Chain of Lakes v. The Emerald Necklace

I'm finally done with my semester's toil, and thought I'd share with you the project I was just working on. The assignment was to compare, in some way, the 19th c. park systems in Minneapolis and Boston: the so-called 'chain of lakes' and the so-called 'emerald necklace'. Which chain is stronger? Which looks more beautiful draped around your neck? Which is forged from the most precious material?

Well, I was lucky enough to be in Boston over Spring Break, back in March, and I walked with my sister through the stretch of the Emerald Necklace from Brookline Village down to Jamaica Pond and over to Franklin Park. It was a nice day, though it snowed two days later, and I had an interesting experience.

This first picture was my first impression of the Riverwalk, what the Bostonians I know call the park along the Muddy River. As you can see, except for the March weather and lack of greenery, it look a lot like the Minnehaha Creek park in Minneapolis... wide open spaces through which runs a paved pedestrian path, replete with benches, receptacles, geese, and yuppie dogwalkers. The 'river', which at this point was split up into many small rivulets which formed something F.L. Olmsted (the park's designer) called Leverett Pond, was small and trickly, and struck a pleasant appearance on the eye.

So far, so good... the problem arose when I came to a bridge, which you can see in this second picture.

I walked over the bridge, as one does with bridges, and found myself amidst a completely different landscape, allatonce like...

Here I was wandering, kind of lost, down a muddy path through the woods that seemed to stray back and forth without any clear purpose or direction. It wasn't bad, but it was muddy, my shoes were getting dirty, and I wasn't sure that I was enjoying the new landscape. My sister and I wandered around in the forest for a spell, kind of tromping through weeds and swamps, sticks and leaves, over bogs and mud puddles until we glimpsed it, through the trees... the other side of the creek!

Finally, we'd found a bridge across the river and could join the civilized, park-going masses. Finally we could stroll peacfully down the gauntlet of geese, making our way at good pace towards Jamaica Pond, our distant destination. But I'd learned something on my brief foray into the woods... I'd learned that I don't like muddy leafless urban forests in March. And I'd learned that Boston's Emerald Necklace was weird.

In a way, the landscape reminded me of Chicago's Woody Island, another project that Olmsted had his hand in, or certain parts of Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis. Walking aroundthese places, or along the wrong side of the Riverwalk, its easy to feel intimidated by your surroundings. After all, you're in a large city, and some sort of creepy stalker could jump out at you from behind any bush. (I have seen weird people in the woods, you know. (Hell, I've probably been one of them.)) It's an interesting feeling, and it made me wonder what was going on with Olmsted's Bostonian park.

Compare the experience with my recent trip through Minneapolis's Minnehaha Creek park, where everything is green and sunny, the birds sing in the trees, lil' children frolic in the grass and men sing love songs as they bike, alone, wearing a helmet, down the creek-side path. (Seriously, this happened.)

At the very least, even if its not Sesame Street, the Minnehaha Creek park has a far more uniform presentability. Here's a snapshot of the well groomed pedestrian path running along the creek.

... and here's another one, of a god-damned Edenic bench placed where the creek runs into Lake Nokomis.

Finally, here's a vista view of the park running lenghtwise, from somewhere around 21st Avenue S. You have to admit it looks nice, and even if you imagine Boston's Muddy River in the summer greenery, it would still be kinda crappy looking compared to this.

Now my question for you, good readers, is this:

Why the big difference between the two parks? They were both made at around the same time (1880-1895), they were both designed by famous Victorian landscape architects (Fredereick Olmsted for Boston, Horace Cleveland for Minneapolis), and they both run along creeks through relatively wealthy, but urban, areas. What could possibly explain why one park is so different from the other?

(Any guesses? Answer will come soon!)

1 comment:

Stephen Gross said...

Fascinating entry... I have not yet been to the Creek's park, but it sounds great. Looking forward to reading more...