A Beautiful Network of Parks and Parkways the Most Beautiful and Soothing in the U.S. Worthy of Replication
Louisville''s beauty is greatly enhanced by its extensive networks of parks and gardens with green carpets of grass decorating pathways, hedges, and roadsides reputed to be the most beautiful in the U.S developed when Frederick Olmsted designed a system of public lands that would be free to all forever creating on all contours of the landscape Shawnee Park, a plain of river bottomland; Cherokee Park, where Beargrass Creek wanders among woods and meadows; Iroquois Park, a tall, rugged escarpment offering vantage views of the city; Tyler Park, a jewel which is a spot of solitude in the city bustle and a scenic 7 mile River-Walk stretching from downtown''s 4th Street Wharf westward to Chickasaw park - a path running parallel to the Ohio shore with a variety of views, from the lakes and dam on the shipping channel to quiet, wooded portions with the occasional roaming deer.A serene well-patterned naturally beautiful landscape interlacing an intricate network of similar structures arrested my sight on touching down on Louisville. We drove past buildings all in uniform symmetry in accord with the well-terraced and tended gardens of the meadows in the garden of Eden. The newest dorm, in the University of Louisville, Kurtz Hall, our new residence, smelled fresh fragrant and was inviting. The surrounding well-tended gardens were constantly watered with the hedges and the carpet of greenery trimmed with quiet efficiency.
The harmony with which nature intermingled with architecture all over the campus was stunning. The brown-brick-like box structures with terraced roofing patterns all seem harmoniously blended with the green-carpeted parks surrounding each with adjoining tarred car parks where Squirrels were at large freely frolicking about in this nest of soothing beauty healing and diverting the mind.
A huge variety of some of the biggest and oldest trees in Louisville as well as lush lawns and a family of rare white squirrels are common sights hereas well as in the compact Belknap Campus which is a walker''s paradise with a cardio path around Cardinal Park, as well as huge, shaded sidewalks throughout the serene campus.
The University of Louisville has maintained an aesthetic atmosphere since the 1920s. In 2000, Dr. James R. Ramsey on becoming president of the University together weith his wife strove to transform the campus into a "more attractive, safe and community-oriented environment" for students to live and learn in. New signages became part of the ongoing beautification creating a better student atmosphere as well as a more attractive university. They brought in water sprinkler systems, tree-lined streets, painted Cardinal medallions on street surfaces and painted overpasses making it "a more exciting and prideful campus."
Stansbury Park on Third Street is to be returned back to its original 19th century design made by Fredrick Law Olmsted, the designer of Central Park and most of Louisville''s parks and parkway system.
Olmsted''s concept of a park is contained in the following classic statement he made:
''My notion is that whatever grounds a great city may need for other public purposes, for parades, for athletic sports, for fireworks, for museums of art or science such as botanic gardens, it also needs a large ground scientifically and artistically prepared to provide such a poetic and tranquilizing influence on its people as comes through a pleased contemplation of natural scenery, especially sequestered and limitless natural scenery''
He stressed that while provision for sports for example was important, it should not take over sections of the park at the expense of the majority of park users, and should only be included where it could be accommodated within the park and not permanently take over sections of it.
"The redesign of Stansbury Park, along with plans for more bike pavilions by Cardinal Stadium, increased signage around the campus and downtown" and the further involvements in development efforts in surrounding neighborhoods, according to Ramsey, "are all aimed at making this a more attractive and functional community."
Ramsey, who grew up in the south end neighborhood of Louisville expressed his deep love for the neighborhood and this university and pledged to "making it a better place for future generations."
Such pristine beauty is replicated from downtown to the Churchill Downs area with every home adorned by well tended gardens and lawns studded with flowers of varying attraction. Louisville''s beauty is greatly enhanced by its extensive networks of parks and gardens with green carpets of grass decorating pathways, hedges, and roadsides. It is reputed to have the most beautiful parks in the U.S developed from 1891 when Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed New York''s Central Park as well as parks, parkways, college campuses and public facilities in many U.S. locations was contracted by Louisville''s Board of Parks to design a system of public lands that would be free to all forever.
Olmsted working on this mandate created on all contours of the landscape Shawnee Park, a plain of river bottomland featuring the concourses that afford extensive views and the expansive Great Lawn, Louisville''s spot for large formal gatherings, enclosed with border plantings and a tree-lined circular drive; Cherokee Park one of the most visited parks in the U.S., featuring a 4.2 km mixed-use loop and many well-known landscaping features, where Beargrass Creek wanders among woods and meadows; Iroquois Park, a tall, rugged escarpment offering vantage views of the city; at the heart of which is a 10,000-year-old forest, blanketing the knob''s steep hillsides with a great variety of rare plants and animals and a network of pedestrian paths, bridle trails, and circuit drives and Tyler Park - a jewel of solitude in the city bustle. A scenic 7 mile River-Walk stretches from 4th Street Wharf westward to Chickasaw park, running parallel to the Ohio shore with a variety of views, from the lakes and dam on the shipping channel to quiet, wooded portions where the occasional deer roams. East of River Walk, Linear Park has a playground with attractions for all. The Great Lawn, an outdoor concert and recreation area where one can stroll to the River''s edge lies on approaching the wharf from the playground. The Louisville Waterfront Park prominently located on the banks of the Ohio River East featuring large open areas showcases the waterfront with overlooking walking paths, the Festival Plaza, a water feature with a series of pools and fountains, a children''s playground and a harbor. This area resplendent with yachts and sea and motor bikes with police mini vehicles was agog with millions celebrating as we awaited the jocose display of fireworks which was a veritable medley of colors and sounds flying across each other in the sky in heralding another anniversary of America''s attaining full nationhood, when I was there. Free concerts and other festivals are frequent ocurrences here.
Further out from the downtown area is the Jefferson Memorial Forest which, at 6,057 acres, is the largest municipal urban forest in the United States already designated as a National Audubon Society wildlife refuge offering over 50 kilometres of various hiking trails.
Otter Creek Park, another large park nearby, while actually in Brandenburg, Kentucky is owned and operated by Louisville Metro government. Otter Creek, after which it is named, winds along the eastern side of the park. A scenic bend in the Ohio River, which divides Kentucky from Indiana, can be seen from northern overlooks within the park. The park is also a popular mountain biking destination, with trails maintained.
Other outdoor points of interest include Cave Hill Cemetery, Zachary Taylor National Cemetery, the Louisville Zoo, Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom and the Falls of the Ohio National Wildlife Conservation Area.
At the northwest corner of 7th and Main is a pocket park, studded with historical markers and architectural cues from nearby structures.
Towards Bardstown one of the most famous slave houses Farmington Historic Home stands amidst a verdant lush greenery. The well tended lawns and gardens interlaced by wooden and concrete paved paths and a pool at the far side is part of the slave-holding plantations of the South where hemp and rice were grown as well as wine brewed.
Louisville''s fantastic parks system, owes much to people like Gen. John Breckinridge Castleman who as first parks commissioner, brought Frederick Law Olmsted to Louisville in 1890 to work on its parks design. Castleman also donated land for Cherokee Park--with his statue now standing in Cherokee Triangle in tribute. More recently David Karem, led the popular Waterfront Park''s development, while David Jones Sr., co- founder of Humana Inc, leads an ambitious drive to establish a green-ring around Louisville called "City of Parks." Mary Lou Northern, secretary of Louisville Metro''s Neighborhoods, Parks and Cultural Affairs cabinet-- tells us how"City of Parks" continue to leave its imprint on Louisville in the form of beautiful scenery. (http://louisville.edu/ur/ucomm/mags/spring2006/parks.html)
The preservation of Louisville''s natural environment through expanding parks and forests amidst an urban space improves water and air quality, thus cooling the city and providing a natural habitat for the animal and birds who in turn build up a natural and refreshing atmosphere ideal for leisure.
Park DuValle has been transformed into a series of traditional Louisville neighborhoods linked by a continuous network of streets and parkways. For Louisville''s western neighborhoods were dominated by two crime-ridden public housing projects and a badly deteriorated apartment complex with virtually no existing retail in the neighborhood except small convenience stores.
These parks achieve the hallmarks of Olmsted''s social vision. As the source of healthful inspiration - through mental, physical and social recreation - they provide a respite to the stresses of modern city life, spaces where people can come together to create a stronger community, whilst exhibiting all the classic physical elements of an Olmsted park: graceful topography and alignments; ease and accessibility; balance of uses; expression of native character and use of native materials; separation of traffic modes; and subjugation of built elements to nature.
The Olmsted Parks are a magnificent work of art that must be preserved to continue their enormous contribution to the quality of life in Louisville. The landscapes in and around the parks thus remain a crucial resource for serving the cultural and recreational needs of the public.
Parks need to both restore their value as cultural resources within our communities as well as to enhance their recreational value.
We could learn much from the Americans about historic urban landscape restoration through innovation, best practice and good design in the rehabilitation of Louisville which both respect the original design but also respond to and are relevant to today''s communities. Cities need to realise the assets of their designed (& neglected) landscape legacy and not only restore them, but continue in the tradition of park building to complete the design intention of the 19th century landscape architects for the 21st century cities. When done successfully, with a combination of sensitivity good design and good future stewardship this can achieve both the conservation of built landscape environments, as well as the provision of meaningful, beautiful and robust new landscapes to cater for changing and expanding communities.
In the 1980s, Louisville was another declining industrial town in the Mid West. It was then that Louisville recognised the value in its park network designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and one of only five in the world, as being vital for the city''s ecological health, economic growth and for improving the quality of life for its dwindling number of inhabitants.
The network was designed in 1891, to provide an escape from the industrial city into the healing world of nature. Since World War II, Louisville''s public parks, had been falling into decline, with lack of investment, over-use and natural disaster in the form of tornados taking their toll. This decline caused the inevitable breakdown in the relationship between the community and its landscape. The spiralling cycle of disrepair and subsequent reduction of use became damaging for both the parks and their users, and further neglect followed.
A group of concerned citizens formed the ''Friends of Louisville''s Olmsted Parks'' in the early 1980''s, and prepared a report on park conditions. In the late 80''s Mayor, Jerry Abrahamson set about creating the Louisville Olmsted Parks Conservancy to stop the rot, and turn the parks around in an attempt to make their park system the best of them all. The Conservancy was set up to act as a non profit, sister organisation to the City Parks Department, now known as ''Metro Parks'', to assist in the planning and funding of this massive renewal programme to both preserve and enhance this great work of landscape art. The city''s commitment to this process was the investment of $1million in setting up the Conservancy as a separate but complementary organisation to the City funded parks department. The initial funding not only established the conservancy but paid for a Masterplan to be drawn up for all the 2,000 acres of parks and 15 miles of connecting parkways, to set the stage for the future private investments in the parks improvements.
In 1995 the masterplan document was finalised and a practical plan for making this happen was set out . It pulled together specific projects, management strategies, and new maintenance techniques, all designed to work together to enhance all the parks in the system. Frederick Law Olmsted, in 1891, urged the people of Louisville to ''Adopt an Ideal,.... and to let it guide all planning and actions''; The Conservancy''s masterplan reiterates this ideal and continues to set out the way forward for Louisville''s Olmsted parks.
A system of parkways which would connect the separate parks with each other, and the downtown to them, thereby structuring the growth of the cities. They were to be planted with trees creating a park like feel, and separating the modes of transport used on them
Louisville''s park system is composed with three distinctly different landscape types.Louisville''s natural landscape and scenery were the starting point for Olmsted''s design. He took the distinctly different terrains and landscape characters of the three sites to create Shawnee, Cherokee and Iroquois Parks. These were to be the three principal parks and their uses and designs were planned to be compatible with the scenic experiences they could provide.
Shawnee was situated adjacent to the Ohio River and took advantage of its river views both in their own right and as a backdrop for the concert stage. It provided access to the river for boating and bathing, and the rest of the park was created as a large open area of rolling meadow interspersed with shade trees, which could be used as a major site for recreations and sport. Thus he provided the recreational elements which Olmsted knew to be necessary in city landscapes, but always wanted to prevent from interrupting his composed ''natural'' scenes which could be designed in his other parks.
Cherokee Park was almost exclusively dedicated to the enjoyment of scenery, and designed to exploit the setting of its location in the stream valley, and contained less provision for formal activities than any other he had designed.
The third major park was Iroquois. Sited on a steep hill, It had originally been known as the ''''Burnt Knob'' due to the original savannah vegetation which was managed by a cycle of burning and regeneration by the native American Indians. Its steep terrain was deeply forested.
Arthur E Smith is Senior Lecturer of English at Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone. His articles, stories and essays have appeared in many venues. He was born and grew up in Freetown, Sierra Leone. He holds a Masters in African Literature from Fourah Bay College. He has taught English at Prince of Wales, Milton Margai College of Education & Technology. Mr. Smith is widely published both locally as well as internationally. He was one of 17 international scholars who participated in a seminar on contemporary American Literature sponsored by the U.S. State Department in 2006. His thoughts and reflections on this trip could be read at www.lisnews.org and ezinearticles.com His other publications include: Folktales From Freetown, Langston Hughes: Life and Works Celebrating Black Dignity, and ''The Struggle of the Book in Sierra Leone''