As a longtime preservation activist, I have special empathy for those who advocate for landscape preservation. It’s hard enough to keep historic buildings going, but landscapes are a special challenge. Sure, buildings suffer from the elements and human neglect just as landscapes do, but buildings are tougher, especially those put up hundreds of years ago by craftspeople who used materials and techniques that contemporary developers could never afford and wouldn’t be interested in anyway.
This isn’t true with fragile landscapes that depend much more on regular human attention and can be nearly obliterated by a couple years worth (or less) of neglect. By comparison, there are historic theaters throughout New York state that have withstood decades of ill treatment, only to bounce back with the help of a well-funded rehab.
This is why I find the work of the Cultural Landscape Foundation so compelling.
Established in 1988, the CLF, among other work, maintains a Landslide program, which “draws immediate and lasting attention to threatened landscapes and landscape features.”
I recently wrote about Crowninshield, a long-neglected property in Wilmington, Delaware, which is on the CLF’s radar, though maybe too far gone for the Landslide list..
But here’s a public park that did just make the list as “at risk” this month: Thomas Polk Park, which is located in Charlotte, NC.
The park is designed by Angela Danadjieva and opened in 1991.With her husband, Thomas Koenig, Danadjieva designed over 100 plaza and urban space projects in different parts of the country.
Polk is a tiny park (one-third-acre) but it has a 30-foot-high waterfall and reflecting pool surrounded by plantings. That might not mean much to those who don’t live in cities, but when you do, you cherish every little pocket park, patch of greenery, or fountain that offers a brief respite from the buildings and traffic. I love city life, but I think parks are a big part of it. Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Buffalo’s park system, did too.
One of the main thing that irks me about the city of Charlotte’s plan to demolish this park is that the councilmembers offer the same stupid reasons their brethren in other cities everywhere offer to justify the demolition of historic buildings: “It’s neglected, it’s poorly maintained, it’s starting to crumble.”
Well, whose fault is that? What are property regulations for if not to be enforced? And it’s the municipality’s job to enforce them to make sure that all properties – parks and buildings – are kept in good shape.
In this case, the city itself owns the park, so we don’t have far to go to pinpoint who neglected it.
Adding insult to injury, money that was raised in 2019 to renovate the park will now be used for its demolition.
From the images I’ve seen, I can’t imagine any replacement achieving the same level of drama and style – in any case, demolition is a flagrant act of unsustainability as well as slap in the face to what work still endures by America’s midcentury women landscape architects.
The park should be restored.
Photos courtesy of the Cultural Landscape Foundation.
And here I thought cities were finally learning the value of greenspace within the city. I guess not. Developing every last square foot of property to collect more in taxes is more important it seems.
Agree. Fix it as funded, fund more. Keep it.
Developers have way more sway over city councils than us mere homeowners who pay property taxes. Charlotte should be ashamed, especially the part about using renovations funds raised to demolish the park instead.
City governments can be so shortsighted. This neighborhood, Ansley Park in Atlanta (https://www.planning.org/greatplaces/neighborhoods/2011/ansleypark.htm) is currently under threat with several other historic Atlanta neighborhoods of being rezoned for denser development, over residents’ protests. Everyone knows that what would get built would not be affordable housing; in fact, the developers have been demolishing existing affordable housing to build multi-million dollar townhouses. This is happening all up and down Atlanta’s Beltline, which started out as a “rails to trails” movement and has become a developer’s dream opportunity. Okay, I’ll stop ranting.
Could not agree more! They are throwing the baby out with the bathwater. We need to preserve these art pieces, lest every city begin to look like the next.
Timely article. Like the other commentators, I think that the under-funding and proper maintenance of urban parks and green spaces are part of the same trend in which a local sense of place and the urban need for more nature is pitted against affordable housing advocacy and tax base concerns, neither of which should be driven by the real estate industry. In my midwestern city urban “densification” projects are resulting in vertical sprawl and more parking lots while the countryside continues to surburbanize.
Couldn’t agree more with you. Places like this need to be restored and preserved.
And thanks for sending me down a rabbit hole! I loved learning about Angel Danadjieva. I’ll be in Portland this summer. I’ll make sure to visit the park she designed there.
I find CLF is a font of such rabbit holes!
some municipalities try to dodge their obligations by turning such features over to “friends of” or “supporters of” and look to those nonprofits raise funds and/or do the actual work. I wonder if charlotte has looked into this? or is the plot just too valuable for developers to bother?