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Rethinking Urban Parks

Setha Low
Dana Taplin
Suzanne Scheld
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  • Book Info
    Rethinking Urban Parks
    Book Description:

    Urban parks such as New York City's Central Park provide vital public spaces where city dwellers of all races and classes can mingle safely while enjoying a variety of recreations. By coming together in these relaxed settings, different groups become comfortable with each other, thereby strengthening their communities and the democratic fabric of society. But just the opposite happens when, by design or in ignorance, parks are made inhospitable to certain groups of people.

    This pathfinding book argues that cultural diversity should be a key goal in designing and maintaining urban parks. Using case studies of New York City's Prospect Park, Orchard Beach in Pelham Bay Park, and Jacob Riis Park in the Gateway National Recreation Area, as well as New York's Ellis Island Bridge Proposal and Philadelphia's Independence National Historical Park, the authors identify specific ways to promote, maintain, and manage cultural diversity in urban parks. They also uncover the factors that can limit park use, including historical interpretive materials that ignore the contributions of different ethnic groups, high entrance or access fees, park usage rules that restrict ethnic activities, and park "restorations" that focus only on historical or aesthetic values. With the wealth of data in this book, urban planners, park professionals, and all concerned citizens will have the tools to create and maintain public parks that serve the needs and interests of all the public.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79675-1
    Subjects: Political Science, Geography

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  4. A Note on Terminology
    (pp. IX-X)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. XI-XIV)
  6. Chapter 1 The Cultural Life of Large Urban Spaces
    (pp. 1-18)

    William H. Whyte set out to discover why some New York City public spaces were successes, filled with people and activities, while others were empty, cold, and unused. After seven years of filming small parks and plazas in the city, he found that only a few plazas in New York City were attracting daily users and saw this decline as a threat to urban civility. He began to advocate for viable places where people could meet, relax, and mix in the city. His analysis of those spaces that provided a welcoming and lively environment became the basis of his now-...

  7. Chapter 2 Urban Parks History and Social Context
    (pp. 19-36)

    As Michael Brill (1989), Sam Bass Warner (1993), and perhaps others have noted, the variety of park types has multiplied since parks first appeared in North America in the early nineteenth century. Many kinds of public spaces fall under the general rubric of “park.” The case studies in this volume are a sampling of urban park types: a landscape park, two recreational beach parks, and two historical parks. To situate these cases from New York and Philadelphia within a national context, this chapter provides a comparative review of the history of various park types in the United States.

    The first...

  8. Chapter 3 Prospect Park Diversity at Risk
    (pp. 37-68)

    In their sociability and informal layout, places of working-class recreation continue to resemble the vernacular weekend resort, or “grove,” that lay outside every nineteenth-century American town. This was an open space with trees, fields, and water at hand, used informally for recreational gatherings by the townspeople on Sunday afternoons (Jackson 1984). Although such places have yielded to urbanization and to the evolution of leisure time activity, parts of Brooklyn’s Prospect Park seem much like the old grove. For instance, on the Peninsula lies a pleasant field of two or three acres bordering the lake on one side and a placid...

  9. Chapter 4 The Ellis Island Bridge Proposal Cultural Values, Park Access, and Economics
    (pp. 69-100)

    In 1994 the Public Space Research Group was asked by the National Park Service to find out what local residents thought about building a bridge from Liberty State Park in New Jersey to Ellis Island. Ellis Island was the federal immigration station for the Port of New York from 1892 to 1954. More than 12 million immigrants were processed there, and over 40 percent of all U.S. citizens can trace their ancestry to those who came through this facility. In its early years, when the greatest number of immigrants arrived, Ellis Island represented an “open door” policy to the growing...

  10. Chapter 5 Jacob Riis Park Conflicts in the Use of a Historical Landscape
    (pp. 101-126)

    If small parks and plazas in the city are the primary focus of William H. Whyte’s questions about social viability, then this book expands the scope of spaces to be considered by examining large open spaces, including urban beaches. The importance of urban beaches to questions of social viability has been obscured by concerns for traditional urban spaces such as plazas and “green” areas like the neighborhood park and community garden. Yet, privatization and commercialization processes have had an impact on urban beaches. New commercial environments—especially shopping malls—attract people away from beaches and other traditional leisure-time resorts. These...

  11. Chapter 6 Orchard Beach in Pelham Bay Park Parks and Symbolic Cultural Expression
    (pp. 127-148)

    On the Fourth of July in 1996, I (Suzanne Scheld) made my first visit to Orchard Beach. Typically, this holiday conjures up images of barbecues, festive good moods, and the colors red, white, and blue. That day I found all of this in the park. The colors of the American flag were prominently displayed. More often than stars and stripes, however, I saw triangles, rectangles, and crosses—the red, white, and blue symbols of the Puerto Rican and Dominican flags. These markers of Latino and Caribbean identity were tied to tree branches and to posts in the picnic area. Narrow...

  12. Chapter 7 Independence National Historical Park Recapturing Erased Histories
    (pp. 149-174)

    As I (Setha Low) drive Route 10 from Palm Springs to West Los Angeles, my personal history passes by inscribed in the landscape through places, institutions, and cultural markers. I am reminded of where I went to college, where I spent my summers as a child, and where I got my first job as I travel this Southern California highway. Physical reminders like these provide a sense of place attachment, continuity, and connectedness that we are rarely aware of, but that plays a significant role in our psychological development as individuals and in our “place-identity” or “cultural-identity” as families or...

  13. Chapter 8 Anthropological Methods for Assessing Cultural Values
    (pp. 175-194)

    It is sometimes difficult to find the right method for studying people in a place, especially when you are trying to collect something as sensitive, intangible, and variable as cultural values. The best way to start, however, is to understand what “toolkit” or “palette” of techniques is available, and what works best in diverse fieldwork situations. As researchers, we have had to decide what would work best in a range of settings and have adapted our methods to fit the specific site and problem. Sometimes it was as simple as turning what was to be a focus group into a...

  14. Chapter 9 Conclusion Lessons on Culture and Diversity
    (pp. 195-210)

    William H. Whyte’s seminal work in the 1970s on small urban spaces was so clear and convincing that the city of New York revised its zoning code to reflect most of his recommendations. Whyte’s work inspired some of his associates to found the Project for Public Spaces, a consulting firm that has worked to bring his vision of user-friendly, comfortable, and popular public spaces to communities throughout metropolitan New York and beyond. With this book we at the Public Space Research Group seek to expand the dialogue about public spaces beyond the issues of comfort and vitality propounded by Whyte,...

  15. References Cited
    (pp. 211-218)
  16. Index
    (pp. 219-226)