It’s easy to see how parks have shaped the built environment and growth of Louisville. Our cherished Olmsted Parks system created a green armature for the city early in its history. Before that, Cave Hill Cemetery offered a mid-19th century retreat from the bustle of the city long before the Highlands ever existed. More recently, parks have helped usher in a new era of urban regeneration with the stimulating effects of Waterfront Park along the Ohio River.
Louisville’s parks are certainly among the best in a nation that redefined what parks meant to cities and their people. To celebrate the long heritage of parks in the United States, PBS is airing a new feature on ten of the country’s most cherished landscapes called “Ten Parks That Changed America.” Those include:
- The Squares of Savannah, Georgia
- Fairmount Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- Mt. Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts
- Central Park, New York City, New York
- Chicago’s Neighborhood Parks, Chicago, Illinois
- The Riverwalk, San Antonio, Texas
- Overton Park, Memphis, Tennessee
- Freeway Park, Seattle, Washington
- Gas Works Park, Seattle, Washington
- The High Line, New York City, New York
The production, created by Chicago’s WTTW, will air tomorrow, Tuesday, April 12. Here in Louisville, the Kentucky chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects (KYASLA), Kentucky Educational Television (KET), and the Louisville Olmsted Parks Conservancy are hosting a free viewing party at the Iroquois Park Amphitheater. The event opens at 6:00p.m. at 1080 Amphitheater Road with the documentary running from 6:30 through 9:30p.m. You can RSVP here.
Ahead of the event, we spoke with KYASLA President Amin Omidy about the new documentary and about the significance of Louisville’s park system:
Broken Sidewalk: The list of 10 parks included in the documentary is an impressive walk through the history of landscape architecture in this country. Are there any particular milestones that stand out? What can we learn from the list of selected parks?
Amin Omidy: From Central Park to the High Line, the important thread through history is that we need democratic spaces that help bring people of different backgrounds together through nature. Parks are sometimes a forgotten piece of our critical infrastructure discussion. Parks serve a valuable necessity to the public and encourage healthy living experiences. Parks create an opportunity to access nature based landscapes in an urban environment, allowing people to experience the best of both worlds.
None of the ten are located in Louisville, despite the fact that Louisville is a strong leader in landscape architecture and parks, from Cave Hill to the Olmsted System, to the redevelopment of the Waterfront. How does Louisville fit in?
While Louisville was not mentioned as one of the ten parks, it’s not for lack of quality locally, but more a reflection of the tremendous wealth of good parks throughout the country. Fortunately, Louisville is blessed with a wonderful parks and open space heritage and much in great debt to the vision of Frederick Law Olmsted to develop a network of parks that stitch together the city through green space.
The strength of the 10 parks listed is not the list itself, but recognizing that parks can be designed in many ways, serve a multitude of capacities, which, with the proper care, will endure as vital amenities for people of multiple generations to come.
Savannah, Georgia, is a significant inclusion on the list because it demonstrates the power or parks in an urban landscape. How can parks in Louisville be used to improve urban design and planning?
Savannah is well known for its squares because it marks an important distinction in urban planning that focuses development around green space as an organizing principal. These green spaces create the foundation of strong urban fabric with a centralized civic focal point. The parks being created today do not afford the same luxury of cities that planned their growth and development around connective green spaces.
Are there any parks—in Louisville or elsewhere—that you would have liked to see included? Tell us about one of them.
The Louisville Loop is going to be a fantastic system to highlight in the near future. There are not many cities in the United States with a system of parks and bicycle infrastructure that the Loop will provide when completed. The Loop will create connections throughout the Louisville community linking existing and new parks, neighborhoods, and enhanced recreational opportunities.
The sheer scale of the Parklands should also be considered in the national conversation. The many collaborative partnerships that came together to execute this world class park are truly remarkable.
Beyond the big parks and big moves, I think we forget about the power of the neighborhood park. Not everyone can get to a big park on a regular basis, so it’s important to have a gradient of scales to create accessible green spaces that are easy to reach for all of our communities, which is why you see the Chicago Neighborhood Parks listed at number five on the list.
What should we learn from this documentary? What can parks teach us about health, living in cities and in nature, etc?
One of the takeaways for me is that well designed and maintained parks are priceless assets for cities. They age well and are part of the answer to some of our most difficult questions concerning social justice, ecological stewardship, public health, and the overall quality of life. For centuries parks have exposed people to nature and served as grounds for recreation and entertainment.
Kaid Benfield, director of the Sustainable Communities and Smart Growth program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, has warned: “One of the most daunting aspects of our rapid development of new land is its permanence: every acre of natural or open space paved over for sprawl—every acre claimed by a new subdivision or shopping center on the fringe of a Chicago, Phoenix, or Atlanta—represents an acre lost forever. Barring heroic measures, farmland and other open space cannot be reclaimed.”
As cities continue to grow outward and upward, we have to continually question the highest and best use of land so that we make decisions today that result in a livable built environment, and a strong parks system is central to that conversation. The 10 parks featured on the list are prime examples of just how important open space is to the urban fabric.