A Walk in the Park: Cities, Parks and People in the United States from 1900 to the Present

This is an 10 week seminar, starting September 28th, 2017 through December 7th, 2017. No class on Thanksgiving.

Moderator:                Ellen Kosmer
Co-moderator:        Betsy Siersma
Day and Time:         Thursday 10:00AM-Noon
Format:                       Seminar
Location:                   UMass Renaissance Center Reading Room, Amherst
                                        (free parking on site)

For us the urban park is an expected amenity, but it was not until the late 19th century that a city park was the rule rather than the exception. We will explore the aesthetic, social and political role that parks play in the urban life of America.

City parks, “the country in the city,” are a delightful aspect of urban life. This seminar will focus on 20th and 21st century examples and discuss how the concept of urban parks evolved in eighteenth-century Europe then traveled to America. We will look at the seminal role played by Olmsted in landscape design and consider not only grand designs as Central Park in NY but also his small scale plans. Since the 60s there has been a renaissance in urban park design and construction. The reclaiming of derelict or underused areas in cities and transforming them into parks has resulted in two different types of parks. The creators of large-scale parks such as the High Line, NY and the Rose Kennedy Greenway, Boston reclaimed spaces and turned them into pedestrian walkways. The pocket-park takes a very small space, such as a vacant lot or an alley between buildings and turns it into an urban oasis. Some of the questions we will consider are: what is the social impact of parks, are parks art, what is the difference between a garden and a park, are playgrounds parks, the role of art in parks and how does politics play a role in the location and design and purpose of a park?

Role of participants:
Select a topic from a provided list, give a 15 minute presentation then lead discussion on the topic. One page written design project for which you will find an undeveloped space in a local town, design a pocket park for that space and share this with the class. Possible day trip to NY.

The moderators will provide handouts from Small Urban Spaces: The Philosophy, Design, Sociology, and Politics of Vest-Pocket Parks and Other Small Urban Open Spaces, ed. Whitney North Seymour, Jr., New York University Press, 1969, for a copying charge of up to $2.00.

About the Moderator(s):
Ellen Kosmer is an art historian whose research interests include medieval art and historical garden design. She is also a studio artist. Betsy Siersma is a museum curator/director specializing in contemporary art in all media.

Maximum number of participants: 18

Emeritus/a accepted: yes, up to 2