Last week, I attended the annual conference of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) in Chicago, and one of the most memorable sessions was a behind-the-scenes discussion about an upcoming PBS television episode titled, 10 Parks That Changed America. Scheduled to air in April 2016, the episode is part of a series exploring the topic of the built environment – homes, parks, and towns – a subject which commenced with the airing of 10 Buildings That Changed America back in 2013. The latest series installment will undoubtedly raise the public’s awareness about landscape architecture, and in the process, our profession behind it.
PBS turned to a select group of landscape architects and urban planners for advice and fact checking guidance for the park episode. Although Dan Protess (producer) and Geoffrey Baer (host) revealed to the audience a few of the parks selected for the series during the panel, I was most intrigued by the selection process that eventually resulted in only ten parks chosen out of the rich history of American landscapes. I was also interested about deciding which parks meet the significant criteria and claim of “changing America.”
Not surprisingly, the selections were influenced by more than the merits of their design alone. The show’s producer sought examples in cities throughout the U.S. accompanied with diverse stories that would appeal to a broad viewership. Large historical parks such as Central Park, and neighborhood parks which may be better known to a local community, were considered.
Thaisa Way — a landscape historian from the University of Washington, a show advisor, and session panelist — revealed her eventual list of ten parks was determined after looking for landscape works that “transformed the public imagination”. She included Seattle’s Gas Works Park (one of the first post-industrial landscapes to be transformed into a public place) and New York’s Paley Park (a small park built on private property, but open to the public).
I was compelled to think about my own list of parks during the discussion. Central Park, Paley Park, and Boston Common immediately all came to mind. Although they are transformative landscapes in terms of urban destinations and community spaces, my choices were a result of my own history and personal connection with them. What would be on your list?
Even more surprising than learning which parks were to be included in 10 Parks That Changed America were the parks that did not make the cut for the series. I won’t spoil it for you by revealing which ones they are…you’ll have to watch the series in April yourself.