Timeliness and relevance of the park systems of F. L. Olmsted
If the American park systems of the 19th Century have served at times to structure the growth of cities, then their typology, being transferred to the outskirts, could constitute a structure and limit to contemporary urban sprawl. The vestiges of this geography, abandoned sites of infrastructure and industry, are the potential places for this urban recovery.
(Re)consideration of the hierarchy between historical traces and geographical ensembles.
An aesthetic of the trace has developed. And with it, the risk of a new formalism, the danger that a kind of recipe will replace projects themselves. The power of F. L. Olmsted's park systems, intensifying the slight geographies of Boston or Minneapolis, persuades me into reconsidering the hierarchy between trace and geography.
The students of Harvard's Graduate School of Design (GSD) and I worked on the neglected urban areas of Boston. We mapped out which spaces had been abandoned, left without function and yet to be reallocated one. We estimated that they made up around thirty percent of the overall territory. They are the sites where industry undergoes significant change, sites located primarily alongside major systems of infrastructure. With the absence of any public will, they remain abandoned for twenty, thirty years. Simplifying to the extreme, there exists a sort of peri-urban fallow, constituting a third of all surface area, remaining for twenty years before shifting elsewhere. In order to act upon the territory without waiting, we monitored it collectively and developed pragmatic hypotheses, practically without means, with an approach similar to our approach to Greenwich. Instead of trying to organize and structure the voids by superimposing a compositional order upon them, our projects conceived of new geographies created through modest means: restoring fertility to the ground by decontaminating it on site and diverting storm water to it, while setting in place a long term method of management. Before substantial projects begin to take shape on such sites, it is at least possible to take advantage of their vacancy, letting a kind of nature establish itself in the city. An intermediate nature which has the potential to redraw geography. The students envisioned a variety of developments for these neglected terrains, putting ecology to use pragmatically, that is, In a manner neither ideological or romantic but utilitarian, American, a sort of small urban agriculture.