Olmsted Scholar Feature: Landscape Architecture Accessibility and Communication
By Lucy Wang, 2012 University Olmsted Scholar
Frederick Law Olmsted is famous for many things — his title as “Father of Landscape Architecture,” his park designs, his belief in the social utility of natural scenery — but he was also a huge advocate of ensuring that parks remain accessible to everyone in the States, rather than a select, wealthy few as had been the case in Great Britain.
So, it is in part thanks to Olmsted that many urban parks remain in the downtown public realm, accessible by foot and public transportation. Visit your city’s local public park, and chances are there’ll be a wide cross-section of the urban population. Public access, however, is only part of the equation in determining the accessibility of landscapes.
How do people first become aware of the green spaces around them?
Media coverage from newspaper outlets and cable news do a huge service in promoting new parkland, however, what’s most interesting to me is what social media can do for promoting the awareness of green space, and ultimately, lead to a better public understanding of landscape architecture.
A shining example of this can be found on Yelp, a site where anyone can be a published critic. And though it’s mostly known for restaurant reviews, I’ve used Yelp many times to discover nearby parks. It’s refreshing to hear about what works and doesn’t work by someone who actually passes by or uses the park every day. Other social media, such as blogging on Tumblr and tagged photographs on Facebook also help unearth the “hidden gem” parklets and urban gardens. Grassroots initiatives like the open-source “guerilla wayfinding” project in Raleigh, NC can also reconnect communities with their surroundings.
Using a variety of communicative mediums to spread the knowledge of green space not only leads to a greater discussion and awareness of the history and uses of landscapes but can also instill a sense of land stewardship and responsibility. Proper signage, media coverage, reviews and blogging are ways to engage a general audience. A greater interest in public space and parks will also lead to a greater understanding of and appreciation for landscape architecture.
Enamored by travel and the accessibility of information on the Internet, I’ve started on a project to increase awareness of landscape architecture. In late August, I embarked on an eight-month trip across North America on bus and train to look at landscape architecture that is accessible by foot or public transit.
Using a website (www.landscapevoice.com) and social media platforms, I hope to showcase landscape architecture sites, firms, and university programs I visit along the way. I’ll use word of mouth, social media, and online databases such as The Cultural Landscape Foundation’s What’s Out Thereto help track down which sites to visit.
I’ve chosen North America (not including Mexico) partly because compared to Europe and Asia, there seems to be less coverage of its designed landscapes. It’s my hope that people who visit or live in the cities I travel to can then use the site as a resource to discover green spaces in their urban backyards.
Lucy Wang is a recent graduate of the University of Maryland’s BLA program. Having just finished a 7-month internship with EDSA, she is embarking on a self-funded, 8-month journey around the U.S. and parts of Canada to study landscape architecture, sustainability, and public transit systems. You can follow her on her Landscape Voice website, her informal tumblr page, or send her an email at landscapevoice [at] gmail.com.