Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Thinking about today

In the upcoming reveal of the new 32-acre Depot Park, it is exciting to think of a public park that is large and will be a source of succor from the urban sprawl in Gainesville, Florida.  With this in mind, I'm reading the Wikipedia entry on Frederick Law Olmstead https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_Law_Olmsted

Olmsted was a pretty decent Joe, reading his biography.  He believed in the egalitarian ideals of America, and also appreciated the lugubrious benefits of green space.  In fact, he was an early proponent of having green spaces within urban areas:

The design of Central Park embodies Olmsted's social consciousness and commitment to egalitarian ideals. Influenced by Downing and his own observations regarding social class in England, China, and the American South, Olmsted believed that the common green space must always be equally accessible to all citizens, and was to be defended against private encroachment. This principle is now fundamental to the idea of a "public park", but was not assumed as necessary then. Olmsted's tenure as park commissioner in New York was a long struggle to preserve that idea.[11]

11.^ Melvin Kalfus, Frederick Law Olmsted: The Passion of a Public Artist, New York University Press 1991 p.308ff.
As we get closer to the opening of Depot Park, perhaps a closer look at Olmsted's aesthetics is warranted for a large planned park of this size and ambition.  But what is Depot Park going to be?

Here is an opportunity for city elders to shape a space for generations to come, and unless I'm mistaken, no one has truly identified Depot Park's purpose, except a place to give people in nearby apartment complexes springing up on Depot Road a place to jog and/or walk their dogs.

Let me go back to Olmstead for a moment.  To me, his greatest contribution to American society and culture was the instrumental role he played in the development and management of Central Park in the middle of Manhattan.  Like summers splashing in the Washington Square fountain with scores of other New Yorkers escaping the heat, I also grew up exploring Central Park and its various secret gardens and statuary (something Olmstead was opposed to having but relented to at the opening of the park; since then it has grown to include the Central Park Zoo); it wasn't until I was an adult that I realized the genius and beauty of Central Park in its careful planning.  The southern end of the park seems the most populated with people and attractions, lakes for canoeing and sailboat races in the summer, ice skating rink in the winter, and the Central Park Zoo with its magical clock at the entrance that chimes in each hour with a dance of animals with instruments. It is not only because this part of the park is actually in the most urban, populated part of the city so it makes sense to make the main entrance and attractions close to the subways, trolleys, buses.  But there was also another reason which many people may not realize, for making the southern part of the park more dense than any other; It wasn't so much that it was dense, but rather condensed for small legs.  The Zoo, the boat lake, XXXX meadow and countless other treasured memories of childhood were built specifically on a child's scale.  This is the genius of Central Park; it was truly a product of the times pre Civil-War, where the Industrial Revolution robbed workers of resources and their intrinsic connection to nature.  Many would argue that we are separate from nature, especially those who would deign to know how much strain one can put on earth's resources. Olmstead, in his dedication to developing and (and, later) administering Central Park, along with many other public projects around the United States, allowed to flourish the radical notion that urban city dwellers, maybe even more so than their rural counterparts, needed above all else a place to reconnect with themselves, their families, and their communities.  

The public park is by no means an American invention, but landscape architects like Olmstead were heavily influenced by their progenitors in Europe; The US has always had an insecurity complex about the new world they inhabit being too primitive, too savage and wild to be taken seriously by European designers who had over one thousand years of ancient parks and sacred sites under their belts, whereas America has only had its own parks department since barely the turn of the century. This is not to point out that, like the small speck of time humans have walked the earth

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