I just received news from Fulbright U.S. Student Program that I have been recommended as a semifinalist for a Fulbright Scholarship to Norway. If accepted, I will be carrying out an independent project affiliated with a research lab at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (Norges miljø- og biovitenskapelige universitet). I am incredibly excited to even be considered and would undoubtedly be beside myself if I received the award. At this point, being a semifinalist means that the national screening committee for the Fulbright program considers my proposal viable and respectable, and has recommended that it be in the runnings as a local committee in Norway narrows down award recipients according to this cycle’s needs. It is essentially a 50/50 shot. We will hear back most likely in the beginning of March. Fingers crossed…
In 1995, a section was added to Chapter 4 of the Swedish Environmental Code. It read, “The Ulriksdal–Haga–Brunnsviken–Djurgården area is a national urban park (NUP) [called Nationalstadspark in Swedish and Stockholm Royal National City Park in English]. New development, new buildings and other measures shall only be permissible in national urban parks if they can be undertaken without encroaching on park landscapes or the natural environment and without detriment to any other natural and cultural assets of the historical landscape.” Despite its brevity, this passage represents the culmination of years of studies, coordination, and advocacy by more than 60 social movement and environmental organizations to establish Sweden’s (and the world’s) first National City Park in Stockholm.
For many Stockholmers, Nationalstadspark represents their banner of green urbanity to the world; the 27 sq km of mixed woodland that surround the city center support biodiverse habitats, provide a range of ecosystem services, and are within reasonable distance of every segment of the population. In this research inquiry, I hope to provide a meaningful summary of the history of Nationalstadspark, explain how it fits into the context of Stockholm parks, and explore whether its model is one that can be replicated in urban settings of comparable size or population.
Nationalstadspark spans over 6,671 acres (2,700 hectares) through three municipalities (Stockholm, Solna, and Lidingö). Beginning in Southern Djurgården it runs via Northern Djurgården, Haga, and Brunnsviken to Ulriksdal and Sörentorp in the north, forming a nearly uninterrupted green corridor that envelopes Stockholm’s central city. The system is defined by broad-leaved and mixed forests and an open grass-dominated landscape. The topography is laced with glacial remains such as eskers, precipice, faults, and ice-grounded rocks. The park also takes in several islands of the Stockholm Archipelago, Fjäderholmarna and Skeppsholmen being two of the most prominent.
HISTORY OF THE PARK
In geologic terms, the area that now comprises Nationalstadspark is quite young; an Ice Age in northern Europe compressed the land to such an extent that most of Stockholm’s landscape did not even appear until the ice had receded and post-glacial rebound had its turn to shape the archipelago. Human settlers are believed to have started putting down roots in the park area between the end of the Neolithic Period and the start of the Bronze Age (2300-1800 BC), when the territory had finally become inhabitable. Elmqvist et. al. describe this uplift as a dynamic process that is ongoing, saying “when humans first colonized this area…most of the land was still submerged under water and only the highest peaks were exposed and used for settlements by hunters and fishermen. Land uplift processes have raised land continuously and have provided human settlers with increasing access to fertile fine-sediment soils suitable for agriculture and cattle herding.” They also point out the anthropogenic factors in the evolution of the landscape, positing that, “humans have likely had a continuous strong impact on the area shaping the landscape and biodiversity during several thousands of years.”
The southern part of Djurgården is possibly the best recorded example of this human impact on biodiversity. The site became royal property in 1452 and then a royal hunting park in 1680, after which a royal land management agency (KDF) was established to oversee the forest and hunting grounds. The KDF still runs today, and it manages the larger part of the NUP. With a steady government hand in the maintenance of the forest, deliberate favoring of certain habitats began to determine much of the ecological evolution of the site. As Elmqvist et. al. sum it up, the royal management “favored stands of broad-leaved trees and particularly oak,” an action intended to provide to most desirable foraging for deer. This has led to a “relatively low nutritional status in the soil as a result of a long period of grazing,“ and has “resulted in meadows with very high plant species richness.” Apart from the Djurgården area, most of the parcels within the NUP have changed hands throughout the years, which has subsequently caused the general land uses to vary widely; anything from church gardens to pastures to industrial areas and railroad corridors can be found mentioned or depicted in historical documents.
The official designation of Nationalstadspark in 1995 was preceded by more than a century of staggering population growth in Stockholm, rapid industrialization in the country, and exploitation of the land for housing and other affairs, which has led to a sizable loss in biodiversity. According to Elmqvist and company, “industrialization had a large impact on the area through the construction of new railways, a gas plant, and a harbor, which meant that “unexploited parts of the areas were continually diminishing, and, in 1963, 50% of the green parts from 1913 had disappeared in Djurgården, and core areas for biodiversity have decreased with 13% since 1947.” This exploitation pressure increased through the end of the 20th century, with plans to build on the valuable land near the city center.
DESIGNATION AS A NATIONAL URBAN PARK
This lengthy period of diminished land quality did not go unnoticed. The royalty, parliament, stakeholders and residents were all cognizant of the NUP area’s importance. So much so that there were several proposals in the Swedish Parliament to protect the area (1809, 1913, and 1959) in reaction to development pressures before measures were finally taken in 1995. Speculations as to why the process took so long vary, but there is a general consensus that exploitations up until then were too incremental and relatively small in scale relative to the area to need legislative protection, and that a tipping point only came when the development proposal was large enough to fragment the forest. The World Wildlife Fund asserts that even though user groups have been a major part of the success of the green networks—with more than 60 social movement organizations (SMOs) regularly using the area—the popularity in itself was insufficient for protection. In their words, “crisis was probably a necessary factor in organizing these diverse groups into an alliance: the crisis of extensive plans to transform land in the area. A movement to create a national city park came together based on the existing social infrastructure of Stockholm's already active alliances against similar development projects, e.g. new highways.”
STOCKHOLM’S GREEN WEDGES AND A PARADIGM SHIFT
Apart from the avid activism of environmentalists and regular park users, the greater city of Stockholm, and really the entire country, was also in an introspective moment regarding its development patterns, making the governments more naturally inclined to push for protective legislation. Isling points out, however, that this can be a strategic struggle when trying to ensure accessible and qualitative green space:
“An intrinsic conflict in all park and city planning politics deals with the fact that there is a lack of land when town planning takes place. If parks use too much space, the town will be too sparsely built, leading to insufficient resources for the parks to be beautiful, sustainable and useful in such a sparse urban environment. There is even a specific term for what it can mean to some people to walk in excessively large and empty city squares: agoraphobia. Conversely, if space devoted to parks is too small, the town has a poor living environment. Thus, when conceiving a well-thought-out town plan, a reasonable amount of land for parks and city squares must be set aside in each part of the city”
Stockholm has risen to the challenge of finding this balance—even as the population is still rapidly growing and the city densifying—pioneering their own pattern of parkland designation in the form of green space zones. Isling states that “over recent years, the city has grown inwards and the concept of the 'city' has experienced a renaissance. This has meant that smaller amounts of parkland have been set aside in the new city districts. On the other hand, they have at best a better quality, and the choices of both material and design have been made with more thought. This idea of compensating quantity for quality is justified since many people in a limited area place great strain on the resources available from the land and its vegetation.” These well-defined parks and surrounding green areas are bound together in zones, or green wedges as they are called locally (see Figure 2).
THE IMPORTANCE OF DISPERSAL IN LARGE PARKS
Not only does this system of wedges resemble a significant accomplishment in providing widely dispersed and accessible green spaces, it also plays a vital role in preserving habitat within Nationalstadspark. According to the reviews and studies done by Elmqvist et. al., “there is no other area in Sweden of the same size [as the NUP], where similar high species richness has been described. There are more than 1,000 species of butterflies alone recorded from the area and more than 1,200 species of beetles and 250 species of birds.” They continue, describing the importance of oak dominated woodlands, which have produced a “unique set of niches for flora and fauna dependent on hollow trees hosting up to 1,500 other species of fungi, lichens, insects, birds, and bats.” The park also hosts more than 60 red-listed insect species, 32 red-listed species of fungi, and more than 20 species of red-listed vascular plants, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and fish.
These are impressive indicators, and they certainly give substantial support to the argument for preserving large open spaces in urban areas. Czerniak et. al. would welcome such data into the mix of their essays in Large Parks, where they posit that any park larger than 500 acres “allows for dramatic exposure to the elements, to weather, geology, open horizons, and thick vegetation,” and that their “large, contiguous, non-fragmented yet differentiated area is fundamental to their ecological performance, and aspects of wildness are inescapable.” However, the Elmqvist study cites some very important qualifications to the idea that the size of a large ‘urban wild’ determines its ecological success. It concludes that while the size of the NUP has been an important driver to its richness of habitat, there has still been a loss of biodiversity over the years, such as the disappearance of certain gastropods, common species of amphibians and reptiles, and some important bird species. Much of the recent disappearances of hollow tree dependent organisms is due to the decline of oak forests caused by epidemic oak disease that has spread across Europe over the past few decades. Such a decline will spell bad news for the NUP area if the oaks do not recover, and their natural regeneration rates are often low per heavy predation on acorns and seedlings coupled with naturally slow growth rates. The authors also point out that “natural regeneration of oak is dependent on animal dispersal,” which is an issue that transcends the boundaries of the park. This means that the park must not only remain non-fragmented within itself but have strong connections to the greater green wedge system of Stockholm County (see Figure 2) if it is to continue thriving and providing its essential ecosystem services—a goal that can only be accomplished, at least in any meaningful way, through intergovernmental coordination.
REGIONAL COORDINATION IN LAND MANAGEMENT
If the model of a national city park is to be emulated, it is essential to draw lessons in regional land management, both good and bad, from Nationalstadspark. The good is most certainly the unprecedented amount of public participation and intergovernmental coordination that went into creating the NUP concept. Without the cooperation of multiple stakeholders, municipalities, regional, and finally national and international governments, the success of the NUP designation would not be possible, especially given the opposition and clout of the three expansive exploitation projects that brought on the “crisis” of open space in the first place.
Despite the success of the coordination leading to Nationalstadspark’s designation, there still remain examples of what to avoid in ongoing management practice. A study by Peter Clark showed that “during the nine years that have passed since the National Urban Park Act was established there have been positive actions by the municipalities, such as the developmental work in the field of biodiversity, but the net effect of implementation has been limited…studies of the impact point to the fact that the preservation of the NUP was not a priority for those municipal bodies in charge of planning.” Such facts highlight the need to ensure that regional coordination between municipalities is clearly laid out from the onset of an NUP management plan, something that was largely seen as missing in Nationalstadspark’s plan.
Envisioning a world dotted with national city parks that mitigate climate change while providing essential ecosystem services to urbanites is both encouraging and actionable. Given the well observed data about Nationalstadspark and other NUPs following suit, I feel confident in concluding that there are at least a few conditions under which the model can thrive no matter its location or size. If NUP candidates show signs of a consistent engagement with the area by residents and stakeholders, clear evidence of connectivity between the site and significant ecological dispersal points, and have undertaken an ongoing intergovernmental management strategy with clearly defined roles on the part of municipalities, there is potential to establish functional, beautiful, and perseverant urban wilderness.
 The Swedish Environmental Code, Ministry of the Environment and Energy, 25.
 Elmqvist, Thomas et. al. "The Dynamics of Social-Ecological Systems in Urban Landscapes: Stockholm and the National Urban Park, Sweden." Annals of The New York Academy of Sciences 1023, no. 1: 308-322. Wildlife & Ecology Studies Worldwide, 2004, 312.
 “The Oldest Landscape,” The Park History, Nationalstadspark.
 Elmqvist, 312.
 Ibid. 312-313
 Thomas, Aaron, “World’s first national city park,” World Wildlife Fund, March 2012.
 Isling, Bengt, "A Typology for the Parks of Stockholm," Garden History 32, no. 2 (2004): 251.
 Elmqvist, 314-15.
 Czerniak, Julia, George Hargreaves, and John Beardsley, Large Parks. n.p.: New York: Princeton Architectural Press; Cambridge, Mass: In association with the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, 2007. Louisiana State University, 11.
 Elmqvist, 314.
 Elmqvist, 315.
 “The Park”.
 Clark, Peter, The European city and green space: London, Stockholm, Helsinki and St. Petersburg, 1850-2000. n.p.: Aldershot, England; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2006. Louisiana State University, 170.
Can a landscape architect go through the motions of their practice without knowing what it means to practice? Can they make a significant impact—either positive or negative—on the places they design without understanding what that impact is. Can they take on the role of John Searle in his proverbial Chinese Thought Experiment and simulate the language of design without truly knowing the language of design? For the authors of the book Values in Landscape Architecture and Environmental Design: Finding Center in Theory and Practice, not only is the answer to these questions a resounding YES!, it is one which concerns them deeply and should be discussed by design practitioners and academics alike as they face coming years of economic, environmental, and professional uncertainty. As a landscape architecture student and hopeful emerging professional, I found the book to be both insightful and provocative; to me, it acts as a much-needed catalyst for new conversations about the nature of environmental design.
While Values seems to be the type of book one can read repeatedly and most likely draw varying conclusions each time through, there are at least two things I believe will ring true no matter when or how I read it: the need for landscape architects—and other design practitioners, or even people in general—to establish a core set of values that guide their practice and the need for them to compare, contrast, and reconcile those values in the intellectual commons.
Everyone has a belief system whether or not we profess one, and that belief system informs (both consciously and subconsciously) what we choose to value in life, as well as the subsequent actions that reflect those values. For those whose job it is to shape the land and build structures in it, such reflections are often tangible—a structural siting that attempted to disturb the land as little as possible, implementing recycled materials for sustainability’s sake, placement of iconography that points to religious devotion, or the use of ornamental plants to see the garden as a painting. On the surface, most landscape architects seem to know this—in fact, they have a certification exam that requires them to. However, the Values writers posit that despite the ability to regurgitate the objectively true BMPs of sustainability or point out the clear width of an ADA accessible ramp, there are many practitioners that go about casually shaping the land without understanding the socio-cultural, economic, or even environmental implications of their actions. Their land projects engender or perpetuate certain assertions, possibly without them noticing.
The editor of the book, M. Elen Deming, believes this is often due to a lack of critical thinking about the landscape. To her, designers miss the mark if they do not recognize that “both the ordinary and designed landscapes hide the values of their makers in plain sight,” and that, “through interpretation, aspects of landscape form can be transmuted back into the social values that guided their construction, thus illuminating the context of past and present societies and perhaps anticipating future landscapes.” She then divulges the central goal of the book, which is “to awaken for readers a broad capacity for landscape literacy and to suggest how that capacity might be exercised in their lives personally, professionally, and politically.” In other words, she hopes to help readers understand that landscape architectural practice is inevitably laden with values, and that its agents should take the time to identify what those values are and which ones they adhere to.
After a design practitioner identifies their values, it is imperative to put their validity and compatibility to the test in interactions with stakeholders, other designers, policymakers, and clients. As many of the authors attest throughout the book, this is easier said than done. Much of the path to equitable reconciliation of environmental values is riddled with divergent viewpoints of the meaning of a memorial (as London and Holland point out in their essays) or heated conflicts of interest in public space design (Sinha and Kant’s observations about political monuments in India), and should therefore be treaded lightly. As Kathryn Moore astutely observes in her essay, “the challenge of negotiating the territory between the subjective and objective is to work without holding real, unchanging truth to be the ultimate end point of inquiry while, at the same time, to avoid being sucked into the argument that the only alternative to objectivity is to believe everything is relative and dependent on a point of view.” To successfully do so is a tall order, but not an impossible one, and fulfilling it will bring about a bright future in the profession.
I am completely sold on what Values in Landscape Architecture stands for, and support Deming in the notion that “the most important thing that all of us can do is to help make personal landscape values publicly visible, especially in the context of shared decision-making about the world’s resources. If our own values remain opaque to us, then at best we can only serve as instruments of an invisible agenda.” To any potential readers, I say this book is a must for anyone who wants to be engaged in civil discourse about our common places, landscape architect or not.
Large Parks is an exemplary discussion piece of contemporary thought in landscape architecture. Its essays are the culmination of a conference, exhibition, and several colloquia held at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design in 2003. The authors mention the initial conference, saying, “the topics of the city, ecology, process and place, the public, and site history were used to frame and launch a discussion about the impact and significance of size relative to the planning, design, and management of parks, past and future” (Hargreaves 7). These were timely topics in 2003 and they continue to be (if not more so) 14 years later. In an age where the transition from industrial to service economies has left many abandoned sites, and where shifts in environmental values have led more people back to dense urban living, the authors posit that urban parklands can be the key to a more sustainable and equitable society.
Where it Excels
Large Parks introduces new ideas and bold innovations for designers to think about in their process. The authors are clearly well coordinated in their content choice. From Lister’s viewing of parks through an ecological lens to Pollak’s ruminations on matrices and constructing identity to Czerniak’s commentary on legibility and resiliency, each chapter presents a uniquely provocative view of the contemporary park while at the same time fitting soundly into the collective framework. To the prospective reader who is pressed for time, George Hargreaves’ essay on the concept of Large Parks, Anita Berrizbeitia’s essay on rethinking process in designing large parks, and John Beardsley’s essay on the increasingly contested definitions of public and private open space are of particular importance—at least in my opinion.
Hargreaves’ essay Large Parks: A Designer’s Perspective rightly deserves the role as the book’s eponym. It expounds on some of the case studies from GSD students and aptly captures the essence of the original conference and exhibition, putting forth a sort of central thesis for the work, claiming that the “large park—in this case, one greater than 500 acres—affords the scale to realistically evaluate the degrees of success or failure of many of the issues embedded in public landscapes: ecology, habitat, human use and agency, cultural meaning, and iconographic import, to name a few” (Hargreaves 121).
Where it Falls Short
The complaints I have against Large Parks, while minor, are significant. The foremost of these is that the essays as a whole make ambitious claims about large parks—claims which I largely agree with and which are important to discuss in the current design moment—yet offer a relatively small and rather theoretical sample size of precedent studies to support those claims. Throughout the entire book, there were perhaps no more than 10 parks discussed with any significant depth, and the majority of those were quintessentially western in their scope. If an essay was not discussing aspects of the Fresh Kills or Downsview Park design competition pieces, it was certainly engulfed in a dissection of Duisburg-Nord or Bois de Boulogne. This is surely not a bad thing—such parks are fabulous precedents to look at and there is good reason for them to be the main focus of discussion—but if such is done under the guise of a far-reaching, seminal work in landscape architectural thought the title becomes rather misleading. In a more globally aware design culture, I am surprised there was not even one essay that discussed the meaning of large parks in less “visible” areas of the world. Perhaps the authors should consider adding subtext in the title of a later edition that helps the reader to understand that the essays come from a parochial set of case studies taking place in a very particular setting (the GSD).
On the subject of Fresh Kills and Downsview, the authors seem to be infatuated with the entries from James Corner. Field Operations’ solutions for the competitions were mentioned in all but two chapters, and I do not remember reading even a sentence of criticism directed towards them, leading me to identify a suppressed mantra for the book: “ALL HAIL, JAMES CORNER FIELD OPERATIONS.”
Finally, the design of the book is both ironically and disappointingly small. There was a missed opportunity to layout the pages at a scale that would let the imagery support the content with power and allure. Instead, we are left with small images and even smaller captions that clearly look nice but are often a burden to interpret. Tisk tisk.
If It Had Been Written Today
There are also some essay topics I believe would be added to the collection had it been compiled today, such as large parks and terrorism, large parks and climate change adaptation, large parks in the age of smart cities, or designing large parks across disciplines. I also believe this is a book that has potential for updates or additions every decade or so. Food for thought.
To any prospective reader, I say Large Parks is timely and worth the read. If you go into it with an open mind, as well as being aware and accepting of its faults, I promise a thought-provoking read. Three stars.
What do a citywide slum-clearing project, the renovation of an old Aztec retreat, and a swath of speculated park land in the middle of burgeoning New York City have in common? According to Heath Massey Schenker, a great deal. So much, in fact, that she saw it fit to dedicate an entire book to teasing out their commonalities as representative of a greater trend in urban park design during the 19th century. Melodramatic Landscapes is a concise yet broad, thorough yet digestible survey of public green spaces in Paris, Mexico City, and New York City; a sort of non-fiction novella guaranteed to entertain the academically minded who may never have thought about connections between parks, people, and politics. To me, it is a quintessential seminar piece for book club discussions, graduate school courses, or intellectual café conversation.
From the very beginning, the author is clear and focused in her goals, which are “to explain why these parks were so widespread and so similar around the world; to explore the cultural meanings embodied in the generic park landscape, as well as some of the differences that distinguished one park from another; to analyze the goals and ambitions of park designers; and, particularly, to describe how audiences received these parks in different locations.” Here is how I think she did in accomplishing them:
“To explain why these parks were so widespread and so similar around the world…”
The author’s explanation for the near ubiquity of parks like Central Park, Chapultepec, and Bois de Boulogne is essentially 1) that politicians and rulers wanted monumental projects to be carried out in their name, 2) people of all classes wanted parks, thus instituting them became a perfect way to appease the public while undertaking goal 1, and 3) that because France and England were making these iconic parks, everyone else must have wanted to do so as well. Regarding the points posited about rulers and subject appeasement, I think Massey Schenker is spot on. Such trends are undeniable when one looks across the political spectrum in just about any nation at the time. Concerning, the France and England argument, the explanation holds up if analysis stays in the realm of Western culture or the colonized New World, but might leave something significant to be desired if applied to the East or places that largely shunned the French and English trendiness.
“To explore the cultural meanings embodied in the generic park landscape, as well as some of the differences that distinguished one park from another…”
From the classical references of Parisian parks to the follies of Central Park to the multi-layered palimpsest of Chapultepec to the borrowings of the picturesque style across all of the parks in question, the author highlights, compares, contrasts, and synthesizes the information soundly and in a way that engages the reader without data dumping.
“To analyze the goals and ambitions of park designers…”
Taken at face value, a true fanatic of design history would conclude that the author is missing substantial details behind the design process for each of the parks. Though, I bias this way as well—it would have been delightful to see something like a comparative analysis of Haussmann’s, Olmsted’s, and Diaz’s journal entries—it is also important to understand that the author is not trying to hone in specifically on the park designers but rather see their ambitions in the greater context of politics, artistic movements, and social changes. In that respect, the author delivers just enough information for understanding without distracting from the goal at hand.
“To describe how audiences received these parks in different locations…”
The author generates a beautiful discussion about how each park is animated in the sense of being a melodramatic landscape—the idea of melodrama largely culminating in the Central Park chapter—where social reform, showing class or race distinction, being seen for the sake of being seen, or arousing the senses are all taking place on the grand stage of green space. Again, I would say this goal is realized in the general sense but is probably missing some extra analysis of how the parks matured socially; the Chapultepec chapter in particular has a striking exclusion of how the park was received in the years following the Porfiriato, some of the most important in Mexico’s modern history, especially in the arts. I understand that this was largely a look at parks in the 19th century, but in order to best describe how audiences received Chapultepec, to at least include some details from the decade following the Mexican Revolution is merited.
For the most part, I believe Massey Schenker accomplished what she set out to do and that she did so gracefully. Her goals were fulfilled, especially as a collective whole; exceptions ensue only when each goal is dissected individually and the complaints are rather minor in the scope of the book. As she herself states, “this book cannot claim to be a comprehensive history of urban parks in the nineteenth century.” My final rating: four stars.