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Archive for the ‘Parks’ Category

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WE REALLY, REALLY LOVE OUR PARKS!!!  CNN headline on October 17, 2013. Now fund them better!

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It’s the holiday season – and I’m sitting in the mall, blogging. Somehow I feel unique… but probably not unique, though, in waiting. In the Architect’s Newspaper, Alan G. Brake writes of the ascendance of landscape architecture. Brake hits on a few themes that fit this blog well – relationships between landscape architects and architects, planners as well as the rise of urbanism as a focus of the profession. Generally, I think landscape architects are too fixated on boosterism – and we love to highlight such praise – but I’m inclined to agree with Brake here. And I hope the profession rises to the opportunities before us. Ascendency, yes.

Landscape architecture’s dynamism, however, also points to certain weaknesses in contemporary architecture and planning. Architecture has been caught in a kind of hangover from the pre-crash years. Much of the profession, not to mention architectural education, is still too obsessed with architecture-as-object. The rise of tactical urbanism is a reaction to this, and also often involves landscape-based projects. Planning seems even more stuck. Too afraid to engage with design—following the failures of much of modernist planning—planners have either buried their noses in policy or retreated into colored-pencil-clichés of urbanism that seem dated. Landscape architects have stepped into that vacuum.

For the public, my hunch is that landscape architects offer something that architects typically do not. Parks and gardens have always engaged our Edenic fantasies. In a world under strain these places must also do considerable work, absorbing stormwater, filtering air pollution, and providing refuge in an increasingly urbanized world. Landscape architects are offering redemptive visions for neglected, damaged, and underutilized places. Environmental problems may seem overwhelming and insurmountable. But landscape architects offer solutions to improve our roofs, our blocks, our neighborhoods, a nearby waterway, or the city at large. If that sounds patronizing, it’s not meant to be. In the absence of aggressive federal (let alone global) environmental action to address the myriad of challenges we face, these interventions take on a critical, if piecemeal, significance.

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Don’t miss the NY Times article on the recognized need for open space in Mumbai, especially open space that is accessible to the least privileged members of society. Parks, it is suggested, are a hedge against maladies such as respiratory diseases, malaria, asthma, and  neuropsychiatric disorders. Neha Thirani, the article’s author, opens with the personal story of Anusaya Nair, a slum dweller who prizes her time in a newly developed small park – a park that would not have been developed without a lawsuit. Thirani reminds us of the growing need for parks in rapidly developing cities around the world and the difficulty of implementing them in tight land markets.

Not far from where Anusaya Nair lives, a room that measures barely 5 feet by 5 feet, is her main escape: a 9,200-square-foot park, boxed on three sides by a ramshackle garage, tenement housing and an apartment complex. A few women take their evening stroll on the walking track circling the park; elderly companions exchange gossip on a handful of scattered benches; neighborhood children play on a swing set at the back.

Ms. Nair, 43, lives in the Ambedkar Nagar slum, like many of the domestic workers who take care of the area’s high-rise apartment buildings. She spends her days cleaning the homes of more affluent residents of southern Mumbai and regards her twice-a-week visits to the garden as a welcome relief from her routine.

“I’ve liked gardens since I was a child and always try and find some time to visit,” Ms. Nair said. “I like the natural beauty. The mind finds peace.”

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In difficult economic times, landscape architects – and other designers, artists – may begin to doubt the value of what they do. I think Frank Bruni’s column on parks in New York City serves as a testimonial. Take heart, ye servants of the people!

Whenever you doubt that the future can improve upon the past or that government can play a pivotal role in that, consider and revel in the extraordinary greening of New York.

This city looks nothing — nothing — like it did just a decade and a half ago. It’s a place of newly gorgeous waterfront promenades, of trees, tall grasses and blooming flowers on patches of land and peninsulas of concrete and even stretches of rail tracks that were blighted or blank before. It’s a lush retort to the pessimism of this era, verdant proof that growth remains possible, at least with the requisite will and the right strategies.

The transformation of New York has happened incrementally enough — one year the High Line, another year Brooklyn Bridge Park — that it often escapes full, proper appreciation. But it’s a remarkable, hopeful stride.

It’s also emblematic of a coast-to-coast pattern of intensified dedication to urban parkland. While so much of American life right now is attended by the specter of decline, many cities are blossoming, with New York providing crucial inspiration.

This is my favorite line: “It’s a lush retort to the pessimism of this era, verdant proof that growth remains possible, at least with the requisite will and the right strategies.” Soul-satisfying for all involved.

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Building community and playgrounds in Central New York. A story in the local newspaper and video.

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The BMW Guggenheim Lab blog features an interview with Michael Van Valkenburgh, principal of MVVA. Van Valkenburgh speaks of the emotional qualities of designed urban spaces and the approach that his firm uses to heighten the urban experience. The design of the Brooklyn Bridge Park is highlighted.

 

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Park Facts

The Trust for Public Land just released the 2011 City Parks Facts report. Among the interesting findings:

  • 120 parks were added in the 100 largest U.S. cities in 2010, even as 3.9% of the park work force was cut.
  • The most parks per capita are found in Madison, WI, with 12.7 per 10,000 residents, with Cincinnati, St. Petersburg, Anchorage, and Buffalo following.
  • The greatest number of playgrounds per capita are found in Madison, Virginia Beach, Corpus Christi, Cincinnati, and Norfolk.
  • There were 110 fewer public swimming pools in operation in 2010 than in 2009, and this is the only facility type to decrease.
  • 20,000 community garden plots are found in the 100 largest cities, with the cold cities of Minneapolis and Madison leading the way, having roughly 33-36 garden plots per 10,000 people.
  • Minneapolis has 13.3 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents, considered a relatively high amount given the city’s dense development. Otherwise, spread-out cities like Anchorage and Albuquerque have higher rates of parkland per resident.
  • $200 or more per resident is the cost of parkland in Minneapolis, Washington, D.C., and Seattle, compared to a median of $84.

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