In Praise of Our Parks: Part Three
In the second half of the 19th century, Frederick Law Olmsted came to be regarded as the Founder of American Landscape Architecture. He and his business partner, Calvert Vaux, planned a great many parks across the continent, from New York to California. Apart from Manhattan’s Central Park, their most well-known creation is the parkland surrounding the US Capitol, Washington D.C..In 1898 another innovative approachto “green” urban planning came into existence, with the formation in the UK of the Garden City/Town Movement by Sir Ebenezer Howard. New towns would be built surrounded by greenbelts, and contain broad tree-lined streets, parks, etc. This Movement became influential in the USA, as well as at home, but many of the original “garden cities” have since been enveloped by the growth of our larger cities, which would probably dismay the original planners if they could see them now.
A precursor of this Movement can be seen in the village of Bournville, Birmingham, England, created between 1893 and 1917 by Sir George Cadbury and his wife for the workers in their world-famous chocolate-making factory. The chosen site, although adjacent to the factory, was originally in a rural location, and was designed with broad, leafy streets, a village green, and a public park.
A Bournville street today.
In the early 20th century, the number of urban public parks increased as City/Town Councils bought land from private estates or wealthy benefactors donated land or money for that purpose.
The two World Wars, however, changed forever the appearance of many of the parks of the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Ornate wrought iron gates, railings, bandstands, etc. were reconstituted as munitions, anti-aircraft guns were set up in many, and became bombing targets. Town parks became military training grounds or communal air-raid shelters, while many of the country estates and large houses became military bases, hospitals or evacuee centres. in the towns and cities, parks played a vital role in food production under the “Dig for Victory” (UK) and “Victory Gardens” (USA and Canada) campaigns.
Facsimiles of World War Two campaign posters, Imperial War Museum, London.
In the countryside beyond the towns and cities, food cultivation was also able to continue, due largely to the members of the Women’s Land Army (UK, USA, Canada) and the Australian Women’s Land Army. Here in the UK, their remarkable contribution to the war efforts went ignored until just last month (July 2008) when surviving Land Girls were finally awarded badges of honour.
UK Land Army recruitment poster, World War Two (facsimile).
I was interested to read and learn recently that the Luitpold Arena, part of the vast Nazi Party rally/congress complex at Nuremberg, was constructed on top of a former public park. The ruins of this area were, in the late 1950s restored to that former use, and is once again a large, popular urban park.
Following World War Two, there was hardly finance to spare to restore parks to their former glory, and many began to fall into a state of decline and neglect, a situation which would last for decades.
- 20 Aug, 2008
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