The Park System as a Catalyst for Urban Regeneration

Two venerable American cities – Baltimore and Boston – are independently considering how their park systems, both products of the late 19th century urban park building legacy of Frederick Law Olmsted, can adapt to the needs of their citizenry in the early part of the 21st century.  The two cities are at somewhat different states of evolution. Boston is experiencing a substantial population growth and economic investment spurt, having recovered from its mid-20th century economic malaise and the spreading outward of suburbia.  Baltimore is still recovering from its population decline of the mid-20th century, and while downtown and some neighborhoods are experiencing renewal/reinvestment, there remain substantial areas of abandonment and concentrated areas of poverty. Both cities are pondering how a restoration, enlargement, and modernization of their park systems might support broad social and economic goals. That will be the conceptual focus of the studio; discovering the potential impacts of open space planning on the near fortunes of each of the two cities. So the issue of ‘landscape urbanism’ will be forefront. Not as a slogan or sound-bite, but to arrive at a deeper understanding of the role of landscape design and planning on the contemporary American city.

The studio will proceed in collaboration with two “client” institutions. In Baltimore, the Parks and People Foundation, which is the steward of Baltimore’s municipal open spaces, and in Boston with the Emerald Network –Livable Streets Alliance, embarked on expanding the city’s famed Emerald Necklace. The ‘Necklace’ itself has been generally well maintained and cared for, the goal being to better connect it to neighborhoods less well served by parks or open space, and to enhance the recreational, public health and commuting attributes of a city-wide open space system. Baltimore aims for similar goals, but with two additional imperatives. The City seeks to restore, better maintain, and connect the parks into a continuous network. And given their proximity to many of the neighborhoods most in need of recovery, to explore how an enhanced park system can best support neighborhood revitalization.

Using models of research, conjecture/speculation, and design, the studio will pose ideas and recommendations for how each city’s parks and open spaces can best serve its current and long-term civic and community development needs. A class trip to Baltimore (and Washington, D.C.) is planned, in addition to touring Boston’s old and new public open spaces.

Students from each of the degree programs at the GSD are welcome and encouraged, as cross-disciplinary interaction, insight, and collaboration are an essential component of addressing any urban site well.