in 1902 by the Senate Park Commission.

A series of episodes could also have discussed more about the development of the field of parks planning, and urban planning also, which grew out of, in part, this movement (along with housing development and infrastructure development more generally). The entity created in the 1850s to build Central Park in NYC was a proto-development authority. And Burnham's City Beautiful Movement married Olmstead's parks planning principles with city planning and the development of public facilitlies. Barth's point in parks planning about treating streets as linear parks is derived from Olmstead's parkway concepts.

I really need to read up on Olmsted. It's on my list...

One of the "problems" with parks planning is the contradiction between parks as places of contemplation and rest--passive places--versus parks as places of activity, from shared use trails to tennis courts and athletic fields. This started with Olmsted.

The best community parks master plans provide for both types of spaces. And this issue wasn't covered at all in the documentary. From the review:

Olmsted's philosophy on parks - simply put, that they should be glorious, wide-open spaces where anyone, rich or poor, can escape the stress of everyday life - can be traced back to his childhood. Born in Hartford, Conn., in 1822, he had few memories of his mother, who died when he was young; one of them included her sewing under a tree while he played nearby. Idyllic memories of nature shaped the rest of his life, as he traded in academics to gallivant around the world and bask in the great outdoors.

-- Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation

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