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Rethinking Urban Parks

Public Space and Cultural Diversity

By Setha Low, Dana Taplin, and Suzanne Scheld

Publication Year: 2005

Urban parks such as New York City's Central Park provide vital public spaces where city dwellers of all races and classes can mingle safely while enjoying a variety of recreations. By coming together in these relaxed settings, different groups become comfortable with each other, thereby strengthening their communities and the democratic fabric of society. But just the opposite happens when, by design or in ignorance, parks are made inhospitable to certain groups of people. This pathfinding book argues that cultural diversity should be a key goal in designing and maintaining urban parks. Using case studies of New York City's Prospect Park, Orchard Beach in Pelham Bay Park, and Jacob Riis Park in the Gateway National Recreation Area, as well as New York's Ellis Island Bridge Proposal and Philadelphia's Independence National Historical Park, the authors identify specific ways to promote, maintain, and manage cultural diversity in urban parks. They also uncover the factors that can limit park use, including historical interpretive materials that ignore the contributions of different ethnic groups, high entrance or access fees, park usage rules that restrict ethnic activities, and park “restorations” that focus only on historical or aesthetic values. With the wealth of data in this book, urban planners, park professionals, and all concerned citizens will have the tools to create and maintain public parks that serve the needs and interests of all the public.

Published by: University of Texas Press

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

A Note on Terminology

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pp. ix-x

Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xii

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Chapter 1. The Cultural Life of Large Urban Spaces

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pp. 1-18

William H. Whyte set out to discover why some New York City public spaces were successes, filled with people and activities, while others were empty, cold, and unused. After seven years of filming small parks and plazas in the city, he found that only a few plazas in New York City were attracting daily users and saw this decline as a threat to urban civility. He began to advocate for viable places where people could meet...

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Chapter 2. Urban Parks: History and Social Context

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pp. 19-35

As Michael Brill (1989), Sam Bass Warner (1993), and perhaps others have noted, the variety of park types has multiplied since parks first appeared in North America in the early nineteenth century. Many kinds of public spaces fall under the general rubric of “park.” The case studies in this volume are a sampling of urban park types: a landscape park, two recreational beach parks, and two historical parks. To...

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Chapter 3. Prospect Park: Diversity at Risk

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pp. 37-68

In their sociability and informal layout, places of working-class recreation continue to resemble the vernacular weekend resort, or “grove,” that lay outside every nineteenth-century American town. This was an open space with trees, fields, and water at hand, used informally for recreational gatherings by the townspeople on Sunday afternoons (Jackson 1984). Although such places have yielded to urbanization...

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Chapter 4. The Ellis Island Bridge Proposal: Cultural Values, Park Access, and Economics

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pp. 69-99

In 1994 the Public Space Research Group was asked by the National Park Service to find out what local residents thought about building a bridge from Liberty State Park in New Jersey to Ellis Island. Ellis Island was the federal immigration station for the Port of New York from 1892 to 1954. More than 12 million immigrants were processed there, and over 40 percent of all U.S. citizens can trace their ancestry to those who came through this facility. In its early years, when the greatest...

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Chapter 5. Jacob Riis Park: Conflicts in the Use of a Historical Landscape

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pp. 101-126

In 1994 the Public Space Research Group was asked by the National Park Service to find out what local residents thought about building a bridge from Liberty State Park in New Jersey to Ellis Island. Ellis Island was the federal immigration station for the Port of New York from 1892 to 1954. More than 12 million immigrants were processed there, and over 40 percent of all U.S. citizens can trace their ancestry to those who came through this facility. In its early years, when the greatest...

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Chapter 6. Orchard Beach in Pelham Bay Park: Parks and Symbolic Cultural Expression

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pp. 127-148

On the Fourth of July in 1996, I (Suzanne Scheld) made my first visit to Orchard Beach. Typically, this holiday conjures up images of barbecues, festive good moods, and the colors red, white, and blue. That day I found all of this in the park. The colors of the American flag were prominently displayed. More often than stars and stripes, however, I saw triangles, rectangles, and crosses— the red, white, and blue symbols of the Puerto Rican and Dominican flags...

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Chapter 7. Independence National Historical Park: Recapturing Erased Histories

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pp. 149-173

As I (Setha Low) drive Route 10 from Palm Springs to West Los Angeles, my personal history passes by inscribed in the landscape through places, institutions, and cultural markers. I am reminded of where I went to college, where I spent my summers as a child, and where I got my first job as I travel this Southern California highway. Physical reminders like these provide a sense of place attachment, continuity...

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Chapter 8. Anthropological Methods for Assessing Cultural Values

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pp. 175-193

It is sometimes difficult to find the right method for studying people in a place, especially when you are trying to collect something as sensitive, intangible, and variable as cultural values. The best way to start, however, is to understand what “toolkit” or “palette” of techniques is available, and what works best in diverse fieldwork situations. As researchers, we have had to decide what would work best in a range of settings and have adapted our methods to fit the specific site and problem...

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Chapter 9. Conclusion: Lessons on Culture and Diversity

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pp. 195-210

William H. Whyte’s seminal work in the 1970s on small urban spaces was so clear and convincing that the city of New York revised its zoning code to reflect most of his recommendations. Whyte’s work inspired some of his associates to found the Project for Public Spaces, a consulting firm that has worked to bring his vision of user-friendly, comfortable, and popular public spaces to communities throughout...

References Cited

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pp. 211-218

Index

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pp. 219-226


E-ISBN-13: 9780292796751
E-ISBN-10: 0292796757
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292706859
Print-ISBN-10: 0292706855

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 22 halftones, 1 line drawing, 9 maps, 15 tables
Publication Year: 2005

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Subject Headings

  • Public spaces -- United States.
  • Environmental psychology -- United States.
  • Multiculturalism -- United States.
  • Urban parks -- United States.
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