Wednesday, April 13, 2011

urban park as opposite of refuge

The High Line was recently featured in a National Geographic article that spoke to the notion of a paradigm shift in urban parks. No longer does an urban park need to escape the vernacular of the city and turn its back on infrastructure and urban form. As we all know, this is a shift that will continue long after the hype of the High Line has faded. With so many vacant structures, dilapidated water fronts and under utilized warehouse districts amidst numerous cities around the world, the precedent set by the High Line is one that will constantly be examined and built upon.

I think the most exciting fact about this article is that adaptive reuse is being recognized and the concept of beauty is emerging in what was once ruin. Designers will undoubtedly play a major role in re-envisioning and reconstructing the urban form for years to come - so to see the success and popularity of the High Line continue to grow is only more motivation for what more can be done.

So, in the 21st century, is central park dead?


  1. I don't think Central park is dead. I agree with what you are saying about this shift from urban parks being more accepting of the urban form and not turning there backs on it. But Central Park is very much alive. I believe that this is a very subjective topic. I think Olmstead felt that there was a need to step away from the urban context and to be able to move through a place that was engulfed in something completely different from the everyday hustle and bustle of the city, and that is what he created.
    I think people years from now will continue to enjoy central park, as well as many more new parks that emerge within our cities.

    thanks for sharing Ed.


  2. I agree with you that Central Park will continue to exist and be successful indefinitely. However, what I'm thinking of is more the concept of central park - this refuge or oasis from the vernacular and speed of the city. If we look at the most prominent or cutting edge work of our profession in the present, there isn't much in the way of romantic imagery or escape, but instead an embrace of contemporary culture in both concept and design language.

    I am extremely interested in how the definition of a park will continue to evolve or change completely as our society moves in new directions.

    If we take this discussion to a suburban context it is even more puzzling to think about the role of a park. In such context, is a park more about baseball and soccer fields than progressive vision and conceptual frameworks (as we see in The High Line or what Wolfram is doing with The Waterworks)? Further, how does the suburban park shift and adapt to the changing values of suburbanites?

    I'm glad to have your comments, Steve. The goal of this blog is to challenge our understanding of the profession and I think we are getting there with these dialogues.

  3. My initial reaction was to say no, central park is not and will not be dead. But I hear what you're saying in terms of the concept (of a refuge or oasis away from the conditions of the city). I still say no, the concept of a refuge or oasis will not be dead.

    I agree, the definition of a park is interesting to think of over time, but I would argue that the definition has been, is, and will be the same:

    park /pärk/
    1. A large public green area in a town, used for recreation
    (Google Dictionary)

    Now, there are several adjectives that can be analyzed in this definition and there are many different definitions of a park. But they all incorporate the idea of recreation.

    rec•re•a•tion /ˌrekrēˈāSHən/
    1. Activity done for enjoyment when one is not working
    (Google Dictionary)

    So basically a park (in the context of this conversation) is an area set aside for recreation; both central park and the High Line fall under this umbrella. Each park has a unique identity (different scales, time periods, materials, etc. etc.) but they both provide space to recreate. So it isn't a question so much of the definition of a park evolving, more so a question of society evolving. As new, innovative construction techniques, materials, design philosophies and planning techniques, etc. develop or reduce, particular park identities will continue to be influenced.

  4. I enjoy this vantage point of the fundamental notion of a park remaining constant as society evolves. I think it's an interesting and necessary component of park design - saying that we need to program the park for recreation regardless of context or concept.

    Though, I will argue (and I believe this is what you hinted at) that while the definition of a park may remain the same, the identity will evolve in response to society. Though, I will be more direct here and say it isn't just identity being influenced; instead identity is directly responding and shifting to a changing society.

    So it is more a question of the identity of an urban park evolving away from romantic imagery and ideals as demonstrated in Central Park and more towards an urban vernacular and a representation of contemporary materiality and construction.

    I think we are reaching a similar conclusion here, just with a slightly different jargon.

    We should examine the concept of identity as it relates to design in a future post. How does our design maintain or change the identity of a place and does it necessarily align with the values and evolving needs of a particular society?