Monday, April 6, 2009

Urban Greenspaces Workshop

Our own Jimmy Ogle will represent CPOP tomorrow at a Rhodes College workshop that is intended to "add a dimension to current debates about urban greenspaces in Memphis." This event is open to the public. Here's the skinny:

The History and Culture of City Parks, Urban Greenspaces, and Urban Planning: A Workshop

Culminating in a round table discussion of
Memphis’s Greenspace Heritage and its Future

7 April 2009

4:00-7:30 PM
Ballroom, Bryan Campus Life Center

Contact: Michael Leslie
Tel.: 901 843 3715;

The aim of this workshop is to set our contemporary and local debates over green spaces in Memphis and Shelby County in the context of two centuries of debate over environmental protection and urban planning.

Overton Park and the Memphis Parkway system, planned by George Kessler, were designed explicitly with an eye to F.L. Olmsted’s famous New York developments of Central Park and Prospect Park. But the Olmsted parks were not just objects of beauty: Olmsted was passionately convinced that such greenspaces contributed both to the social cohesiveness and fairness of a modern urban society and to the health of urban populations.

His ideas for urban parks were formed as a result of his travels in Britain and Europe, in particular by his experience of Birkenhead Park, in Northern England. Designed by the great engineer Joseph Paxton and opened in 1847, Olmsted considered that Birkenhead Park achieved a democratisation of urban experience and produced significant health benefits for one of the 19th century’s great industrial cities.

Paxton was an innovator, but he too inherits a dynamic tradition of urban planning and sanitation reform from the 18th century. Birkenhead Park draws from the new towns of Edinburgh and Bath. The creation and maintenance of green spaces are an urgent concern from the very moment at which rapid urbanisation and industrialisation emerged in the western world.

Dr Rosemary (Roey) Sweet
Professor of Urban History and Director of the Centre for Urban History, University of Leicester. Author of The Writing of Urban Histories in Eighteenth-century England (Oxford Historical Monographs) (1997); The English Town, 1680-1840: Government, Society and Culture (Themes In British Social History) (1999); Women and Urban Life in Eighteenth-century England: On the Town (2003); and Antiquaries: The Discovery of the Past in Eighteenth Century Britain (2004) (among much more)
Dr. Roey Sweet will survey examples of polite spaces in newly-urbanising 18th-century Britain, revealing intellectual underpinnings that range from enthusiasm for Druids through to a recognition of the need for open space and traffic management in the battle against disease, appalling living conditions, and the moral failings of the poor. Dr Sweet will also caution against taking overly seriously many of these assertions of noble motives, pointing out that the creation of open spaces also contributed to the enhancement of property values and the attraction of an elite population.

Dr Katy Layton Jones
Lecturer, Goldsmiths, University of London, and the University of Leicester. Author of Places of Health and Amusement: Liverpool's Historic Parks and Gardens (Informed Conservation) (2008)
Dr Katy Layton-Jones will carry the story into Britain’s famous 19th-century parks movement. Throughout the late 18th and 19th centuries, the British landscape was transformed by industrialisation, urbanisation and suburbanisation. This physical transformation of space was accompanied by a conceptual one, through which existing notions of public and private, rural and urban, were reappraised and challenged. Central to this process of redefining and reshaping the British landscape, was the ‘creation’ or designation of public green space in the form of walks, cemeteries, and perhaps most importantly, municipal parks. This paper will look at how the process of creating public green space, the designs of influential figures such as Joseph Paxton and Edward Kemp, and representations of the finished landscapes, all contributed to a re-conceptualisation of the British urban realm in the long 19th century.

Michael Leslie, Rhodes College
"Birkenhead Park, Frederick Law Olmsted, Central Park, and the Design Brief for Overton Park"
Dr Michael Leslie will briefly document the influence of these 18th and 19th-century urban green space developments on the most important urban landscape designer in American history, Frederick Law Olmsted, the principal designer of both Central Park and Prospect Park in New York and the creator of urban parkway systems. He will point to the continuation of many of the themes identified by Drs Sweet and Layton-Jones in American urban space creation, not least in the Tennessee example of Memphis’s Parkways and Overton Park, designed by one of Olmsted’s disciples, George Kessler.


Participants are Jimmy Ogle (Citizens to Preserve Overton Park), Lauren Taylor (Hyde Foundation), Diana Threadgill (Mississippi Corridor), Ritchie Smith and Lissa Thompson (Ritchie Smith and Associates).