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Health Landscape design

Prospect Park, Brooklyn,1867-1873

Prospect Park, Designing to save cities

Some urban and landscape projects are more than physical places; the concepts behind their design saved humanity, such as Olmsted parks which had a massive influence on citizens’ health. In the 19th Century, Brooklyn became the third-largest city in America, and a wave of European immigrants settled in this growing town[1]. In that era, industrialized, crowded, and polluted cities like Brooklyn needed new features that could save citizens’ lives and public health, which was the problem of many experts. The main challenge was how to solve public health problems.

Figure 1:Historical 1868 Vaux and Olmsted Map of Prospect Park ,Brooklyn

In 1866 in Brooklyn, Olmsted (Figure 2) and Vaux, two famous designers, planned Prospect Park after the successful design of Central Park in New York[2](Figure 1).

Figure 2: Frederick Law Olmsted. Engraved by T.Johnson; from a photograph by James Notman.1893

The plan for Prospect Park with a tremendous simplification and unification consists of three regions of distinct landscape character: first, a meadow with a variety of large trees which was a suitable place for a playground; second, a hilly district(Figure 3) with an extensive view; and third, a lake region with picturesque shores and islands which is an excellent place for skiing[3](Figure 1). Vaux was responsible for some details in the absence of Olmsted, including the boundaries and the placement of the meadow and lake. Still, they both claimed equal responsibility in the design details[4].

Figure 3: The Lake under construction, view from Breeze Hill. Woodcut, 1868

Some movements in history have had such a massive influence on human life, and some of them became silent, and nothing happened. Still, the public parks movement caused practical incidents and made differences a lot in public health. Lack of green areas could cause polluted cities with diseases and death worldwide. As public health and citizens have a tight connection, solving our public health problems is more complicated than many people believe.

Olmsted understood the challenge with public health and started designing and constructing many public parks that became the lungs of cities. These parks are alive today too, which shows how influential his ideas and designs were. Before this movement, most green spaces were private that all people couldn’t use. They were only for some wealthy families with huge houses and gardens. But after that, Olmsted parks such as Central Park and Prospect Park made democratic spaces where people of any age and gender could do different activities like tennis, Ice-skiing, biking, and walking activities that could grow public health. (Figure 4)

After World War 2 and the Industrial Revolution, cities became full of factories and industrial areas. Moreover, many people immigrated from rural to cities, and it made more urbanization and pollutions [5] [6]. Hanlon, in his article about polluted cities, mentioned, “In the 19th century, urban areas were incredibly unhealthy places to live”[7]. In that era, the public parks movement in America was a reaction to the growth of these two disasters, urbanization and industrialization. Cities made initially with no provision for open green areas4. Brooklyn was one of those kinds of cities. Public parks were the solutions to address economic, social, health and political challenges caused by increasing industrialization in cities[8]. In 1830 a Select Committee was appointed by Parliament to consider the best means of securing open areas in the vicinity of populated towns, as public places of Exercise, calculated to improve the health and comfort of the citizens” 4.

Figure 4: Lawn Tennis at Prospect Park.1885

Brooklyn, such as New York, had no provision because of restrictive street grids. However, as the New York Commission announced, Greenwood Cemetery, established in 1838, was the prime recreational space for thousands of inhabitants. By 1858 Brooklyn’s leaders clearly saw the demand for a public park. There was the desire to compete with New York as well as to attract more people to the advantages of Brooklyn living. But a more democratic conception was also present: such a park was perceived as vitally necessary to bring relief from the urban environment for many inhabitants. 4 Olmsted argued that significant public parks, such as his proposed Greensward, would function as the “lungs of the city” — green open spaces where citizens could breathe clean air”. Olmsted and Vaux noticed well-circulating waterways and well-designed sanitary facilities, which showed their knowledge of the clean movement and the connection the public health had made between polluted water and disease. [9]

Olmsted and Vaux believed in the beneficial effect of nature upon man. The future health of society and our cities depended on the spiritual health of the people, which could be ensured by re-establishing their link with nature that the rapid growth and industrialization had broken of urban centres. Moreover, Olmsted felt it was the obligation of a democratic society to provide facilities to re-establish such a link with nature2.

Figure 5: Boathouse in Prospect Park. Photo via Brooklyn Visual Heritage.1890.

In the early 1860s, Stranahan, who was the first president of the Prospect Park Commission, argued that a park in Brooklyn “would become a favourite resort for all classes of our community, enabling thousands to enjoy pure air, with healthful exercise, at all seasons of the year and a Park not only as a public nicety but also as a way to lure wealthy residents to the town1”.

Prospect Park, a masterpiece of landscape art, is full of a variety of trees[10]. In industrialized cities, the main benefits of urban trees and forests relate to health, aesthetic and recreational benefits[11]. So, Prospect park with a bunch of trees could increase public health in Brooklyn.

 David P. Colley in Prospect Park: Olmsted & Vaux’s Brooklyn Masterpiece said:” After the park opened (1866), its popularity was immediate, and Colley provides a sur­vey of how it was used. Its open spaces, especially the Long Meadow, were particularly well suited for sports and athletics, many of which reflect the tastes of the age: lawn tennis, croquet, and equestrianism among them. Although a satisfying overview, some additional consideration about the relationship between promenades, parks, and the emergence of organized sports might have been of value here. Similarly, the opportunity is missed to link the rise of independent social institutions around the park with activities conducted within”8.

Nowadays, More than 8 million annual visitors enjoy various activities, from ice-skiing to nature walks, from baseball games to zoo visits and breath in this clear air [12] Contact with nature—with plants, with animals, with pleasing landscapes, and with wilderness—offers a range of medical benefits, which include lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, improved survival after a heart attack, more rapid recovery from surgery, fewer minor medical complaints, and lower self-reported stress.” [13]

In conclusion, public parks with a good design and different kinds of trees as urban green spaces could save a city because they can decrease pollution – cause many heart attacks and other diseases- and have visual and mental impacts on citizens’ health. The public parks movement and Olmsted and Vaux designs could help the enormous problem of industrializing cities in that century and even on the shape of the cities we live in now and our general health. The Covid -19 pandemic showed human how much public health is essential and how many urban areas can help citizens health. The open spaces of cities like parks are areas to walk and do different activities in clear air in this time pandemic which could stop people from staying at home for a long time and become depressed. Urban designers are responsible for the health and welfare of people. However, in term of urban design, public health is a matter that didn’t solve completely.

 Bibliography

      1 “Home Page – Prospect Park Alliance.” n.d. Prospect Park. Accessed May 28, 2021. http://www.prospectpark.org.

     2.  Network, Land8: Landscape Architects. 2014. “15 Great Examples of Historical Landscape Architecture –       Land8.” October 8, 2014. https://land8.com/15-great-examples-of-historical-landscape-architecture/.

    3.   Lancaster, Clay. 1972. Prospect Park Handbook. 3rd edition. Long Island University Press, New York.

  •  Commission, New York (N.Y.). Landmarks Preservation. 1975. Prospect Park (Excluding the Friends’ Cemetery), Borough of Brooklyn. Number 6. Landmarks Preservation Commission.
  • D Nsemo, Alberta. 2019. “Health Problems Associated With Urbanization And Industrialization.” International Journal of Innovative Research and Advanced Studies.
  • Szreter, S. 2004. “Industrialization and Health.” British Medical Bulletin, no. 1 (December): 75–86. https://doi.org/10.1093/bmb/ldh005.   
  • Hanlon, William Walker. 2017. “A Century of Pollution and Mortality: London, 1866-1965.” SSRN Electronic Journal. https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3048993.
  • Rubin, Lucas G. 2014. “Prospect Park: Olmsted & Vaux’s Brooklyn Masterpiece by David P. Colley.” New York History, no. 4: 656–59. https://doi.org/10.1353/nyh.2014.0009.
  • “Frederick Law Olmsted’s Campaign for Public Health.” n.d. Places Journal. Accessed June 5, 2021. https://placesjournal.org/article/frederick-law-olmsted-and-the-campaign-for-public-health/.
  • Kalmbacher, George, and M. M. Graff. 1968. Tree Trails in Prospect Park. Greensward Foundation.
  • Konijnendijk, Cecil C., Kjell Nilsson, Thomas B. Randrup, and Jasper Schipperijn. 2005. Urban Forests and Trees. Springer Science & Business Media.
  • “Timeline.” n.d. Wayback Machine. Accessed June 5, 2021. https://web.archive.org/web/20140530190154/http://www.prospectpark.org/about-prospect-park/history/timeline.
  • Frumkin H. 2001. “Beyond toxicity: The greening of environmental health.” American Journal of Preventative Medicine.
  • Commissioners, Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.). Park. 1861. First Annual Report of the Commissioners of Prospect Park, Brooklyn.

Reference of figures

1. “Design for Prospect Park as Proposed to Be Laid Out for The City of Brooklyn.: Geographicus Rare Antique Maps. Possibly the First Published Map of Prospect Park.” n.d. Geographicus Rare Antique Maps. Accessed June 6, 2021. https://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/prospectpark-vauxolmstead-1868.

2. James Notman, Boston; engraving of the image later published in Century Magazine – The World’s Work, 1903: https://archive.org/stream/worldswork06gard#page/3938/mode/2up 

3. Lancaster, Clay. 1972. Prospect Park Handbook. 3rd edition. Long Island University Press, New York

4 & 5. “Historic Photos of Prospect Park in Brooklyn | A Slice of Brooklyn.” 2017. A Slice of Brooklyn. April 6, 2017. https://asliceofbrooklyn.com/historic-photos-of-prospect-park-in-brooklyn/.


[1] “Home Page – Prospect Park Alliance.” n.d. Prospect Park. Accessed May 28, 2021. http://www.prospectpark.org.

[2] Network, Land8: Landscape Architects. 2014. “15 Great Examples of Historical Landscape Architecture – Land8.” October 8, 2014. https://land8.com/15-great-examples-of-historical-landscape-architecture/.

[3] Lancaster, Clay. 1972. Prospect Park Handbook. 3rd edition. Long Island University Press, New York.

[4] Commission, New York (N.Y.). Landmarks Preservation. 1975. Prospect Park (Excluding the Friends’ Cemetery), Borough of Brooklyn. Number 6. Landmarks Preservation Commission.

[5]. Szreter, S. 2004. “Industrialization and Health.” British Medical Bulletin, no. 1 (December): 75–86. https://doi.org/10.1093/bmb/ldh005.

[6] . Hanlon, William Walker. 2017. “A Century of Pollution and Mortality: London, 1866-1965.” SSRN Electronic Journal. https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3048993. D Nsemo, Alberta. 2019

[7]. “Health Problems Associated With Urbanization And Industrialization.” International Journal of Innovative Research and Advanced Studies.

[8] . Rubin, Lucas G. 2014. “Prospect Park: Olmsted & Vaux’s Brooklyn Masterpiece by David P. Colley.” New York History, no. 4: 656–59. https://doi.org/10.1353/nyh.2014.0009.

[9] Commission, New York (N.Y.). Landmarks Preservation. 1975. Prospect Park (Excluding the Friends’ Cemetery), Borough of Brooklyn. Number 6. Landmarks Preservation Commission

[10] Hanlon, William Walker. 2017. “A Century of Pollution and Mortality: London, 1866-1965.” SSRN Electronic Journal. https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3048993.

[11] D Nsemo, Alberta. 2019. “Health Problems Associated With Urbanization And Industrialization.” International Journal of Innovative Research and Advanced Studies.

[12] . “Timeline.” n.d. Wayback Machine. Accessed June 5, 2021. https://web.archive.org/web/20140530190154/http://www.prospectpark.org/about-prospect-park/history/timeline.

[13] Frumkin H. 2001. “Beyond toxicity: The greening of environmental health.” American Journal of Preventative Medicine.

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