Tuesday, April 3, 2018

What Is a Park For?
Olmsted, Obama, and the Meanings of Urban Landscape

Carlo Rotella
Director of the American Studies Program, Boston College


In 2017 Barack Obama announced that he would build his presidential library in Chicago’s Jackson Park, one of most important big-city parks designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. Despite widespread admiration for the Obamas and hopes that the library will give the area a much-needed economic boost, this plan has raised concerns about drastically transforming such a vital piece of the nation’s system of urban public green spaces. The resulting debate takes up fundamental questions about the meaning of urban landscape: How do we balance a park’s various purposes? What is the relationship between the park and the surrounding neighborhoods? What–and who–is a park for? Finding answers requires digging not only into the archives that hold records of the South Side’s spatial and social histories but also into the imaginations of South Siders whose identities have been shaped by the enormous green fact of Jackson Park.

Rotella-4.3.18 Carlo Rotella is Director of the American Studies Program at Boston College. His books, on subjects ranging from city life to blues to boxing, include Playing in Time, Cut Time, Good With Their Hands, and October Cities. He writes for the New York Times Magazine, he has been a regular columnist for the Boston Globe and commentator on WGBH, and his work has also appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, and The Best American Essays. He is at work on a book about South Shore, a neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago.

Image credit: Former President Barack Obama speaks at a community event on the Presidential Center at the South Shore Cultural Center in Chicago on May 3, 2017. (Nam Y. Huh / AP)

Thank you to Wheelock College for their generosity in hosting our lectures.

December 2018: Saving Central Park: A History and A Memoir
Elizabeth Barlow Rogers

April 2018:
What Is a Park For? Olmsted, Obama, and the Meanings of Urban Landscape

Carlo Rotella
December 2017:
Beyond Drawings: The Olmsted Archives as Muse and Vision

Lucinda Brockway

March 2017:
Lewis Mumford’s Green Urbanism

Aaron Sachs
December 2016:
From the Granite Garden to West Philadelphia (with a nod to the Fens): Restoring Nature & Communities

Anne Whiston Spirn

April 2016:
Parks: Cornerstone of Civic Revitalization

Rolf Diamant
December 2015:
The “Fairsted School”: An Enduring Legacy

Ethan Carr

March 2015:

Gary Hilderbrand

December 2014:
Dwelling in Landscape

Daniel Bluestone

March 2014:
The Shaping of Regions: The New York Regional Plan and the Origins of Planning in America

Robert Yaro

November 2013:
From Buffalo to Boston: Olmsted’s Evolving Vision of Urban Park Systems

Francis R. Kowsky