Friday, October 05, 2001

Olmsted

Olmsted make a very appealing case for parks and promenades in his article in Civilizing American Cities. He describes the urbanization of landscapes as a "moral epidemic" that needs to be cured through doses of fresh air and green grass. He even goes so far as to predict a decline in people's health, virtue and happiness if urban life is to continue on in this fashion. He sees the park as an escape from the confines of the commercial district and indeed, everyday life. He paints and incredibly sunny picture, complete with impromptu family picnics and gatherings of Sunday school teachers all breathing in the cleansed air. His portraits are so appealing that I want to be there. The well designed park, he argues can be spiritually uplifiting and morally beneficial to everyone. Indeed, as we discussed in our class and tutorial today, parks are more than just for enjoyment. I would argue that being outdoors is a very positive experience for most people. We feel refreshed after a night of camping in the woods. We feel invigorated after a brisk walk. We feel relaxed after a lazy day on the beach. Parks are an important aspect to urban life. They increase the value of nearby properties, improve the aesthetic appeal of areas and provide a common meeting area. I know I really appreciated the large amounts of greenspace in and around the university campus in Calgary. Often, students took advantage of sunny days, flocking to the giant grassy hill in the middle of campus.

However, there is also a downside to parks as well. As we discussed in class, parks frequented by the homeless, addicts and poor are often avoided by middle and upper classes, who deem the areas to be too dangerous. Cnetral Park, one of Olmsted's crowning achievements is infamously known for its attacks on women joggers. Even the University of Toronto's own Philosopher's Walk is a risk after dark. Is this an unfortunate side effect that we must live with if we want to use parks? How morally uplifited are we feeling if are constantly worried about who is lurking behind the next tree?

I also thought Olmsted's discussion of dying trees particularly relevant to our lecture two weeks ago. At the time Alan(?) had discussed the constant threat that trees are under and the damage they sustain in our urban areas. Olmsted argued that trees were being sacrificed for sidewalks or roads and I found it ironic that we should be losing our own trees along Willcocks Street over 100 years later for the same reasons.