A Theory of Resiliency:
Prospect Park as a Model of Adaptivity
Jamey K. Zurcher
B.S., Indiana University 2000
University of Colorado 2006
A thesis submitted to the Faculty of the Architecture and Planning
Graduate School of the University of Colorado at Denver in
partial fulfillment of the requirement for the degree of
Masters in Landscape Architecture
Department of Architecture and Planning
This thesis entitled:
A Theory of Resilience: Prospect Park a Model of Adaptivity
written by Jamey K. Znrcher
has been approved for the Department of
Architecture and Planning
Austin Allen, Chair
Ann Komara Comniitte Member
Landscapes as temporal structures are often unable to adapt as their
surrounding context and audience change. Recent movements in landscape
architecture have worked to reverse the effects of time on many historic parks
including those designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. Brooklyn's Prospect Park
exemplifies resilience through adaptivity when its design and contextual parameters
are assessed in reference to its spatial and social uses over its 134-year history. The
culture of adaptation operating within Prospect Park has created strong connections
to the users and surrounding context resulting in varied trajectories describing the
resiliency of the park. The datum detines the baseline which is inflected by contextual
events that catalyze the need to adapt defining the theory of resiliency.
The methodology used to deline the components of the theory and identify
the adaptivity of the park is based on trajectories that have been delineated from the
spatial datum. The datum consists of the three spatial components of the park and
their original design intentions, uses and users, and contextual relationships over time.
These spatial layers are then charted against agents of change and the responding
adaptivity of the park. Agents of change are social, cultural, economical, and political
events that cause an adaptive response within the park to fit new' circumstances. The
adaptive response of the park to these agents has been divided into five trajectories
providing an historical representation of the park, identifying the agents of change
during each period and the adaptive response of the park which were used to define
the theory of resiliency.
The theory is rooted in five elements derived from the trajectories. These
elemtns are: scale, shape, spatial layers, contextual relationships, and management.
These five elements define the process of resiliency within the park and identify larger
theoretical components that have assisted in the ongoing resiliency of the park. The
basic theoretical pieces are varation in the park sufaces and activities, openness in the
programming of the space, and contextual links to maintain relationships. The theory
is then applied to speculate the future trajectory of the park.
This thesis is dedicated to my husband, Mike, without whom this project and my
education would not be possible. Thanks.
List of Figures
figure!. Prospect Park 1868. Source: Beveridge............................. I
figure 2. Natural setting of the Vale 1900s. Source: Barlow................ 12
figure3. Spatial layers. Source: Author.................................... 15
figure 4. Diagram of the datum. Source: Author.............................21
figure 5. Bird's eye view of Brooklyn 1897. Source: Synder-Grenier.........25
f igure 6. Viele original plan 1851. Source: Synder-Grenier................29
f igure 7. Vaux sketch plan of site. Source: Graff.........................30
figure8. Calvert Vaux. Source: William.....................................31
figure 9. frederick Law Olmsted. Source: Roper...............................34
figure 9. Spatial layers of the park. Source: Author.........................38
Figure 11. Lawn area of the park. Source: Author.............................41
figure 12. lindale Arch rendering 1880s. Source: Grail.......................41
figure 13. Long meadow current picture. Source: Tate..........................43
figure 14. Wooded areas of the park. Source: Author...........................44
figure 15. Present day wooded area with fencing. Source: Author...............46
figure 16. Water areas of the park. Source: Author............................47
figure 17. Boathouse and lake current photograph. Source: Author..............48
figure 18. Context map of New York City Area. Source: Author..................49
figure 19. Neighborhoods adjacent to Prospect Park. Source: Author............58
figure 20. Immigrant tenements Brooklyn, 1900s. Source: Snyder-Grenier........60
f igure 21. Brooklyn Bridge late 1880s. Source: Brooklyn Public Library.......61
figure 22. Parkway plan by Olmsted. Source: Barlow............................62
f igure 22. The Grand Army Plaza with Memorial Arch 1890s. Source: Benson and
Figure 24. Boathouse 1905. Source: Graff......................................64
Figure 25. Tennis House 1910. Source: Lancaster...............................66
Figure 26. Pattern of use map for T1. Source: Author..........................68
Figure 27. Tennis in the Long Meadow. 1900s Source: Barlow....................74
Figure 28. Breadline Brooklyn 1929. Source: Getty Images......................79
Figure 29. Robert Moses 1940s. Source: Carr...................................81
Figure 30. Bandshell. Source: Author..........................................88
Figure 31. Patterns of use T2. Source: Author.................................90
Figure 32. Outlying suburbs Brooklyn, 1950s. Source. Willensky................92
Figure 33. Population chart Source: Author....................................95
Figure 34. Riots New York City 1968. Source: AP...............................96
Figure 35. Protesting for the Dodgers. 1950s. Source: Willensky...............97
Figure 36. Playground at Prospect 1950s. Source: Brooklyn Public Library..... 104
Figure 37. Patterns of use T3. Source: Author............................... 105
Figure 38. Welfare cases in Brooklyn. Source: Connolly...................... 106
Figure 39. John Lindsay touring neighborhoods, 1960s. Source: Lindsay........ 108
Figure 40. Slum area Brooklyn, 1970s. Source: Getty Images.................. Ill
Figure 41. Areas of African American population 1970. Source: Connolly....... 117
Figure 42. Patterns of use T4. Source: Author................................
Figure 43. Carousel present condition. Source: Berenson........................ 122
Figure 44. Brownstones adjacent to park. Source: Snyder-Grenier................ 124
Figure 45. Patterns of use T5. Source: Author.................................. 124
Figure 46. Dogs in the Long Meadow. Source: Author............................. 126
Figured?. Drummer Grove. Source Brooklyn Public Library........................ 127
Figure 48. Volunteer maintenance in the park. Source: prospectpark.org......... 129
Figure 49. After school program in the park. Source: prospectpark.org.......... 132
Figure 50. Five trajectories highlighted in gray with the future unknown....... 135
Figure 51. Scale of the park. Source: Google Earth and Author........... 136
Figure 52. Non-rectilinear shape of the park. Source: Google Earth and Author 139
Figure 53. Entries. Source: Author............................................. 143
Figure 54. Spatial layers. Source: Author ..................................... 148
f igure 55. Cultural center adjacent. Source: Author........................... 153
Table of Contents
Introduction, Methodology, and Literature Review-
A History of Prospect Parks Design and Relation to its Context.25
Chapter t hree
T The Intial Trajectory a Sixty-Year Examination of Adaptation.55
T, A Radical Break from Olmsted and Vaux..................73
T,- Population Unheaval........................................87
T4-The Social Force Perceptions.............................. 103
Ts- Restoration of the Monarchy.............................. 116
Theory of Resilience.................................... 129
Introduction, Methodology, Literature
Figure 1. Prospect Park 1868. Source: Beveridge.
The profession of landscape architecture is poised to radically change the perception
of landscapes in the world. This change could alter the fundamental way urban
parks are experienced, thus dictating a greater need for long-term civic green spaces
in cities. Landscape architecture, as a profession, is moving towards this change
through a shift in the discourse on design, landscape uses and a new integration
of context. As a major component of landscape perception, historical context and
its impacts upon the landscape relate to its adaptivity to shifting surroundings and
internal environments. Adaptivity becomes an important lens for evaluating urban
green spaces, with resiliency as the mechanism that drives adaptivity. The history and
contemporary assessment of Prospect Park (Figure 1) in Brooklyn, New York, offers
an important case study in the relationship of resiliency to adaptivity in the American
urban environment. Prospect Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert
Vaux, is commonly recognized as one of Olmsted's most significant park designs.
The main spatial elements of the park (wood, lawn, and water) establish a datum that
reflects the adaptivity of the park to a variety of agents. Brooklyn's Prospect Park,
built 1868, exemplifies resilience through adaptivity when its design and contextual
parameters are assessed in reference to its spatial and social uses over its 134-year
history. The culture of adaptation in the park has created five distinct time periods,
or trajectories, that define the resiliency of the park. These periods are based upon
responses to contextual influences w ithin the spatial layers, or datum, of the park and
form the theory of resiliency underlying the park.
Resiliency and Adaptation
Resiliency as the result of adaptivity within the landscape will be studied to
determine its component pieces defining a theory concerning the evolution of the park
over time. The process of adaptivity will be deconstructed over a set of contextual
and temporal events influential to the park yielding the components of resiliency.
Throughout this study various agents will be identified that have affected the park,
these agents and their effects culminate in various adaptive responses within the
park. The idea of resilience as a growth of an adaptive place stresses the relationship
of change to time as a necessary piece of the design. Adaptive landscapes are
dependent on the resiliency of their constituent parts, revealing the need for change
and constant evolution. The components of resilience gained from the case study will
lay the groundwork for understanding the application and process of adaptivity within
Within the scope of this thesis, the word landscape refers to designed areas
that operate within a community providing experiential and functional amenities
to the users. Landscape as active surface, structuring the conditions for new
relationships and interactions among the things it supports.1 Adaptive landscapes are
places that maintain or re-establish a valid relationship to the surrounding community
w ithin an evolving or defined context. The active participation of these landscapes
with their context over time results in adaptivity and defines the landscape as an
important piece of the surroundings. Through adaptation landscapes become resilient,
able to recover from or adjust easily to changes, maintaining ongoing relationships
w ith prev ious events.2 Resiliency is the result of adaptation w ithin the landscape and
creates a formula where it is the end product of adaptation reinterpreted over time as
a function of the context and users of the park. This conception of resiliency arises
from the recognition that the result of adaptation is not just adaptable characteristics
of the pieces or the entire park, but rather a constant (lux of changes that build into a
system, forming a culture of adaptation. These ideas of adaptivity and resiliency are
based predominantly on the theories of complex adaptive systems and emergence.
Researching complex adaptive systems and emergence raised the question of
the longevity of landscapes and their resiliency. Both of these topics deal with the
organization of small parts forming a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
In complex adaptive systems local organization of simple parts that are adaptable
create a large system or entity that operates based on the nature of the pieces creating
a highly adaptive end result. Emergence, in the context of study, describes the
phenomenon of systems arising from the adaptive nature of various pieces creating
a new and distinct entity. These ideas feed into the definition of resiliency through
their ability to maintain relevancy despite a constant flux of changes creating a place
that becomes more complex through its emergence in spatial and social uses. In the
study of Prospect Park the adaptive responses of the land to the various contextual
parameters have resulted in the adaptation of the park through modification, re-use,
change in use or new use, and erasure.
The idea of adaptivity and its application to landscape and place was the
focus of research in understanding resiliency. This topic is relatively new in the held
of landscape architecture directing most of the research to scientific readings and
recent journal articles. The basic understanding of adaptivity and its function in a
complex system such as Prospect Park, arose from materials first researched from
scientific authors examining complex adaptive systems including John Holland,
Steven Johnson, and Mitchell Resnick. Their works have defined the field and can be
linked to adaptivity of landscapes through application of the general theories. Works
by Anita Berrizbeitia, Alex Wall, James Corner and Robert Cook were helpful in
identifying the need for adaptation as an integral part of designed landscapes. These
w ritings were essential to understanding the relationship of the park to its context
and the evolution of the park over time as a proeess of adaptation, and developing
the methodology of using a trajectory to assist in revealing adaptation as the defining
factor of resiliency.
The scientific study of complex adaptive systems was pioneered by John
Holland; his writings guided development of an adaptability theory for the park with
models of complex adaptive systems. His seminal works have guided the field of
complex adaptive systems and focused on examining relationships created through
the random occurrences that build adaptive systems. The thesis in Hidden Order:
How Adaptation Builds Complexity was based on understanding how these random
occurrences create adaptable systems in plants, animals, and economics; although
his work did not directly apply to landscapes the concepts that were directive of his
research are nonetheless applicable to the field. His methodology supplied the idea of
agents or causal factors of adaptivity which has been applied to understand the park
and its contextual relationships. His view of chaos in systems gaining order over time
to produce a higher-functioning, more complex system, is the basis for understanding
the trajectory and the relationship it holds to deciphering the adaptivity of the
park. Steven Johnson also working in the field of adaptive systems used a similar
approach and studied the accumulation of random occurrences developing into
complex systems through study of ant colonies, cities, and software. His research in
Emergence: The Connected lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, ami Software points to the
need of local organization to create adaptive systems that define our future and give
a belter understanding of the world. Although his work was not applicable in the
creation of a methodology to study the park, it outlined the basic idea of emergence
as an element of greater organization of random local events ushering in a new
system. Research on these types of systems was used to aid in the generation of the
methodology and creating a frame of reference for discussing adaptivity.
Upon gaining a general understanding of adaptivity through the study of
complex adaptive systems, the focus of the research turned to more discipline-
specific publications the primary work was Case: Downsview Park Toronto, which
focused on the design competition for a park located in Toronto. Project entries were
to incorporate adaptivity of the site into their designs to create a park that would
allow change and growth with the surrounding area. These case studies, edited by
Julia Czemiak, offered insight on the need of landscapes to be adaptable through a
critique of the selected works in terms of their application of adaptivity. Many of the
projects depended on an open-ended, non-proscriptive design that is not proscriptive
and allows events to unfold over the site with the landscape acting as a catalyst in
the development of these events and in the creation of relationships between the park
and its context. Theories in this work taken from many of the projects and editorials
throughout, define the link between the above writings of a scientific approach to the
realization of these systems in landscape architecture.
Other works in the field of landscape architecture that supported the
application of adaptivity to the landscape were found in edited works of many authors
and specific journal articles.3 The volume of essays edited by James Corner entitled
Recovering Landscape: Essays in Contemporary Landscape Architecture contains
various topics including the adaptability oflandscapes. Several articles in the edition
speak to the need for landscapes to change over time and the importance of landscape
as an active part of the community in the establishment of connections between the
space it provides and the context. Other articles that were influential in understanding
adaptivity were rooted in the urban landscape and consider the evolving nature of the
world as an essential element that needs to be built into the urban fabric. Alex Wall's
"Programming the Urban Surface,' and Stan Allens Mat Urbanism: The Thick 2
D," connect concepts of adaptation to the creation of spaces for various activities that
fit into the context of urban areas. The adaptation of spaces for events to inscribe
themselves can easily be related to the urban fabric and spatial elements of Prospect.
Both writings focus on the integration of building, land, and various systems
(infrastructure, production of goods, community growth, etc.) creating dense places
where adaptation is a necessary element in defining these places through their varied
activities from one day to the next while remaining open to change. The above works
have assisted in understanding adaptivity and its necessary connection to landscape
producing the need to define a theory of resiliency to link these ideas to a specific
landscape and create an overall theory that could be applied to design.
These theories were applied in the examination of agents and the adaptive
responses the park exhibited. Agents referred to throughout the thesis are the factors
of change resulting from social, political, economical, and cultural influences within
and surrounding the site. The culmination of agents inflects the datum and leads
toward the definition of the theory of resiliency.
The case study of Prospect Park will use measures of resiliency expressed
through a number of agents to assess a culture of adaptation leading to a new theory
of resiliency. Through the application of theories concerning complex adaptive
systems and emergence, the process of adaptivity will be identified. The reasons
for undertaking this study include the decline of parks, the role of adaptivity in
landscapes, and gaining an understanding of resiliency in landscapes.
To think of parks as resilient is not a new concept, but rather an idea that has
been largely forgotten in our fast-paced society. Many of the nineteenth century-park
movement landscapes were designed as lasting civic structures including most large
city parks, for example City Park in Denver.4 These park have encountered a range
of perceptions throughout their history leading to a varied opinion of their function in
With the demise of the public park as an essential complement to civic
life, landscape architecture has lost the public context through which to
demonstrate its worth, and it has also lost the public visibility and celebrity
that attended great public works.5
As large civic parks are declining in popularity due to the busy lifestyles and the
distribution of population over a larger area, the ideas of adaptation and resiliency
of these civic structures begs to be rethought.6 Adaptivity as a function of landscape
design is not well understood or usually incorporated into designs, creating places
that are unable to respond to their changing context. The concept of adaptation
within the realm of design is currently being questioned, opening a new dialogue for
landscape architects response to site, context, and the future. Many historic designed
landscapes such as parks and other public facilities have had a far shorter life
expectancy than planned. Adaptation has not worked in those parks leading to their
destruction and reconstruction to meet the current needs.
While mans sense of time has diminished, his sense of space seems to have
expanded beyond his control. He has command of it, both in microcosm
and macrocosm, that would have amazed the ancients; but in filling it he has
tended to become personally dissociated from it; it is too big and he is too
With an enlarged sense of space, design on the land has lacked a contextual response
necessary to ground the work and allow it to foster change in both the relationship
to the context and the complexities of the design. Beginning in the early 1980s the
trend especially on the Hast coast to restore parks particularly those of historical
significance, including a great many of Frederick Law Olmsted's designs was
challenged by new ideas of ecology and landscape architecture.* Associated with this
idea of restoring historic parks are questions of the adaptability of these parks, the
longevity of design, integration of landscape to community and time, and finally the
continuation of relationships to context and community. Adaptation is a necessary
component of resiliency as a product of time, context, and users of the park that come
together to define the resilient nature of the design. Incorporating the context and
designing for the potential future of the site should be a necessary' step in the process
of landscape architecture. The idea of responsiveness within a man-made landscape
and its connection to the contextual and temporal events that surround it, forms the
basis of the argument for adaptivity leading to resilience in design.
We have come to believe that parks designed as civic spaces fall into
inevitable cycles of decline based on the economy, community, and social issues.
Cycles of decline and prosperity in parks are constructed as normative functions
related to public favor of the community and government leading to the either a
renewed enthusiasm or benign dereliction of the park.
Isolation, escapism, and compartmentalization of basic urban elements leads
to a loss of civic identity and eventual decline of all civic institutions... The
city park, with its great promise for recreation, beauty and balance in our
urban environment, is but one criteria of urbanity interlinked with and
dependent upon all others.9
City parks, however, maintain essential elements beyond superficial reads of the
landscape allowing for their reconfirmation as important pieces to urban life in their
connection to place history, preservation of open space, and conceptualization as
democratic spaces for all. Defining which elements provide and develop lasting
connections to their surroundings guides the search for conditions and application
of adaptivity leading to resilient spaces. Critical to the landscape is the degree of
design intent; If the landscape is overly specified, its capacity for adaptability and
response to changes in the environment (amicommunity) will be limited.10 This
idea of adaptivity as part of the design intent defines the overall resiliency of a
landscape, along with the functions and development of a landscape into a place vital
to its context. It is the relationship to the context that drives the adaptation of the
park through various means including on-site manipulations (addition of structures,
changes in management, and removal of pieces), changes in program, and park
organizations that work to generate new conditions of adaptivity, thus allowing the
evolution of the design. Despite the age of Prospect Park, it is adaptive enabling its'
continued importance in the Brooklyn landscape.
Theories and research used to understand the role of parks in an urban
environment, their history, general park movements, changes in parks over the past
century, and park design deciphered how Prospect Park has changed over its lifespan
including events that influenced the park throughout this period. Prominent works
studied included Galen Cranz, Chas Doell and Gerald Fitzgerald, Elizabeth Barlow,
Jere French and numerous others." Each author looks at a different element of park
history and its change over time providing a broad picture that is easily reinterpreted
to understand Prospect Park and its role.
Primary among these works in understanding the evolution of park design
is Galen Cranz's The Politics of Park Design. This condensed history examines the
change in American park design over the past century, describing basic social and
political changes that have happened in parks and their development from pleasure
grounds to open space systems, also including a brief explanation of changes in park
design and management. The overall historical information and its integration into
specific designs within the history of park provide a discussion of park development
To understand the specific events, activities and the changing nautre of parks
through this period Chas Doell and Gerald Fitzgerald in A Brief History of Parks
and Recreation in the United States chronicle parks in the eastern United Sates and
the development of recreational programs from the late 1800s to the late 1950s. The
history of recreational usage in parks is essential to understanding the events that
took place and how the parks changed to fit the needs of the new social atmosphere
both nationally and locally. Presenting changes in programming through the use
of surveys and program information, this book provides a general understanding
of program evolution and development in accordance with national events. Also
essential to understanding the evolution of the park is Elizabeth Barlows textbook.
Landscape Design: A Cultural and Architectural History. This resource traces
the development of the park from Europe to its evolution in the United States with
specific examples that chart the park movement and the changes parks and urban
spaces have undergone throughout history. These works provide an understanding
of park history and the various park movements, and related the larger changes in
Prospect Park to national and social factors, as well as filling in gaps of site-specific
The final source dealt with parks as urban green spaces and explored the
history and design theory of parks. In his book Urban Green: City Parks of the
Western World, Jere French discusses these issues along with recommendations for
park design. French topics revolve around the American response to park design,
form and meaning, and specific design elements of an urban park. FI is book was
published in the 1970s when the future of parks looked grim and his writings discuss
some of the issues along with possible solutions. Offering information on the
meaning of urban spaces as well as the design of parks, his writing shaped the basis
of the theory of resilience in regards to the designed elements of the park as defined
by Olmsted and Vaux.
Information gained from these resources validated the study anti identified
elements that would be important to the definition of a theory of resiliency. The
methodology of the research and application are detailed in the following sections and
define the design, contextual parameters, datum, and the resultant trajectory.
Design and Contextual Parameters
Prospect (ark as designed by Olmsted and Vaux was a visionary plan in
its conceptualization of space and relationship to the various contextual events
happening in the community, as well as being designed for potential futures.
Contextual events include edge conditions surrounding the park, neighborhoods
within 1.5 miles, the larger community, Brooklyn, and national events which
affect the landscape and its relationship to these topics. These events also involve
sociocultural issues, economics, and political systems describing the complex
situation encompassing the park. Landscapes involve, contain, and define places,
or communities, which developed from similar beliefs, services and a general
geographic location. Communities discussed here are those adjacent to the park, and
in a larger context the borough of Brooklyn The original design established the
datum which is inflected by the cultural forces that catalyze the need for adaptivity.
Olmsted and the qualities of a park:
... We find two circumstances, common to all parks in the distinction from
other places in towns, namely, scenery offering the most agreeable contrast to
that of the rest of the town and the opportunity for people to come together
for the single purpose of enjoyment.12
Secondary to the act of congregation in the park was the openness of the design
for each area that allowed interpretation of the space to fit the needs of the users.
For every' landscape there is an associated group of individuals who take part in
activities within that landscape. Pereeptions of the park play a crucial role in how the
park works within the community based on many events that create changes in the
trajectory. For this study, perception refers to the process of acquiring, interpreting,
selecting, and organizing initial sensory information, creating a physical sensation in
the light of experience.1 The overriding perception of the park as defined by Olmsted
relates to its naturalistic design (Figure 2) and reliance on the idea of nature as part of
the experience within the park. This idea of nature as relating to a peaceful freedom
in which to relax and observe a natural setting is an integral piece of the spatial datum
coupled with the culture of adaptation. Other elements represented by the datum
include development over time within a framework of a republican space for all,
refuge from the city, and general use
of the park as a passive recreational
space. The datum will be referenced
throughout the following chapters to
describe changes in the park and their
Figure 2. Natural setting of the Vale 1900s,
overall effect on the park and context, source: Barlow.
The contextual parameters of the study include the community, users, spaces
within and around the park, and the perceptions of the park. These are, in essence, the
agents of change and their adaptive responses act upon the datum as seen through the
delineation of the trajectory. As a representation of resiliency the trajectory outlines
the adaptive responsiveness of the park as these various parameters alter the datum.
Defined previously, community includes a variety of subheadings to guide the
coordination of research and writings. Land values and planning reflect the changes
that the park has had on its adjacent areas, the overall economic issues facing the park
and the development of surrounding areas. The edge of the park and the community
comprise an integral part to the recognizing the influence of the park and its role in
the community. Geographically the community will include all directly adjacent
neighborhoods and those areas within a mile and a half of the park, the borough of
There is a considerable amount of information specific to the users and uses
of the park which aids in understanding the complexities of the park. The population
of Brooklyn is a diverse mix of individuals from all areas of the world and with a
wide range of incomes; this generates a dynamic that is essential to the park and the
concepts of adaptivity.
Perception of public spaces, especially parks, is a crucial element in
understanding Prospect Park and the processes define it. The perception studies
here will be directed towards the understanding of this park and it relation to the
users, through community publications, surveys, and interview's The specific areas
of perception that will be studied are the park as nature, social need for park spaces,
and the park as place. Prospect and other contemporary parks are modeled after a
picturesque idea of landscape in which the park appears to be natural despite the
many layers of infrastructure. The idea of Prospect as a natural oasis is based in
the original concept of the park as designed by Olmsted. Nature as a set of ideas is
loosely based within this discussion on the ability to wonder within a given area and
seek peace with your surrounding consituting a necessity to sustained well being.
Social needs for park areas create spaces and define the perception of the park and
how it either fits or shapes the needs of the community. Brooklyn is perceived
through the park and to a larger degree vice versa; they play off one another to bring
definition to their relationship, the community and the connected urban surface.14
Finally the park is perceived as a place holding a concrete set of values as an area of
restorative virtues enabling calm for individuals. These elements of perception give
form to the park and produce relationships with the park to its users and context.
Numerous documents of Olmsteds identify the idea of space as central to the
conceptualization of his designs. Change in the space and its function throughout the
plan is a measure of adaptivity through the economic political, and social processes
taking place on the site. Central to Olmsteds design is the interconnection of spaces
and how these spaces react to one another, creating a flow and varied experiences
in the landscape. The scale of the park plays an essential role in the perception and
management of the park. The overall design of the park allows for a large number of
persons to have equal amounts of space and freely use those spaces to fit their needs
independent of their social standing or race. These conceptions of the three main
spaces within the park will define the datum and form the trajectory.
The combination of these topics and their influence on the datum will result in
a trajectory of resilience. Information gained from the contextual issues of the park
will aid in understanding the relationship of the park to its surroundings.
The park is a unique site within a metropolitan area. The initial thought often
accepted in terms of the park w'as its design as respite from the ills of the city. The
greatest advantage to a park in town according to Olmsted, ...lies in the addition
to the health, strength, and morality which comes from it to its people.15 As the
architects of the park Olmsted and Vaux developed a plan that incorporated an
interconnection of republican spaces allowing users to feel free and protected while
enjoying the park. Republican space as designed within their parks related to spaces
that could serve all of the population equally often elevating the social manners of
lower class users through interaction across class distinctions. This theory is derived
from Olmsteds visits to Europe during the 1850s where the idea of a republican
society was being used in the design of public spaces. Throughout his work Olmsted
maintained records of the entire process, completing a catalog that details the intent
behind the park, sketches, correspondence with the Brooklyn Park Commission, and
letters concerning changes to the park long after his
employment with the city. His detailed writings
on the three main elements of the park wood,
lawn, and water will be examined in relation to the
conceptions of these spaces and their integration
into the park as a whole (Figure 3). I lis writings
will form a comparison study of the park to the
various stages it has witnessed and the mix of
relationships that have been created.
Frederick Law Olmsted is often defined as
Americas first landscape architect and designed
many significant w'orks in the field. 1 le did not start
in the field of landscape architecture until he was in
his mid-thirties, at which time hed developed an
interest in social equality and a desire to find a cure
) the problems of the industrial cities of the time.
He first met Calvert Vaux while working with the New York City Parks Department
and with Vaux went on to enter and win the competition for Central Park. Together
both men worked to bring their ideas of nature, outdoor recreation as a solution to
health issues, and the need for open space in dense cities to the forefront of their
designs. Prospect Park represented the culmination of their ideas into a plan that was
easily executed and functioned well within the city.
The cultural forces that brought about Prospect Park were linked to the
park movement in America and the conditions of Brooklyn at the time. As Central
Park was being completed, Brooklyn, without a large park space of its own felt it
necessary to compete with Manhattan. This need for park space was compounded by
the development of a popular promenade area, dramatically decreasing the amount
Figure 3. Spatial layers. Source:
of public space in the city. The final element that led to the creation of the park was
the overwhelming need in the heavily industrial city to reserve public open spaces in
regards to public health. The overcrowding and unsanitary conditions of the city were
the cause of many aliments and the provision of green space was thought to assist in
alleviating these problems. The city soon enlisted Olmsted and Vaux to design this
great public space, and Prospect became their signature work.
The establishment of the datum is based on the design conceptions of the park
and the different spatial layers that constitute the park, bach space within the park
was designed to fit special needs outlined by Olmsted and tailored within the plan to
create unique experiences. The main elements of the park's wood, lawn and water
sections define the spatial layers of the datum. The wood area, Olmsted suggests, is
integral to the park as it provides contrast to the open areas of the park. This contrast,
due to the density and deep shadows, offers a place of seclusion from the other
areas of the park. Aeting as a transitional area between the elements,s the woods
separates the park into distinct areas. The lawn is the embodiment of the enlarged
sense of freedom Olmsted thought large green spaces represented. Designed with an
open-ended program, the lawn offers the ability to appropriate the space as needed
by the individual. With its open layout and lack of overly programmed design the
lawn is the essential piece in the plan. The final element, water, was conceived as an
area of calm and restorative virtues, offering a contrast to its immediate gregarious
surroundings. All the elements were designed to provide a connection to nature and
the offer the possibility of gregarious events to happen within specific areas. These
areas will be detailed later (Chapter Two) in their additional components related to the
datum and their use in defining the trajectory.
Research on Prospect Park consisted of a variety of resources including park
guides and publications, historical descriptive books, writings from Frederick Law
Olmsted, articles by various sources, city documents, and materials available through
the Prospect Park Alliance. These resources lent much to the understanding of the
park and its growth and change over time. Primary readings include Frederick Law
Olmsted. M. M Graff. Ronald Benson and Neil duMause. Daniel Bluestone. Alan
fate, and Catharine Ward Thompson in addition to materials from the city and the
Prospect Park Alliance. Foremost among the readings in developing a baseline of
information concerning the park were the w ritings of Olmsted, contained in tw o
sources, Landscape into Cityscape, and The Years of Olmsted. Vaax, and Company
IH65 IH74. Various documents written by Olmsted to friends, colleagues, and
park staff tell the story of the park from conception to the final letter Olmsted wrote
concerning early twentieth-century changes. Along with the primary writings of
Olmsted, these books were invaluable in defining the concepts behind the design
of the park, the general attitude towards parks, and the prescribed uses of the park.
Despite the many changes the park has seen, the essential parts of the park function
in the same way as described by Olmsted in his writings to the Park Commission in
the early days of decision-making and construction. Overall these sources shaped the
argument for resiliency through the comparison of the original design to the current
design and its changing context backed by the strong conceptual documentation of
The information gained in the study of the Olmsted's materials was
augmented by two guidebooks containing historical and current information. First
of these M.M. Graffs Central Park, Prospect Park: A New Perspective, gives both
historical and current information on changes in the park and the overall evolution
of the park until the time of publication, 1985. She covers the major elements
of the park with complete descriptions of the distinct areas through a timeline of
the park including discussions on the designers, park commission, and the public.
Containing a variety of images from the various areas of the park the book serves
as a concise history of the park with a small discussion on the changes the park will
face in the future. The other source serving as a more contemporary guide to the
park was Richard Berenson and Neil deMause, The Complete Illustrated Guidebook
to Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Published in 2001, this guide
gives short descriptions of all the park areas with included historical information, and
a complete set of images both historical and contemporary. This guidebook served
as a orientation device to understanding the relationships of various parts within the
park. Information from both of these resources created a picture of Prospect Park that
included a historical component and contributed to defining the park and its various
Bridging the gap in information from the development of Brooklyn to the
creation of a park system that included Prospect, Daniel Bluestone's article, "From
Promenade to Park: The Gregarious Origins of Brooklyns Park Movement"
gives a descriptive account of the promenade tradition and its lasting influence on
Brooklyn's park system. In his article, he discusses the evolution of the promenade
and how the disallowance of the activity in its original location may have spurred the
overwhelming need for a city park. Suggesting the need for a park before Olmsted
and Vaux were even considered as designers, this article links the growth of Brooklyn
to the evolution of the community in the general ideas concerning the development of
recreation areas throughout the city.
Research on the current situation of the park in the modern context was
based on two works; Alan Tate, Great City Parks and Catharine Ward Thompsons
Historic Parks and Contemporary Needs. Tates work examines parks throughout
the United States and Western Europe, with specific sections for each park he
addresses the history, design, and the future of the various parks. His section on
Prospect Park details many of the decisions currently being made concerning the
park and its connection to the larger urban fabric. The article by Thompson included
a discussion of the relevancy of park management policies, how historic parks
maintain their quality as new uses develop, and if restoration of a historic design the
best management. Despite the inclusion of other Olmsted projects the information
included in the article built the argument for the resiliency of these spaces, despite
their contemporary management. Both of the sources lent to the discussion of the
park through the trajectories and understanding the role of the park as an historic
entity within a growing and changing urban environment.
The final resources in regards to park specific materials were consisted of
publications by New York City and the Prospect Park Alliance. These resources -
although not quoted directly provided background information to the management
and changes within the park. Numerous publications by the Alliance including
Annual Reports and landscape surveys assisted in determining use, changes in
the physical structure of the park, and policies of the park's management. Other
documents provided by the Alliance completed the picture of the park through their
lengthy discussion of park policies, restoration projects, and the overall conditions of
the park at various times. In addition to publications by the Alliance, city documents
such as the annual city parks reports gave depth to the overall management of the
park system in New York, specific projects taking place in Prospect, and historical
information concerning the changes in park policy. Publications by the Alliance and
New York City provided site-specific information about the general development of
the park, its use, and changes made over its long timespan.
The definition of the datum on the original concepts of Olmsted creates a
baseline to chart the changes of the park and its adaptation to a variety of influences.
Through understanding the datum, relationships of the site to the various agents can
be measured to define the components of the park that allow for resiliency.
The Five Trajectories
A trajectory is defined as a path described by an object moving under action
of given forces.16 Using this definition of trajectory in relation to the park aids
in discovering how the park has functioned under a variety of circumstances that
have either positively or negatively interacted with the datum. The datum that the
trajectory is derived from is a combination of factors that take into account the park
itself, and its surrounding context as previously described. The trajectory record of
the flexible infrastructure within the park adapting the various spaces and uses of the
park as needed defining the culture of adaptation within the park.
The trajectory' functions as a continuous line, but is developed from smaller
segments giving a more accurate picture of the time and reasoning for the arc of
the trajectory. The segments are defined by time periods which where determined
through understanding the history of the park, Brooklyn, and the nation. Using these
concepts of the spaces, events in the parks history, and research information the
trajectory delineates the resiliency of the park in relation to the datum, focusing on
the users and uses of the site, and the connection to context over time. The space
falling between the trajectory and the datum contains the agents of change that
are affecting the trajectory and include population, social and political issues, and
the economy. In defining the line of the trajectory for each time period, the events
that shaped the period and its relationship to the park were analyzed according to
the spatial datum and charted based on the discrepancies between the physical and
social use of spaces and their perceptions (Figure 4). These discrepancies were
related to changes in the space or its conceptions as a direct result of interaction
with agents. The relationships of the park to context and uses played an important
role in understanding how the spatial datum had shifted to fit the unfolding of new
programs, uses, and connections to the surrounding areas. Essential to understanding
the description of the changes are the ideas of place and space. Place is defined as
central to the idea of creating landscapes, as a special kind of object, a calm center of
established values.17 The concept of space, however, is derived from the movement
Datum ------- ---------- ---------- .3-T- --------- ---------- -------
I-"ij*iirc 4. of the datum. Source: Author
of a body through a specified area and relates to a coordinate frame focused around
that body.151 The live segments are: fj The initial Trajectory (I 868 1928), T,A
Radical Break from Olmsted and Vaux (1929- 1950). T, Population Upheaval (1950
1960), T( The Social Force of Perceptions (1961 1986), T, Restoration of the
Monarchy (1987 Present). Bach segment will include a detailed examination of the
multitude of agents that influenced both the community and the park, and conclude
with the overall effect of the trajectory' on the park. The effects on the park will be
examined in a concluding chapter outlining the theory of resiliency as defined by the
culture of adaptation present between Prospect Park and its context.
Discerning the changes in the park and the relationship of the park to the
above topics, analysis drawing will be used to assist in bringing theories to the ground
and examining their application to the site. Analysis drawing will examine changes in
park activities for each time period in comparison to the ideas set forth in the datum.
Park plans from a variety of time periods will be overlaid to study changes with base
data at the site scale from an original plan dated 1868 and a more recent 1990 plan.
These plans will set up the basic analysis of change throughout the history of the
park. The drawing in combination with the generative graphics will work together to
develop the theorys groundwork.
Research on Prospect Park and the surrounding city of Brooklyn covered
many topics including the development of the park's site and surrounding areas, the
population of Brooklyn over time, changes in both the city and the park over its 134
years, and the designers of the park. The bulk of information presented in the paper
concerning the larger scale of the city, Brooklyn, was supplied by the following
authors Ellen Snyder-Grenier, David McCullough, Rita Miller, Ronald Bayor, Harold
Connolly, and Hgnon Mayer. Combined to generate a picture of Brooklyn from
various view points and throughout a range of time periods, these sources assisted in
establishing the trajectories and their relationship to the datum.
Brooklyn is a city of constant change as portrayed in Brooklyn. ..and How it
Got That Hay written by David McCullough, which examines the city throughout
its history and people. Providing a condensed history of Brooklyn this book shares
many commonalities with Brooklyn!, written by Ellen Snyder-Grenier. Both of these
resources combine to form as history of Brooklyn and the changes that have occurred
in the city from the original Dutch settlers to the present day. Each book is divided
into different sections but with the same general focus areas including parks, sport
teams, industry, and neighborhoods; complementing each other in their material.
Brooklyn can be understood as a city that has experienced great change shaping it
into the present-day city that surrounds Prospect Park.
Understanding the shifts in population that have occurred in Brooklyn
is essential to realizing how change has effected the park and is illustrated in an
historical analysis from various writers in Brooklyn, U.S.A edited by Rita Miller. This
collection of essays tracks the population and other cultural influences of Brooklyn
from settlement to the time of publication in 1979. Each essay presents a different
view of Brooklyn and aids in comprehension of the complexities of the city and how
its population has greatly affected the overall working and development of the city.
This work was the source for population information and contributed to the overall
picture of change in Brooklyn.
With an understanding of the population dynamics for the city, many
resources looked at specific population groups or their combination including,
Ronald Bayor, Harold Connolly, and Egnon Mayor. Looking at the neighborhoods
in New York. Bayor examines the mix of different ethnicities and their various
struggles within the city and between the disparate groups. Focusing on the major
ethnic groups in the city between 1929 and 1941, he writes extensively on the
Germans. Irish, Jews and Italians. The Jewish populations which live in numerous
neighborhoods surrounding the park were further detailed by Egnon Mayer in his
account of the Jewish occupation of Brooklyn. Front Suburb to Sbtctl: The Jews of
Boro Park. His book discusses the strict religion observed by Jewish people and how
this affected their relationship with many of the surrounding communities. Harold
Connolly studied the African-American population that began a great migration
to the Fast coast after World War 1 and into the 1970s, focusing on differences
between population groups in the city. _A Ghetto Grows in Brooklyn describes the
social conditions African-Americans dealt with as the population of Brooklyn began
to change and the African American population grew in strictly bounded areas of
Brooklyn. The city then experienced an exodus of white individuals as the African-
American population began to fill in lower income areas of the city, and he chronicles
this population influx in relation to the downfall of Brooklyns economy at the time.
These sources combine to provide a picture of the various populations of Brooklyn
throughout the history of the park.
Much of the information and methodology for deriving the trajectories was
taken from the resources listed above along with the concluding section concerning
the application of the historical and theoretical information to the theory of resiliency.
Decoding the adaptivity of a landscape and its relation to resiliency is based on
understanding adaptation as an idea of change, connection to community and vitality
in maintaining a sense of place within community. Applying the groundwork of
adaptive theory to a landscape produces a finer knowledge of the site and its effects
on the context leading to the definition of important relationships that guide the
evolution of a theory on resiliency.
Kndnotes Chapter One
'Corner. James. Recovering Landscape: Essays in Contemporary Landscape Architecture. New
York. NY: Princeton Architectural Press. 1999. pg. 233. Alex Walls essay, "Programming the
Crban Surface. The idea of landscape as an active surface acting as a connective tissue for space
processes, and events that move through them, includes all the elements of the urban held (building,
infrastructure, and utilities) operating as an active dynamic surface enabling an unfolding of events
over the surface.
Webster Dictionary. "Adaptive. 8 May 2005.
' Corner. James. Not Unlike Life Itself: Landscape Strategy Now. Harvard Desittn Magazine.
No. 12. (Fall 2004/Wintcr 2005): 1-3. Also Cook, Robert. "Do Landscapes Learn'. Ecology's New
Paradigm and Designs in Landscape Architecture. Environmentalism in Landscape Architecture.
2000. Washington D C.: Dumbarton Oaks.
' Chadwick. Chad F. The Park and the Town. New York. NY: Praeger. Inc., 1966.
Corner James. Recovering Landscape: Essays in Contemporary Landscape Architecture. New York,
NY: Princeton Architectural Press. 1999. pg. 277. Allan Balfour essay.
The topic of decline in parks as necessary civic spaces is discussed in a variety of sources including:
Case: Downsview Park, The Park and the Town: Public Lands in the 19tli ami 20th Centuries, The
Politics of Park Design, Denatured Visions: Landscape and Culture in the Twentieth Century, Urban
Green: City Parks of the Western World, A Sense of Place. A Sense of Time. Rethinking Urban Parks:
Public Space and Cultural Diversity, and The Once and Future Park.
Jcllicoe, Geoffrey and Susan. T he Landscape of Man: Shaping the environment from Prehistory to
the Present Day\ New York, NY: Thames and Hudson, 1995. pg. 373.
* Thompson, Catharine Ward. Historic American Parks and Contemporary Needs. Landscape Journal
17.1 (1998): 1-25. pg. 12.
- French, Jere Stuart. Urban Green: City Parks of the Western World. Dubuque. 1A: Kendall/Hunt
Publishing Company, 1973. pg. 41.
10 Case: Downsview Park Toronto. Ed. Czemiak, Julia Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 2001.
pg. 121. Words in parenthesis added.
" Other works looking at parks and their history include those by: George Brunap, Karl Lohman,
Charles Beveridge, and Joachim Bulmahn Wolshkc.
12 Fein, Albert. Landscape into Cityscape. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1967. 100. pg. 107.
11 Webster Dictionary. Perception. 8 May 2005.
M Comer, James. Recovering Landscape: Essays in Contemporary Landscape Architecture. New
York, NY: Princeton Architectural Press, 1999. pg. 233 Alex Walls essay. Programming the Urban
15 Fein, Albert. (1967) pg. 100. The urban surface underlying both of these locations consists of the
buildings, open spaces, neighborhoods, roads, utilities, and natural habitats
16 Ask Oxford. Trajectory. 10 September, 2005.
17 Tuan, Yi-Fu. Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience. Minneapolis, MN: University of
VI innesota Press, 2001. pg. 54.
IS Tuan, Yi-Fu. (2001) pg. 54.
A History of Prospect Parks Design and
Relation to its Context
Hi Kl >'S-KYK VIEW OK THE HOKOUOH OK MKOOKl.YN
Figure 5. Birds eye view of Brooklyn 1897. Source: Synder-Grenier.
This chapter examines the history of Brooklyn (Figure 5), areas adjacent to the park,
and the design of the park. Each piece is detailed to provide background concerning
the park and its development within the city. Brooklyn before the park is discussed
to set the groundwork and explain the evolution of the need for a park in the city.
This chapter gives brief biographies of Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted as
the designers of the park along with a description of the park and its varied elements.
The concluding section looks at the adjacent neighborhoods giving a brief synopsis of
their history and current composition.
Brooklyn and the Absence of the Park
During the mid-to late-19th century Brooklyn was growing as a borough
of diverse ethnic groups facing ridicule from those in Manhattan. The cities were
connected only by ferry, offering little advantage to Brooklyn as a suburb of New
York due to the travel time and further stigmatizing the image many New Yorkers
had of Brooklyn. Brooklyn during these times was often seen as a polluted industrial
port city, unlike the profitable business-centered Manhattan where the population
was more affluent. Although the majority of businesses in Brooklyn were industrial
and manufacturing, the borough did have a number of affluent citizens who owned
many of the ports and transportation lines. The remaining population of Brooklyn
was largely immigrant w ith neighborhoods segregated according to ethnicity over the
entire borough. By I860 Brooklyn's population was the third-largest in the United
States. In Brooklyn, the urban industrial conditions present in most large cities were
prevalent and suffered by many, long hours at factories with little time for outdoor
recreation. Squalid conditions areas and overall lack of technical knowledge and a
poor understanding of human health issues led to an industrial appearance that was
similar to other urban areas of the time.1 During this time, the idea of parks and their
benefits to society were just beginning to be understood; however, at this time, the
idea of outdoor recreation was still largely reserved for the upper-class citizenry as
working-class people simply had no time for such activities.
Historically the park was not the first form or place of recreation within the
city, outdoor recreation during the 1820-1840s in Brooklyn centered on the European
tradition of the promenade. Brooklyns main location for the promenade, Brooklyn
I leights, offered ocean views and was situated just north of the where Prospect Park
would eventually be. The tradition of the promenade or elegant walk invoked
curiosity and delight through the leisurely activity of strolling through natural
scenery within an urban social space. These public walks often attracted large
congregations of people which were believed to heighten the sense of beauty and to
create a link between urban space and natural ideas developing the precursor to the
Brooklyn park movement.2 This activity was originally enjoyed by the upper-class
citizenry, but soon the promenade custom penetrated the middle class and brought
rational decorum' over other working-class leisure activities.2' As property values
around the promenade began to increase the area was soon developed and closed
to promenading, creating a social demand for leisure spaces in the city and hence
the first impetus for creation of a new urban park space. With the closing of the
promenade and with many of the other scenic areas already privately owned, the city
was forced to look to squares and small public spaces to provide similar types of
outdoor recreation space.
Other facilities for outdoor recreation that began to gain popularity were Port
Greene and Greenwood Cemetery both offering landscaped areas established for
promenading in similar custom to Brooklyn Heights. These areas offered pleasant
surroundings in which to enjoy walks, and more importantly, participate in the custom
of airing and being seen.4 At this time Andrew Jackson Downing and others in the
field of landscape gardening were proclaiming the need and benefits of large parks
for the public to enjoy in contrast to the urban city. Such parks were designed to be
pleasure grounds, offering a retreat from the industrial world to man-made naturalized
scenic areas presenting the opportunity for strolling but not many other activities.
Landscapes like this were in fashion in Europe, where many American landscape
gardeners were studying new techniques in design and the creation of picturesque
New York City was the first American city to adopt the idea of park as
necessary urban space. Central Park would have been designed by Downing himself
if not for his untimely death. The task of creating Americas first urban public
park, instead, fell to the city engineer Egbert Viele. After completing his design, he
handed the drawings to the newly ereated Park Commission. The Park Commission
questioned the design in response to which Calvert Vaux suggested a competition to
be held for the design and bidding of the park. It is at this time that Calvert Vaux,
working within his own architectural practice, asked Frederick Olmsted, the current
Superintendent of Parks, to partner with him on the design of the park. Their entry
- the last and 33ul entry of the competition, titled "Greensward"- was selected the
winner and touted for its design and inclusion of three main spaces: law n, w ood,
and water. Central Park to this day is still a beloved place within the Manhattan
and serves as an excellent example of an early work in landscape architecture and
specifically the work of Olmsted. The creation of Central Park started the American
Park Movement this movement and the need to create social spaces in dense urban
areas spread to other Eastern areas including Brooklyn. Olmsted and Vaux, who
stayed on with Central Park for a short time after its completion, soon left their jobs
due disappointment w'ith the political system and dismay experienced in the handling
of the park. New York City at the time was under the control of criminal politicians
- many of whom saw the park as a real estate opportunity; changing the designers
plans at the last minute, and after completion subverting the original concepts of the
park with the addition of numerous civic structures.
Civic leaders of Brooklyn, hoping to compete with Manhattan for economic
power, attempted to raise the status of the city as whole by considering the
development of a major city park to match Central Park. The economic pow'er
expected to be gained with the construction of a park was in terms of increased
property values and the cultivation of Brooklyn as a suburb to Manhattan. City
leaders determined the green space of Greenwood Cemetery lacked sufficient
amenities to serve as a public park.3 The three main motives for the creation of
the park were: concern for the health and well-being of Brooklynites, concern to
define the attractiveness of Brooklyn as a suburb to Manhattan, and emulation of the
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succcss of Central Park.6 City leaders convened to create a Park Commission led
by James T. Stranahan. an wealthy and influential citizen who argued fiercely for a
park to rival that of Central Park. In 1861 Stranahan asked Egbert Viele to draw a
site plan for a park to be located on adjacent sides of Flatbush Avenue near the center
of the city, a location
where the promenade
custom was once a
After a lengthy
process of review by
the commission, the
site for the park was
chosen for its location
near the highest point Figure 6. Viele original plan 1851. Source: Syuder-Grenier.
in Brooklyn, Mount Prospect, and to protect the citys reservoir flanking Mount
Prospect. The com which missioners felt the area to the east of Flatbush Avenue
offered views of the ocean and of New York City, could easily be incorporated into a
promenade-style park setting with the existing reservoir on the site; while the portion
of land to the west of the avenue contained boggy lands that had topographical
constraints making them unsuitable for development.7 Viele, once again, crafted
an initial plan (Figure 6) of the park that included walkways over the avenue and
pathways around the reservoir the plan was then given to the park commissioners.
However, this coincided with the start of the Civil War which meant many project
were put on hold as the nation focused on the strife of the divided nation. As the war
subsided, Stranahan reconsidered Vieles plan, noting deficiencies in the plan such as
the bisection by Flatbush Avenue, and the lack of connection between elements of the
park.8 Stranahan contacted Vaux to ask if he could provide the city with a new layout
for the park.
While visiting the site, Vaux
quickly sketched out a new park
boundary that did not incorporate the
property adjacent to Flatbush Avenue to
the east, and with additional contiguous
areas to the south. As noted on the map
(Figure 7) the area to the south included
rather expensive lots which Stranahan
assured Vaux he would acquire.9 The
understanding between Stranahan
and Vaux was that this park would set
the Stage for Brooklyn as a major F'8llre 7- auxs sketch plan of site. Source: Graff,
metropolitan area. Stranahan enjoyed working with the designers and assisting in the
creation of this masterpiece. The park commission began securing the lands requested
by Vaux and gathering monies to support the construction of the park. Meanwhile
Vaux set to work persuading Olmsted to assist in the development of the park design
and to continue his career as a landscape architect. Vaux successfully gained the
support of Olmsted and they submitted their final plan and recommendations for the
site to the commission in 1866. The commissions approval of thier plan and thier
appointment as the landscape architects for the park was official on May 29, 1866.10
Designers of the Park
Bom December 20, 1824 in London, England,Calvert Bowyer Vaux was
instrumental to the birth of the park movement in America; assisting in the designs
of Central Park and Prospect Park. Vaux spent his younger years as an apprentice
^ (yJ'-jfXrfc ***'
working in the office primarily as a draftsman. The office he worked in specialized in
Gothic architecture and renovations; despite Vaux's obvious skill in rendering he was
offered little pay. To offset his lack of pay with the architectural office, he worked
for various railroad companies lettering maps and thus financed his tour of Europe."
Throughout his travels he sketched structures, places, and details which later assisted
his meeting Andrew J. Downing. During an exhibit of Vauxs work he met Downing,
who was currently in search of a like-minded architect with whom to set up practice
in New York. After a short period of discussion Vaux was draw n to Downing and
his views of landscape and nature. Vaux himself felt The natural should act as the
central force in architecture. i:
Vaux (Figure 8) soon left his friends in London to accompany Downing to the
United States. Working w ith Downing proved invaluable for Vaux, furnishing him
with knowledge and an understanding of landscape
design. It was while working with Downing
that he wrote Villas and Cottages (1857), a book
examining architectural styles for a wide range of
housing types, many of which he collaborated with
Downing to design. While working in the office
with Downing, Vaux designed a variety of houses
and public institutions, including the grounds for
the Capitol in Washington D. C. Downing was the
foremost advocate for the need to build a large park
(over 500 acres) in New' York City; had it not been
Figure 8. Calvert Vaux. Source:
for his untimely death in 1852, he would have beenvv,lliarn
the likely designer for Central Park.1'1 Vaux worked with numerous individuals and on
various projects until 1856 when the plan for Central Park as drawn by Egbert Viele
was perceived as inadequate by the Park Commission and various individuals of New
York City, mainly due to Downings earlier interactions with the city and members
of the Park Commission. Vaux was prominent among those decrying the park,
along with other community members arguing that as designed it did not do justice
to Downing and his ideas for the space, and urged an open competition to be held.
Vaux then asked Olmsted, who at the time was the Superintendent of Parks for New
York City, to partner with him in designing the park. Their entry. Greensward went
on to win. placing both in positions with the city: Olmsted as Architect in Chief and
Vaux as Assistant Architect. The idea of Olmsted being considered the sole architect
of the park was to plague Vaux throughout their professional life. It was in fact Vaux
who nudged Olmsted into the field and it was also Vaux who initially had a greater
knowledge of the field itself. Vaux. however, was unsure of his abilities in the field of
landscape architecture and was dependent on the conceptualization and knowledge of
place Olmsted brought to the project especially in the design of circulation.
Central Park proved to be a continuous struggle with the Park Commission
and the city's political system itself. The corruption eventually caused both men
to abandon their positions with the city after completion of the park, although they
continued to write recommendations for its maintenance and protested the addition
of civic structures. After Central Park Olmsted left to work in different parts of the
country, while Vaux returned to architecture practice, staying in the city. As the Civil
War began to wind down, Vaux was asked by Stranahan and his associates in the
Brooklyn Park Commission to draw up an alternative plan of the grand park being
planned for Brooklyn.15 After completion of his initial report to the commission they
accepted his plan. Vaux re-established his connection with Olmsted and persuaded
him to return to work on a park he felt to be a better site than Central Park for the
application of their design ideals than and pointed out the difference in Brooklyn's
Park Commission. After numerous letters of argument and coercion, Vaux revealed
his admiration for Olmsted as an artist in the translation of the republican art idea
in its highest form in acres.16 Vaux's need to partner with Olmsted in the design
of the park came from his feeling of inadequacy in the articulation of spaces and
transportation systems. Olmsted agreed to come back to New York to work on
the project. Prospect Park would be the embodiment of what had been tried at
Central Park and both men would look at the project as the consummation of their
partnership. They kept their city positions as caretakers of the park for a few years
after completion and before forming their partnership Olmsted, Vaux & Company.
Working within the firm they went on to design numerous projects serving a
wide range of needs in locations across the country. They terminated their partnership
in I 872 due to changes in their work ethics and overall design concepts and went
on to work in different capacities. Vaux designed New York Citys Metropolitan
Museum of Art located in Central Park and other public and residential structures,
falling back on his original education and previous experience in the architectural
field. He was working on a project near the Hudson River when he apparently
drowned in 1895, ending a long and inspired career.
Frederick Law Olmsted
Frederick Law Olmsted was bom on April 26, 1822 in Connecticut into
a humble, rural life. Growing up, he enjoyed the intricacies of the world that
surrounded him. Olmsted did not have a particularly keen interest in education and
had numerous teachers including a fair amount of religious leaders. After completing
primary education he then wandered the countryside to decide what his next step
in life would be. Beset by numerous recurrent health problems throughout his life,
Olmsted struggled at times with employment. He attended a semester at Yale, after
some prodding by his brother John. Despite the opportunity to have a prestigious
education he chose to discontinue his schooling. In the next few years, he worked
numerous small jobs including stints as a clerk, seaman, farmer, and journalist. In
the last two employments he found the most peace, and he greatly enjoyed working
the land, practicing a scientific farming method at his small farms first at Sachems
Head, then at Staten Island.17 His love of the land and enjoyment of revealing the
characteristics of the land pushed Olmsted to attempt to understand the ideas of
religion, democracy, and their relationship to their surroundings. After a stint on
the farm at Staten Island. Olmsted's father financed in 1850 Fredericks first tour of
Hurope with his brother and a friend; this trip proved pivotal to his career.
While traveling in Europe, Olmsted (Figure 9) was introduced to urban
life as never before in the United Slates, and to the writings of various English
landscape theorists. Primary in his readings were Uvedale Prince and William Gilpin
whom he favored for their views on the picturesque and their treatment of natural
landscapes, along with pivotal writings by Andrew Jackson Downing. The authors
were influential before his trip and became more so as he began to understand how-
public spaces and landscape functioned. During his time in Europe Olmsted visited
the recently completed Birkenhead Park; he admired the park as a place for the
Figure 9. Frederick Law Olm-
sted. Source: Roper. treatment of the urban poor. These ideas would come to
dictate a great majority of his w ork later in life. Olmsted documented all he observed
throughout his travels, and compiled the volumes of materials: first into letters for
congregation of all classes of people.18 Unlike many
of the parks in England, this early public park was a
collection of existing farmlands, rather than a former
royal hunting ground. Empowered by an Improvement
Act the park was funded by the Birkenhead
Commission and became the worlds first public park in
1846. Throughout his time in England, Olmsted took
a particular interest in the poorer residents of the cities,
and he began to think of the disparity of wealth and the
newspapers and then into a complete work entitled Walks and Talks of an American
Fanner in England (1850). Published a year after his journey, the book, written for
rural citizens, looked specifically at cities in England and the income division found
there as well as poignant descriptions of the English countryside and the agriculture
he encountered.1'' He returned home heavily invested in the idea of reform, urban
experience, and general social theories. Soon after his travels, he was commissioned
by the New York Times to travel the South and confront the issue of slavery from
an economic angle. I lis wa itings were developed from the newspaper articles into
a book entitled Journey in the Seaboard Slave States (1854) which portrayed the
institution of slavery as economically unfeasible and degrading in the way one race
was forced to maintain inferiority to another. Already strongly opposed to slavery,
Olmsted became an ardent supporter of abolition and his book was touted as a critical
look at slavery and widely read in both the United States and England.20
Olmsted had created a name for himself as a journalist, and gained a place in
the higher levels of society, especially in New York. This new status would assist him
in gaining employment with the New York City government. He staunchly believed
that politics should be left out of the design of public spaces and when the position of
Superintendent for Parks became open he directed all of his energies towards gaining
the position. Influential to the decision to hire Olmsted was Washington Irving, who
saw in him more than just a journalist but a man of talent and knowledge. At the
beginning of his employment, operations were just getting underw-ay for the building
of Central Park as designed by Egbert Viele. Olmsteds job would be to administer
the 500-plus workers on the site, which he soon developed a keen sense to do, re-
establishing hiring practices that allowed individuals to be hired based on experience
and knowledge, rather than political affiliation. Shortly after his adjustment to
the new position, the competition for a new design was announced and Olmsted
was contacted by Vaux to develop a new plan. Although both men were unsure of
themselves apart, together their knowledge of design grew into the Greensward
plan which won the competition. Olmsted retained his position of Superintendent as
well as that of Architect-in-Chief of the park and Vaux was to be his assistant. The
overall process of building the park was wrought with troubles due to the political
organizations in New York as the men were constantly badgered and unable to fulfill
their dreams for the site. After construction of the park concluded, both men were
disheartened with the Park Commission and the execution of the park itself. Times
changed when it become clear that the Civil War was about to begin. Olmsted
w ho desperately wanted to support the Union, was employed in 1861 as Secretary
General of the Sanitary Commission which would later become the Red Cross.21 In
this position, he worked to the point of exhaustion to create and maintain a record of
goods, services, medical facilities, and the injured throughout the course of the war,
until being let go shortly before the end of the war.
After Central Park and the ending of his position with the Sanitary
Commission, Olmsted disenchanted by the political system and corruption in New
York City, took a position as the manager for Mariposa Mines in California. The
position soon turned bleak, as the value of the mine was oversold to investors.22
Being in California did bring Olmsteds attention to the Yosemite area, which
influenced much of his work and would become a project of his later in his life.
While dealing with the mine property he received letters from Vaux concerning a
new park of grandeur to be built in Brooklyn to rival Central Park. In pleading with
Olmsted to recognize his skill and to step back from the depths of depression he was
experiencing in California Vaux wrote:
1 wish you could have seen your destiny in our art. God meant you should. I
really believe at times, although he may have something different for you to
do, yet he cannot have anything nobler in store for you.23
Vauxs numerous letters finally convinced Olmsted to return to the field, and he left
the Mariposa Mine and headed to New York to assist in detailing the plan for Prospect
We are neither of us old men you know. To me it seems and always has
seemed a magnificent opening. Possible together, impossible to either alone.:i
This quote was indicative of their early work and stressed their partnership in
the development of significant works in landscape architecture. The park was a
success; Olmsted found that the Commission was a wonderful entity to work with;
and the completed project brought both the partners into government positions.
After working for the city for a short time, Olmsted and Vaux established their own
office and worked on numerous projects including a variety of parks and suburban
developments. Olmsted became known for his visionary qualities, and was a founder
of the field of landscape architecture in the United States.
He went on to publish many works that detailed his ideas of urban experience
and the need for republican space. His idea of republican space as created in
landscapes were spaces that provided all people equal access to the amenities of the
site and brought diverse groups and classes of individuals together in the enjoyment
of the landscape. In his later years he continued to work on numerous parks including
national parks, city planning, suburbs, and large private estates. His ideas of urban
experience and the shaping of cities influence us to this day, and we now live in a
world which is largely predicated on the notions of Olmsted. Olmsted has developed
into an institution -a way of thought- within the field of landscape architecture and
will be referred to herein as such.
Prospect Park consists of 526 acres in the heart of Brooklyn, and w'as
developed from three specific elements as stated by the Brooklyn Common Council
(later to become the Park Commission):
The large open meadow; which would provide abundant space for play,
picturesque hilly area filled with shaded rambles, sixty acres spring-fed lake;
and offer opportunities for boating and skating.25
These three components lawn, wood and water (Figure 10) form the basic backdrop
for all of the park activities, and define the spatial datum used in the delineation of
the trajectory. The combination of these elements and the overall critical mass of
the park contribute to the theory' of resilience, thus allowing the park to adapt to its
context in a reciprocating manner. Olmsted designed the park with an open-ended
nature that left the various spaces of the park responsive to interpretation by the
users. The enlarged sense of freedom he prov ided in his designs created an adaptable
surface overlaying the park allowing for a wide range of activities to occur. The park
itself was to present a sense of enlarged freedom that:
Figure 10. Spatial layers of the park. Source: Author.
... results from the feeling of relief experienced by those entering then, on
escaping from the cramped, confined, and controlling circumstances of the
streets of the town... The most certain and most valuable gratification afforded
by a park.26
Gregariousness, as another integral element to the park, was defined by the
neighborly interaction between large groups of users developing a connection to the
park. These concepts relate to the adaptive nature of the park as a place w'here the
idea of republican space could be expressed and the openness of the design fostered
interaction and varied use of the site.
Original site conditions provided a blank slate to easily craft the three main
adaptive components of the site with distinct types of terrain: rolling, steeply sloped,
and flat.27 The terrain found on-site was largely the remnant of the terminal moraine
left after the ice Age. Working to augment the existing landscape and not replace it.
Olmsted and Vaux contended that the park would be built in accordance to the natural
features.2* Due to the irregular shape of the site, despite having less area, the park
feels much bigger in comparison to Central Park. The arrowhead shape eased the
creation of the impressive spaces within the park defining the processional character
of the park allowing visitors to constantly engage in new experiences.2" The active
spaces of the park included the concert grove, lookout, and main carriage drive all
located in close proximity to the middle third of the park directing circulation through
the park converging in the these areas. With a concentration of gregarious activities
in this area, the surrounding ring of the park creates a quiet space that is encircled by
another highly active area the perimeter. Prospect Park is quoted as the best design
put forth by the partnership giving form to the definitive model of large-scale urban
There is hardly a rood of ground in the Park, which besides serving its own
local purpose, will not contribute to general landscape effects, so that every
part, whatever its special value, will be associated in such a manner with other
parts as from some points of view to seem designed to be auxiliary to them,
and for the others to be supported by them.30
Circulation is another crucial element which Olmsted took into special
consideration. The separation of vehicular, pedestrian, and equine travel creates
three different forms and speeds of movement through the park. Vehicular traffic is
separated by grade changes and a number of bridges allowing pedestrians to stroll
freely about most of the park without interference from traffic. Running adjacent
to the roads the bridle path, originally suited to the travel customs of the time of
construction, functions as alternative path for joggers while still allowing those
attending riding lessons from the nearby stables to use them. A variety of pedestrian
paths exist in the park varying in size based upon their location. Numerous paths
have been added since the original plan and create a highly connected system
offering exploration to all areas of the park and ease in accessing various spaces. The
circulation system has. like the rest of the park, adapted to the overall changes in the
context influencing the trajectory of the park based on the following original concepts
for each of the components as conceived by Olmsted.
The lawn area of the park (Figure 1 1) named the Long Meadow, roughly 74
acres, is a highly transitional space designed for recreational activities both passive
and active. Carved from the existing trees, the lawn area was enhanced through the
articulation of topography to create a sense of unending space loosely edged by the
darkness of shadows from the encompassing trees. The immensity of lawn area and
the inability to view directly across the undulating terrain symbolized the idea of
enlarged freedom. Although the lawn area is adjacent to the streets, the relationship to
the city is masked by the separation of the road through berms and wooded areas.
Here the suggestion of freedom and repose, which must in itself, be refreshing
and tranquilizing to the visitor from the confinement and bustle of crowed
streets. The observer resting for a moment to enjoy the scene, which he is
induced to do by the arrangement of the planting, cannot but hope for still
greater space than is obvious before him.31
The varied topography found on-site was largely undisturbed to allow a
gently rolling meadow. Approaching the meadow from the main entry at the Grand
Army Plaza the meadow falls at users feet as they proceed through the Endale Arch
(Figure 12). The other entry to the meadow is accessed through the Meadowport
Arch; users entering here experience the grounds slowly unfolding as they travel
along the winding foot paths. Numerous types of paths run throughout the park
with a topographical separation of vehicular and pedestrian traffic. Paths within the
lawn are unobtrusive and do not hinder the views found throughout the lawn area.
Paths through the meadow are limited to the periphery to encourage casual strolling
within the center of the green. Structures within the park were limited and originally
consisted of small rustic shelters and a few convenience buildings. Additional
structures have been placed
on the periphery of the lawn
area, but they do not impede
on the overall experience of the
meadow. The meadow offered a
space for relaxation and a feelingr,. ' .. . . .
' figureli. hndaleAren render!
ring 1880s. Source:
of countryside in the booming city. Olmsted said of the meadow in a report to the
A stretch of greensward a mile in length, surrounded by woods, and unbroken
by any carriage road, should certainly offer a field of ample dimensions for
an illustration of the idea.... Thousands of people, without any sense of
crowding, stroll about the level or undulating, sunny or shaded turf-spaces
that are to be found in this strip of pasture and woodland...'2
The lawn is a more than just an element of the design, but rather the backbone to the
park, providing the ability to wander and enjoy the surroundings in relative seclusion.
The lawn functions as a spatial component to the datum through various
aspects of its original design, namely its open-endedness. I laving an open-ended
design relates to the overall non-programmed nature of this area in combination
with its size. The lawn offers the ability for individuals to appropriate the space for
their specific activities; with a minimal amount of designed elements the lawn is a
surface where events are allowed to unfold rather and a highly prescriptive space. As
designed by Olmsted the lawn was meant to reinforce his idea of an enlarged sense
of freedom. The conception of this space dealt with the variation of individual use
and the scale of the area. The lawn comprising most of the west half of the park is
immense in its undulating stretches of green space, providing a varied surface through
the topography and the edging of the perimeter with wooded areas. This contrast of
open lawn to patches of tress within and around the space is also a necessary element
in understanding the lawn as a place for gathering and interacting with others. The
concluding feature of the lawn which defines it as part of the datum is the experience
that is inherent in its sense of freedom and scale. With the varied surface and open-
ended design the lawn acts as a space to wander about freely with no true destination,
enjoying the republican space it provides.
Throughout the history of the park the lawn has experienced few changes
in physical appearance, but substantial changes in the useage of the area. At the
time of design, the lawn was an area for passive en joyment of the rolling terrain and
occasional picnicking (Figure 13). As attitudes concerning recreation have changed.
Figure 13. Fong Meadow current picture. Source: late.
so have the activities that take place on the lawn. These are now more active program
elements. The evolution of the program within this area has greatly affected its
role based on the understanding of the area and its inclusion as part of the datum.
Parallelling the changes in activities throughout the lawn is the addition of structures
and pathways, adding more complexity and elements to this area. Evolving for a
different group of users the lawn is slowly returning to some of the original intentions
through the assistance of the Prospect Park Alliance and their maintenance program.
The change of the park from a cultural and socially-based adaptive design to the
historic design will have future effects that could decrease the overall functionality of
the space and its openness.
This area of the park (Figure 14) lies roughly in the middle and provides the
picturesque areas referred to by the Brooklyn Council. Although there are numerous
wooded areas throughout the park, this area defined by the intensive planting of trees
in addition to the existent trees. The ravine is the focal point of the wooded area
ottering a deep, nigged gorge and trickling stream combining the elements of the
wood and water. This area was designed to be reminiscent of the Adirondacks and
brought an element of suspense to the pastoral scenery. While the meadow was to be
sunny and bright:
The ravine is designed to provide favorable conditions for rich, dark, cool, and
secluded effect in contrast with the neighboring meadow, and with the scenery
of the Park generally.33
The ravine provided the necessary contrast to the open meadow, and is also referred
to as the Midwoods with the other part of the wooded area referred to as the
W'estwoods. Both areas were comprised of a variety of native and exotic trees and
offered users a secluded, cool place for relaxation. Throughout the wooded areas
are winding paths and benches. The paths lead out of the shaded, cool density into
bright, open, sunny spaces of either the lawn or lake areas. The wooded area aids
in developing the sense of separation from the city providing the visitor with total
immersion in the scene.
The woods within the spatial datum rely upon two central concepts found in
the original design; reference to nature and solitude. As a separation between the
lawn and the water, the woods offer a place to escape the more gregarious elements
of the park and be surrounded by the quiet density of the space. The cool, dark
environment of the woods creates a solitude that is distinguished from the other
park elements. Olmsteds intent for all the spaces in the park was to recall a sense
of nature the realization of this idea is most prominent in the woods. Perhaps the
overwhelming density of the setting creates this reference to nature, defining the
woods as a place of connection to a larger idea and the essential link between the
other park spaces. The contrasting environment of the woods to the other elements
in the park further relates to its importance in the datum as a critical component to the
park in its overall configuration and use. The woods are a component of the park that
develop the necessary relationships between the spaces and functions as a transitional
space leading to areas of differing program.
Over the years the perceptions of the woods have changed in accordance with
many of the overriding societal changes, often leading to disuse of the area. After
years of disuse the woods have grown in the number of activities they support. Trail
systems within the woods now' serve as active pathways for runners including the
individuals using the various stairways for exercise areas. Despite this increased
use in the trail system the areas have largely been fenced inhibiting open circulation
(Figure 15). With the increased values placed on this area as Brooklyns last bit of
forest, the management of these areas has resulted in a number of closures of trails
and the placement of perimeter fencing
around a majority of the wooded areas,
tunneling visitors along defined routes.
As open use of the wooded area has been
restricted, the management has worked
extensively to maintain the health of the
ecosystem through native plantings and the
eradication of invasive species, as well as the
installation of structures to lessen erosion.
Despite these changes, the woods still offer
the escape intended in the original design
- along with education through signage
describing the various maintenance practices.
Figure 15. Present day wooded area with
fencing. Source: Author.
The southern portion of the park is dedicated to the lake. Prospect Lake
covers 60 acres, yet due to its curvilinear shape has a feeling of size not found at
the lake in Central Park. The Prospect Lake was designed to be larger than Central
Parks to accommodate the popularity of ice-skating and offer opportunities for
boating per the commission. Water, as the third register of the design, also consists
of Binnenwater and Lullwater. The other areas of water (Figure 16) are both located
in Nethermead which also offers a stretch of lawn to relax while strolling the paths
adjacent to the waterways. Binnenwater is fed from the pools located at the edge
of the Long Meadow; this wandering narrow stream provides the gentle sound of
splashing water as the watercourse is varied and includes numerous drop structures
and boulders. The watercourse of Binnenwater ends at the Ambergill Falls and opens
into the broad waterway of Lullwater. This area was designed to provide a placid
Figure 16. Water areas of the park. Source: Author.
stretch of calm water, after the excitement of the rushing waters.
Prospect Lake is located in the active part of the park where gregariousness
would be fostered. The areas around the lake provide paths, platforms, bridges, and
a host of smaller water bodies that guide you to the Long Meadow. This area was
carved out of the existing lowlands on the south portion of the site, with a massive
construction effort to form the lake and maintain the water level. Located just east of
the lake is the concert pavilion, where audiences attending performances could either
watch from their carriages or relax in chairs near the stage. The stage itself was an
island on the lake that provided optimal acoustics for the performers. The importance
of the water in providing tranquility and relaxation was an essential element in
overall the design, and was further elaborated in the connection of the water bodies
throughout the park.
The final compositional element of the park, water, is still heav ily valued on
its original concepts of scenic value and its restorative nature. At the time of design,
large water bodies were seen as scenic areas where the eyes could rest and enjoy
the secenery. The openness of views around the lake, like the lawn area, creates the
sense of enlarged freedom. The park the water bodies lead the user through the park
creating diverse experiences ending in the passive areas surrounding the lake which
were designed to calm and allow for gathering. Water within the park is a transitional
connecting element signifying the respite from city life and the restorative nature of
parks. As a part of the datum the water functions as a passive space where various
events can occur and bring together groups of individuals through the increase of
paved surfaces included the original design.
The water element of the park has experienced a number of changes,
mainly in their maintenance and the addition of structures to the surrounding areas
(Figure 17). Over the years the surface waters areas of the park have suffered
from overuse and erosion, leading to a restoration of the entire water system. The
physical additions to the lake
area include new buildings
that have replaced historic
structures and will eventually
be turned into a new activity
centers for the park. Creating
a balance between the other
elements of the park the water
is an integral piece which runs Figure 17. Boathouse and lake current photograph. Source:
throughout all the spaces of the park.
Surrounding Context of the Park: Neighborhoods
Brooklyn is a borough of constant change and complexity. Brooklyn
(f igure 18), New Yorks most populated borough is defined by its ethnic and racial
div ersity. The integration of the park within the city and the connection of events
both contextual and temporal that the city has experienced are the basis for the park'
resilience and understanding how it still works in modern society. Surrounding the
park is a diversity of neighborhoods, specifically the nine neighborhoods adjacent
to the park. These neighborhoods are directly associated with the park and have a
reciprocal relationship to its development. This relationship represents the influence
these elements have on
each other, including
increased property values,
definition of neighborhood
park areas, exterior and
interior edges of the park,
and the development of
programs and management
actions within the park.
Figure 18. Context map of New York City Boroughs. Source: The nine neighborhoods
are Brooklyn Heights, Park Slope, Sunset Park, Borough Park, Flatbush, East
Flatbush, South Crown Heights, Prospect Heights, and Bedford Stuyvesant (Figure
19). Each neighborhood is unique in population creating divers groups of users who
frequent the park. The neighborhoods will be grouped into geographic areas to best
understand their relationship to the park and its edges.
Along the western edge of the park are Park Slope, Sunset Park and Borough
Park neighborhoods which have similar appearances and population dynamics.
Sunset Park and Park Slope has recently experienced a large increase in population
due to the gentrification of the neighborhood. Immigrant populations founded
the neighborhood of Sunset Park and it continues to house a large population of
Scandinavians. Both of these areas have experienced a trend of upper-middle-class
relocation and renovation of the older multi-lamily units of brownstones. Park
Slope has been known as the Gold Coast" of Brooklyn because of the expensive
homes along many of its streets due to sincreased property values soon after the
completion of the park.'4 Borough Park has developed over time as a Jewish
neighborhood, with a large population of Hasidic Jews which has affected the
neighborhoods interaction. Due to their deeply held and observed religious beliefs
Hasidic Jews are quite separated from the rest of the neighborhood residents with
their own commercial
areas. These neighborhoods
over time have changed
in population, blit
the same in their prevalence
of single and multi-family
the south side of the park
are Flatbush, Prospect
Heights, and East Flatbush
These neighborhoods are
compositionally similar in
the amount of residential
Figure 19. Neighborhoods adjacent to Prospect
Park. Source: Author.
areas, with different ratios of single-family and multi-family residences. Flatbush
is a neighborhood of relatively few' changes many of the historic homes still stand
and are being renovated. Prospect Heights was historically an area populated largely
by artisans and offers more multi-family than single-family residences. During
the 1990s the neighborhood witnessed an increase in the Hispanic and East Asian
population changing the dynamics and ushering in diverse groups of indiv iduals.
Developed in the 1920s as an overflow area for the surrounding neighborhoods. Hast
Flatbush is a mix of various ethnic groups. Areas of the neighborhood were known
for the slave markets that took place as many African Americans sought work in the
late 1920s. All of these areas have undergone shifts in the numbers of residents
shifts. Prospect I leights has shown a decrease in population over the past ten years
while the other areas have grown in number of residents.
The northern edge of the park borders the neighborhoods of Brooklyn Heights,
Bedlbrd-Stuyvesant, and North Crown Heights. These areas have shown a significant
amount of change over the history of the park including a transition in population
from largely white to African-American and Hispanic in contrast to the surrounding
neighborhoods. Brooklyn Fleights, in 1834, included the main area of Brooklyn
City; this neighborhood is also the closest to Manhattan just off the Brooklyn Bridge.
The Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood has been influenced by a variety of changes
namely a dramatic shift in ethnic make-up of residents. In the late 1880-1890s the
neighborhood was a working and middle-class immigrant neighborhood. The ethnic
change in resident composition started following the Depression and continued until
well after World War II (more detailed information found in Chapter Five). Adding
to the differences between these neighborhoods is a large population of Hasidic Jews
found in North Crown Heights, creating occasional tensions between community
members. This neighborhood has witnessed several violent disturbances between
the two dominant population groups (African-American and Jewish) creating very
separate community areas within the same neighborhood.
The context surrounding the park plays an important role in the growth and
development of relationships to the park. With diverse neighborhoods surrounding
the park there is a variety of interactions and edge conditions that help define the park
and establish it as a city park. The neighborhood interactions with the park vary,
producing distinct areas within the park and along its perimeter associated with those
interactions. Throughout the trajectories the neighborhoods will be referenced to
develop the contextual relationships of the park.
Endnotes Chapter Two
1 Brooklyn USA: The Fourth Largest City in America. Brooklyn College Studies on Society in
Change. Ed. Miller. Rita Scidcn New York, NY: Brooklyn College Press, 1979.
Blucstone, Daniel M. From Promenade to Park: The Gregarious Origins of Brooklyns Park
Movement. American Quarterly Vol. 39 No. 4 (1987): 529-550. In his article Blucstone illustrates
how the promenade was slowly transformed into the park idea in Brooklyn using a variety of sources
focusing on the evolution of the combination of urban space and natural ideals to create the Olmstedian
idea of park design.
'Ibid. Pg. 536. Blucstone notes that upper-class citizens saw the custom of promenading as superior
to other forms of leisure enjoyed by the w orking class such as saloons and beer gardens. Although the
promenade did not stop the other forms of activities, middle-class citizens were well represented in the
heterogeneous crowds filling the promenade.
4 Ibid. Pg. 533.
Ibid. Pg. 535.
' Tate. Alan. Great City Parks. London, England: Spon Press, 2001. Pg. 125.
Berenson. Richard. deMause, Neil. The Complete Illustrated Guidebook to Prospect Park and
the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. New York, NY: Silver Lining Books, 2001. Pg. 24. The Battle of
Brooklyn, during the American Revolution, was one of the first battles fought during the war. The
battle resulted in a complete loss for the American forces, with troops from the Brooklyn area
retreating into the surrounding wooded areas after cutting dow n a large tree marking the battle spot and
setting it on fire as a barrier to the British forces.
* Ibid" Pg. 24.
'Tate. Alan. (200!) 127.
10 Barlow. Elizabeth. Frederick Law Olmsteds New York. New York, NY: Praegcr Publishers, 1972.
" Alex, William, and Tatum, George B. Calvert Vaux: Architect & Planner. New York, NY: Ink Inc.,
12 Berenson. Richard. deMause, Neil. (2001) Pg. 24.
13 Alex, William. (1994) Pg. 10.
14 Alex. William. (1994) Pg. 11.
15 Ibid. Pg. 19.
Ih Barlow, Elizabeth. (1972) Pg. 33
17 Roper, Laura Wood. FLO: A Biography of Frederick Law Olmsted. Baltimore, MD: The Johns
Hopkins University Press, 1973.
'* Ibid. Pg. 25.
''Stevenson, Elizabeth. Park Maker: The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted. New York, NY: MacMillan
Publishing Co., Inc., 1977.
20 Roper, Laura. (1973) Pg. 101.
21 Fein, Albert. Landscape into Cityscape. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1967. Pg. 26.
22 Roper, Laura. (1973)
23 Barlow', Elizabeth. 1972. Pg. 33.
24 Rybczynski, Witold. A Clearing in the Distance: Frederick Law Olmsted and America in the 19th
Century. New York, NY: Scriber, 1999.
25 Alex, William. (1994) Pg. 20.
2,1 Fein, Albert. 1967. 95. Taken form Olmsteds Preliminary Report to the Commissioners for
Laving out a Park in Brooklyn, New York.
Tate, Alan. (2001) Pg. 127.
211 Berenson. Richard. deMause, Neil. (2001)
29 Bluestone, Daniel. (1979)
30 Olmsted, Frederick Law. The Years of Olmsted, Vaux, and Company 1865 1874. The Papers
of Frederick Law Olmsted Ed. Beveridge, Charles E Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University
Press, 1992. Pg. 326.
Fein, Albert. (1967) Pg. 108.
'2 Olmsted, Frederick Law (1992) Pg. 356. The idea Olmsted refers to the meadow giving visitors is
the concept he and Vaux built into the park, that of a pastoral rural life. This idea was chosen over the
contrasting of city to nature, to create a place of true scenic value making a permanent impression on
Olmsted, Frederick Law (1992) Pg. 423-424.
Wikipedia. "'Park Slope 4 April. 2006.
T( The Initial Trajectory a Sixty Year
Examination of Adaptation
The completion of the park in 1868 marked a milestone for the borough of Brooklyn
in defining a new image for itself and creating a public space that would assist in
the development of the surrounding communities, a park system, and the borough.
Prospect Park was a model of republican space for the use of all within the borough.
The sheer scale of the park allowed a variety of spaces with numerous elements and
experiences adding to the park, creating a diverse range of evolving relationships
to the surrounding communities. The path of the trajectory away from the datum is
based upon a number of factors that both positively and negatively affected the park
including issues occurring in Brooklyn and the nation at the time, perceptions of the
park, changing patterns of use, and the development of parkways and a park system
within Brooklyn. Showing a general upward trend in creating relationships to the
park through new uses, there is also a downward turn in examining the original intent
by Olmsted. This change is best explained by changes in use and perceptions of the
park. The trajectory is drawn in response to the variety of new uses that occurred
within each space along with the addition of structures to the lawn and water layers
of datum, and an overall increase in community use and connection to the park.
Plotting the trajectory to illustrate the course of the park over this period was based
on the changes noted above and their effects on the overall intentions implied through
the original design. Modifications made to the park and programs, during this
period, assisted in elevating the park's role within the community and developing its
importance as a community feature through elaboration of Olmsteds original design
concepts and their openness. Charted as a positive function of adaptation, during this
period the trajectory focuses on changes to design, program, and the overall use of the
park through its evolution and modification.
Reconstruction and a Unified Nation
The period of the civil war 1861 1865 marked a change in the political
system of the nation and brought with an attempt to unify the states. The climate
before the war differed in the sectional areas of the nation. On one hand the
north was growdng at a rapid speed as the industrial, technical and transportation
revolutions fostered an increase in mobility, the economy, and a more sophisticated
society. Meanwhile the south locked in tradition and heavily agriculturally based
their economy on work of the slaves coupled with inherited wealth. As the north
progressed into the future, events surrounding the issue of slavery began to take place
starting with John Browns raid on the Harper Ferry. This event precipitated and
foretold of the battle to come. Within the next year, the war was in full swing and the
nation divided. As both sides raged in w'ar the nation especially the south showed the
signs of devastation as the war swept over the nation.
The aftermath of the war and the reconstruction period that followed set the
policies that would shape and attempt re-unify the nation. Sectional issues were still
problematic as the south had been devastated and their economy radically altered
as their main source of labor was freed. The slaves themselves, suffered equally
as their place in society had not yet been defined; while they were no longer under
formal control by whites it was much more informal. Struggling for identity and
employment African Americans were not simply freed and new lives handed to them.
Despite the social changes the government attempted many programs to consolidate
the states, while pieces of these programs worked the mass majority only led to
more turmoil. It is in these trying times that monetary, governing, and economic
strategies are laid down. As the north was largely untainted by the war capitalism
began to flourish, corporations grew and became more powerful both economically
and politically. The nation was at one hand trying to hold itself together, while
also rapidly expanding westward further weakening the government as it still was
undefined. With all of these new concerns the nation struggled to gain control and
organize under a unified government. The social climate at the time was still much
divided and the new population of freed slaves only added to tensions. Defining a
distinct time for the nation, the civil war set into motion new systems throughout the
nation and refonnulated social and political ideals.
Brooklyn as an Agent of Change
Brooklyn during this time was experiencing much of the same effects of
industrialization and the heavy manufacturing evident elsewhere. Manufacturing jobs
were plentiful and brought with them an influx of immigrants mainly from Europe.
As in many eastern states New York, especially Brooklyn and New York City, native
Protestant populations witnessed a huge increase in the number of immigrants
entering the city and attaining the unskilled labor positions of manufacturing jobs.
Immigrants who settled in Brooklyn during this time period were predominantly Irish
and German.1 These groups found assimilating to the existent population difficult
and were often housed in slum areas ( Figure 19) of Manhattan and suffered lower
pay in their occupations. Brooklyn
soon became populated with many
immigrants who worked in the
borough, and sought to relocate to
the borough viewing it as a move
up in social standing, as Brooklyn
was a suburb to the overly
crowded Manhattan. The influx of
Figure 19. Immigrant tenements Brooklyn, 1900s.
new residents to Brooklyn created Source: Snyder-Grenier.
defined neighborhoods based on their ethnic differences causing problems within the
borough due to the increased cultural differences. With the opening of the park and
its inclusion of all citizens to enjoy the refuge it offered, immigrants were often not
able to use the park as upper class citizenry due to long hours and week long work.
Soon after the turn of the century, labor policies were developed creating a forty
hour work week and halting child labor. These changes opened the park for use to a
wide variety of individuals of all backgrounds and incomes. The new labor policies
brought diverse groups of users to the park who viewed its many aspects based on
their varied cultural backgrounds often defining spaces in the park through new uses
such as imported sports and more active engagement of the park.
Defining areas of the park as related to adjacent communities, the users began
adapt the spaces within the park as they were claimed by the dominant cultures and
took shape under differing meanings and activities. Transportation routes began to
spread across Manhattan and Brooklyn assisting in the development of neighborhoods
surrounding the park, settled by individuals moving to Brooklyn seeking lower
taxes, bigger houses, and the ability to easily live with large families.2 With the
mass movement to Brooklyn. Prospect Park was establishing itself as the center of
the community. The new body of users actively engaged in the spaces of the park
turning it into a center of activity functioning in a new way that was not dependent
not on its beauty, but on its usefulness. The early 1900s witnessed a move towards
integrating the industrial culture leading to less exclusion than was found in principles
of pleasure grounds.3 Integration of the industrial culture and the introduction of
immigrant populations to the park formed a distinction of the park from its original
conception, in its active use as a surface allowing the unfolding of events for all
segments of the citys population.
Later during this time period (1900 1920) immigrants from different
backgrounds started to infill the borough. The two predominant groups of
individuals in this immigration period were Italians and Jews. E:thnic conflicts
were now widespread across the borough as differing groups vied for positions
within the job market and government offices. Conflicts during the early years as
the groups began to claim community spaces were largely centered on the Catholic
Church and its control.4 The first immigrant populations, the Irish and CJennans,
had become settled and to some extent assimilated into the culture of Brooklyn;
they looked upon the new immigrants as competition for all the resources they
had worked hard to attain. Clashes within occupational categories frequently led
to conflicts and fueled the fires of discontent between the groups. The advent of
World War I brought about more conflict as Irish and Germans openly opposed U.S.
involvement consequently suffering attacks from all groups within the borough.
As the 1920's progressed, native Protestants became increasingly concerned with
the rise of immigrant populations and viewed all ethnic groups as a problem. The
introduction of immigration laws (1921) in the United States set the tone for many
residents of Brooklyn and halted the influx of immigrants.5 After years of conflict and
ethnic segregation across the community, the immigrant groups had finally reached a
moment of quasi peace, this however would not last.
The city of Brooklyn unwillingly faced a change as the Brooklyn Bridge
was built, providing a new connection to Manhattan. The completion of the bridge
in 1883 (Figure 20) marked not only a new conduit of activity between the two
cities linking Brooklyn into a major transportation network, but also the downfall
of Brooklyn as an independent entity. Brooklyn had suffered the ridicule of New'
w it .1
Figure 20. Brooklyn Bridge late 1880s. Source: Brooklyn Public
Yorkers and fought
politically with the city
for years concerning
the Hast River before
the bridge was built.
Supporters of the
growth, the ability to partake in many of the benefits provided by the large
municipality.6 The borough was soon forced to merge with New York City becoming
one of five powerless boroughs thereby changing the overall strong community
feeling within the city. Brooklyn faced many challenges in the consolidation of the
city, mainly the incorporation of government positions and departments into the larger
city structure of New York City.7 The adaptation of borough to its new configuration
paralleled changes in Prospect Park as management of the developing park system
in Brooklyn was transferred to New York City, generating new relationships within
the city to its management and overall systems (government, transportation, and
economic). With the integration of Brooklyn into the larger New York City, the
borough lost some of the original independent spirit it once had, along wdth much of
Parkways and the Generation of Development
The park itself was beginning to grow as parkways were being added to
facilitate access to the park due to its remote location at the time of construction.
Olmsted, while completing the park, was asked by Stranahan to aid in the
development of a transportation system for the borough and offered an approach that
differed from the typical grid layout. (Fgure 21) As requested by Stranahan, Olmsted
drew up plans for a large scale transportation network for the borough and first used
the term parkway to describe the configuration of vehicular and pedestrian traffic.
These parkways would connect public recreation grounds and would extend
the amenity of a park like green space throughout the city.*
It is in Brooklyn that the idea of parkways, area for both transportation and
recreation, was first implemented. Based upon ^
suggestions by Olmsted, the borough went
ahead and constructed parkways along the park
leading to opposite ends of the borough. These
parkways led to the establishment of other such
roads throughout the borough and also aided in
the creation of the city park system. During this
time period numerous other parks were added to
the park department creating a network between
neighborhoods and opening up dense parts of
town. This connected Prospect Park to the
outlying communities and spurred the creation of a
true park system for the borough. The advent of a
* * i
* * 4 4
m* *a .
defined transportation system and increased parks Figure 21. Parkway plan bv Olmsted.
led to the rapid development of the borough, dramatically altering Brooklyn. Within
the culture of adaptation relating to the park, the development of parkways created
a transportation network that presented expanded opportunities to access the park,
bringing an increased variety of users to the park. The development of the parkway
system linked various areas of the borough, converged at the centralized location of
the park, and enhanced connections to communities throughout Brooklyn.
Modifications to the park and Management
During this time period numerous structural changes occurred in the park
starting with the addition of architectural and sculptural elements. In this early
period of the park, numerous structures were added by Vaux as he continued to work
with the original conception of the park, designing small elements to accommodate
y users. These included
j< the Concert Grove
li House (a comfort
^ station and restaurant),
ftf : and the Music Pagoda
which became the new
location of concerts
due to better acoustical
Figure 22. The Grand Army Plaza with Memorial Arch 1890s.
Source: Benson and DeMause. presentations. Major
changes in the park started soon after Vauxs departure from the park administration
with the Grand Army Plaza (Figure 22) and the addition of the Memorial Arch in
1889 and an electric fountain, these structures defined the plaza as the main entrance
to the park and dramatically altered the simple design of Olmsted and Vaux. Other
changes soon followed at many of the entrances with the addition of various
structures and sculptural elements differing at each entry. Changes to the entries were
products of adaptivity as neighborhoods began to evolve and define themselves as
distinct entities, using the added entry pieces as markers of their access to the park.
Theses changes were part of a larger movement to use parks as civic
memorials through the addition of statuary; this idea of ornamentation of the park
was contrary to Olmsted resulting in the placement of elements within the natural
setting disrupting the overall How of the landscape. The Beaux Arts movement was
becoming the new architectural style during this time and ushered in a new style
of architecture to the park with the building of the Boathouse (1905) and Tennis
I louse (1910). These structures were a marked difference to the original rustic
style buildings that were designed to blend into the surrounding and complement
the landscape. The location of the Boathouse (Figure 23) in the Lullwater area was
a striking contrast to the scenic setting of the quiet waterway creating a definite
separation of building and land, in direct opposition to the original design of the
space. While the location
of the Tennis House (Figure
23)on the lawn was less
obtrusive due to its siting
in the wooded perimeter,
its overall appearance was
similar to the Boathouse.
Instrumental in these early
changes were McKim,
Mead and White who had taken over Olmsted and Vauxs role in the administration
of the park during 1890 1906.9 As architects they favored the introduction of
staictures within the park to assist in serving the needs of the community.10 This style
of architecture, although not favored by
the original landscape architects, offered
users of the park more programs and
services. Forcing adaptation of these
spaces to the new uses derived from
the addition of structures delineated the
trajectory as diverging from the datum.
Other changes to the park dealt
with the provision of activities and
facilities. One of these additions was the
relocation of the Lefferts Historic Home
to Prospect Park, this building offered
facilities for the park board. After being
Figure 24. Tennis House 1910. Soucre: Lan-
burnt down in 1876 a picnic house was added back to the park in 1928, providing a
place of comfort in the Long Meadow. By 1914 lighting had been added to the park,
this differed from the original design as Olmsted believed.
The attempt to light any large ground, planted closely, or with underwood in
the natural style, sufficiently to make it a safe resort, always fails. If in the
midst of a large town, it use for immoral and criminal purposes more than
balances any advantages it may offer."
Recreation at night was to take place, according to Olmsted, in the lit promenade that
formed the perimeter of the park built along the parkways extending from Prospect
Park.12 Lighting opened the park to those who worked long hours and made the park
more adaptivity in its service to the community. As a force of adaptation in park,
lighting created a longer time span to enjoy the part and opened the park to an even
larger population, despite its opposition to the overall concept lighting in the park
increased its usability. The disadvantage of adding the lighting throughout the park
was the visual interference it had in reference to views and a crowding of the park.
Changes made to the park during this time were not related to the original intent of
scenery and the passive ideals of nature enjoyment, but enhanced the parks adaptivity
in serving the public strengthening its relationship to the community.
As New York Citys government became more organized and centralized,
the park department was transitioned from the hands of wealthy citizens to the city
by Mayor Seth Lowe 1881,13 This offered an ability to appropriately manage the
park and fund a variety of programs happening at the time through increased access
to funding. Reorganizing the park in this way also placed a specific body in charge
of guiding the future of this space, offering the potential to initiate programs. It is
also during this time period that the City Beautiful movement began to dominate the
United States which included the creation of tree lined streets and many parks. With
the addition of parks and landscaped parkways to the city of Brooklyn the city laced
increased management needs and funding to maintain the heavily used park system.
The park within its first years experienced a variety of changes not only physically,
but also socially as spaces within the park were used in new ways by an even larger
population. As the nation and economy changed, so did the internal structure and
services offered by park management forcing the park to move away from the original
intent and modify to the changing needs of the community. The culture of adaptation
evident in this time was a claiming of the park by the community wherein the park
was assimilated into the surrounding neighborhoods. Modifications in the park
represent an increased engagement of the community in the park defining it in a new
way for the city providing spaces that allowed new programs.
Evolving Patterns of Use and Perceptions
Starting in the early 1900s with the advent of less work time, more leisure
time and the mechanization of manufacturing, working styles changed creating a
variety of agencies that were developed to assist in the widespread planning of the
new found leisure time. The early part of the twentieth century was the reform era
and brought with it a move towards organized activities in the park. Prospect soon
became area of active engagement in a w ide variety of programs with this new role
came park organizers, park leaders, and play directors. The addition of facilities
and staff to the park forced the adaptation of the park to heavily programmed uses
departing from the open intent of the spaces and reformulation of the spaces,
particularly the lawn and the edge of the park into highly programmed active spaces
(Figure 25). The perimeter of the park was still widely used for its promenade
qualities, while the interior of the park was used in an active manner in comparison to
the perimeter. Active use of interior perimeter was largely fashioned by Olmsted as a
means to control the use and design qualities of the main park areas.
During this time, The Playground Association of America was created in
a large part to correct the evils of institutional life, brought about by schools,
created playgrounds across the United States including Prospect Park.14 This new'
mentality in park development was largely focused on children and their need for
Figure 25. Pattern of use map for Tl. Source: Author. NO
active recreation to add to their educational requirements, providing better attendance
and less health problems within the student body hence small playgrounds where
located along the perimeter which concentrated use outside of the main areas.
Other organizations formed during this period ushered in the new role of parks as
structured areas of activities that would provide education and physical exercise for
the leisure time found in America's cities. Recreation became the key word in park
development, this contrasted with the previous not ion of parks as pleasure grounds.
Altering the general design ideas of early parks many pre-reform era parks, like
Prospect Park, were retrofitted to fit the emerging needs of the populace.
During this time period parks were not just places of activity but as World
War 1 influenced the nation, parks offered programs that included drama, music, arts
and crafts, and numerous civic programs. Organized activities were extensively
planned for men, while women were still thought to attend children not requiring the
same stimulus as men.15 In conjunction with planned activities came events at the
park including concerts, functioning much like Olmsted had originally imagined with
groups of individuals congregating in the park and participating in upper levels of
society. Concerts were generally held in the concert grove and allowed the mixing of
the citys population. The gregariousness of park events strengthened the intentions
of many of the spaces reaffirming the park as a surface for the unfolding of events.
The park was used a foundation for the community in demonstrating support for the
war, generating activities not just for children but also adults, and supplementing
the street as the active play area. Despite the change in the perception of the park
as nature to the park as recreation, this shift allowed large diverse groups of users
to simultaneously use the park in a wide array of activities. This again differs from
Olmsteds concept of the park, adapting to the changing dynamics of the surrounding
communities, Prospect welcomed the new programmatic changes adding to the
amenities of the park and defining a stronger connection of the park to community.
Prospect Park witnessed the construction of facilities to provide for the
recreation programs first the Boathouse, then die Tennis House and the addition of
court areas throughout the Long Meadow, and development of the parade ground in
organized field areas. The Boathouse functioned as implied by the name, but also
as a service building offering rest and respite in the park. The park did however
maintain similar areas of passive recreation as described by Olmsted. The lawn area
once relegated to leisurely strolls and picnics now became a held area for numerous
organized sports especially tennis, but still maintained areas for passive enjoyment of
Figure 26. Tennis in the Long Meadow. 1900s Source: Barlow. House including lockers
and shower areas. In order to concentrate a portion of the high use experienced by
the lawn, the parade grounds, once used for military ceremonies, were adapted to
supply baseball areas for the park. The development of these structures created a new
dynamic differing from the original intent focused on active engagement across the
site not passive enjoyment.
New intentions given to the spatial layers of the park defined it as an
active community agent connecting to the adjacent communities and reaffirming
conceptions of the park as an essential civic space within the borough. This new
function of the park did, however, foster the gathering of persons and providing areas
throughout the park for gregarious events to occur versus Olmsteds center of park
activity, the park was now a complete active space. Newly built structures in the
the space. Throughout the
Long Meadow the growth
of tennis (Figure 26) and
construction of the Tennis
park ottered areas of congregation for active enjoyment in programs and spaces for
programming to occur. The evolving patterns of use in the park characterized it as an
active space within the city where enjoyment of leisure time included new uses of the
park resulting from the diversity of users and the programming instituted by various
Resultant Delineation of the Trajectory
The changes of this period in the park in many ways took the park away from
the original design intent based upon in the scenery and need for nature, moving
towards Olmsteds second concept of park design as an area for congregation. The
recreation movement directed individuals to view the park as an active surface in
engagement of a variety of physical and educational programs, while the previous
perception of the park had been rooted in its provision of nature. Although the park
was still enjoyed for its naturalist qualities, the view of the park as strictly a place
to enjoy the interaction with nature soon faded as times became allied to the w'hims
of societal change involving active participation. Social organization of the park
inherently effected the perceptions and uses of the park, with the reformers filling
every moment with planned activities, the park began to lose the unplanned openness
Olmsted sought in the original design. Patterns of use changed during this period
resulting in the need to accommodate users through new pathways and additional
and updated facilities, many other changes were necessitated to accommodate to
the widespread use of the automobiles in the borough. The rise of the auto helped
to reaffirm the park position as a safe place, when vehicular traffic took over streets
that had originally functioned as play spaces. With the inclusion of all groups the
park became a place for all not just in regards to income and ethnicity but also age.
Allowing groups of all ages to actively enjoy the park relates to Olmsted's idea of
a republic park for all, fostering the ability for these groups to come together. The
organizations which supported the recreation movement brought with them a wave
of charity and support in the park not only in programming but also in the general
functions of the park. These organizations led the way for deeper community
involvement in all aspects of the park and provided a stronger sense of ownership.
The park itself adapted to support the community and provide the needed activities to
strengthen their relationships as neighborhoods in larger city.
Structural changes in the park including the addition of buildings, field areas,
new pathways, and improved roadways fostered the adaptivity of the park to support
the new found leisure time. With the influx of new user to the park, these additions
were necessary to keep many of the original characteristics of the park and allow
them withstand overuse. Changes in the park that supported the active lifestyle
worked to coordinate parts of original design into areas for programs happened
throughout the park, including the parade grounds.16 The reorganization of the parks
department created an entity specific to the maintenance and control of the park. The
parks department ushered in management policies, programs, and a knowledge staff
to adequately run Prospect Park and other parks in Brooklyn. With the creation of the
parks department and the realization of a growing park system. Prospect Park became
the backbone to the system creating a focal center from which they could spread
into the dense communities. During this period the park functioned as a catalyst
for the community and the borough in recognizing the potential parks held bonding
The culture of adaptation that is found in the park at this time is largely
dependent on the many groups entering the park, the redefinition of work styles,
and the social movement occurring in the nation. The specific adaptations of the
park relates mainly to the reformulation of spaces within the park. As designed by
Olmsted and Vaux the park was left open, this openness in turn created the adaptivity
of areas for new programs to insert themselves without alteration of the existing
features. Overall the changes the park experienced in this period aided in establishing
strong relationships with the community while minor changes to the appearance of
the park increased amenities for residents. Delineation of the trajectory to reflect the
changes and adaptivity of the park is based on the evolution of Olmsteds conception
of the site and the openness of design in the spatial layers. This period illustrates
the response of the park to changing social patterns consequently having a positive
relationship to the park and demonstrating the adaptivity of the park.
Kndnotes Chapter Three
1 Brooklyn USA: The Fourth Largest City in America. Brooklyn College Studies on Society in
Change.- lid. Miller. Rita Scidcn New York. NY: Brooklyn College Press. 1979. pg. 17.
Snydcr-Grcnicr, Ellen M. BrooklynL Phildclphia. PA: Temple University Press, 1996. pg. 83.
1 Cranz. Galen. The Politics of Park Design. Cambridge. MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
1989. pg. 78.
4 Bayor. Ronald H. Neighborhoods in Conflict: The Irish, Germans. Jews, and Italians of New York
City. 1929 PHI. Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press. 1988. pg. 4. This was most evident
betw een the Irish and Italians as their view s of each other and their religious practices forced the
Catholic Church to create separate places of w orship.
' Ibid. pg. 6.
* Syner-Greiner, Ellen. (1996) pg. 79.
Although the referendum in 1894 consolidating the city passed by a wide margin in New York and
a small margin in Brooklyn the actual event took another four years to evolve finalizing the merger,
illustrating opposition of the residents to the incorporation.
Beveridge, Charles E., and Rocheleau. Paul. Frederick Law Olmsted: Designing the American
Landscape. New York. NY: Rizzoli, 1995. pg. 48.
"Graff. M.M. Central Park, Prospect Park: A New Perspective. New'York. NY: Greensward
"'Graff, M. M. (1985) pg. 85.
"Olmsted, Frederick Law. The Years of Olmsted. Vaux, and Company IS65 1874. "The Papers of
Frederick Law Olmsted. Ed. Beveridge. Charles E Baltimore. MI): The Johns Hopkins University
Press, 1992. pg. 422.
12 Ibid. pg. 422.
n Graff. M. M. (1985) pg. 124.
14 Doell, Chas E., Fitzgerald, Gerald B. A Brief History of Parks and Recreation in the United States.
Chicago, IL: The Athletic Institute, 1954. pg. 9.
15 Cranz, Galen. (1989) pg. 45.
16 The parade ground, as originally designed by Olmsted, was to serve active programs without
affecting the integrity or natural setting of the law n. Developing the parade grounds into programmed
field areas in the 1920s created a defined area for active use while leaving the law n open similar to the
T2 A Radical Break from Olmsted and
This segment of time looks at the changing uses of the park comparing the new roles
it assumed in the community. As the Depression ended and the World War II began
to boost the economy, the pervious era of programming for the individual developed
into programming for the community as a unifying element in support of the war
effort. The park during this time became a utilitarian structure functioning within the
community as a government entity. This was a radical change from the social needs
programming of the previous era and a break in the use of the spaces as conceived by
Olmsted and Vaux. Following the Depression and rise of employment in Brooklyn,
the city faced an increase in diversity as new population groups relocated to the city.
The population surge in the city had ramifications in many aspects of Brooklyn with
the effects realized in the park through changes in program, spaces, and relationships
with adjacent communities. Other changes the park experienced during this period
were due to a new management philosophy and included the standardization of park
features and diminished funding for the park system. All of these agents effected
the delineation of the tra jectory resulting in a negative relationship to the datum
representing the change in use and function of the park.
The Depression and the War
Nationwide the effects of the Depression were felt hv the entire population.
Families were forced to move to tenement housing areas, jobs were few. and the
overall emotion of the nation was despair and anger. Although the Depression was
a time of hardships (Figure 27), it did help in many ways to shape the park through
federal aid programs and the national campaign to use parks as active centers for the
unemployed. During this period Brooklyn experienced many conflicts between the
various ethnic groups as the Depression deepened. The park found a new utility as
community center and place of employment opportunity. Increased transportation
throughout the New
York City area aided in a
population shift that would
have ramifications to the
area for many years to come.
Once the war began, times
changed as the demand for
jobs rose steadily while many
Figure 27. Breadline Brooklyn 1929. Source: Getty Images.
men were drafted to serve the
country. The w'ar compelled the park into a new dimension as a utilitarian institution
forcing the community to come together. Slowly the depression and its concerns
began to fade away leaving an imprint on the country. Brooklyn found itself the most
populous borough in New York City and the fourth largest city in the United States.
With this new influx of individuals into the area, the community structure surrounding
the park began to change. Overall effects of this time period on the park are varied
and begin to describe the current configuration of the neighborhoods around the park
giving, a history which assists in understanding the park and its evolution. Impacts
on the park during this period revolve around the intense programmed activities
coordinated by various local and federal government agencies defining the use of the
park as utilitarian. The change in community structure hindered the ability to form
connections resulting in the degradation of the park as an open space for the creation
of relationships, precipitating the development of individualized neighborhoods
without strong associations. The diagram of the trajectory depicts the change in the
park as a community institution to a government entity with structured programming
and reduced use of its open design.
Brooklyn and Increased Diversity
The population in Brooklyn had become even more diversified with the
migration of southern African-Americans to the north in the late 1920s. This massive
influx of people into the city immediately caused conflict with the existent population
groups. As African-Americans began to settle in distinct areas of the city a great
amount of protests from the current residents occurred, while not leading to any
violent conflicts they established an air of hostility and a sign of things to come.
Areas they chose to settle were recently vacated by other groups and their homes
were either sold or rented to them by speculators. Conditions in these areas were
often poor from the start and only began to worsen, as speculators took advantage
of the current residents often alluding to the development of their neighborhoods as
all black, causing large groups of individuals to relocate thus allowing speculators to
sell these homes to the African Americans. Many of the neighborhoods surrounding
the park were influenced by this type of real estate sharking quickly changing the
character of the communities. The change in population diversity acted as an agent
of change within the trajectory creating culturally different programs associated
with these new neighborhoods as a result of the changing communities. Cultural
differences between the uses slowly developed into distinction in the park's areas,
leading to the segregation.
Redevelopment prevalent in the northwestern communities near the park,
especially in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, were brownstone houses which
had became obsolete in the modern times due to their layout.1 After the movement
of African-Americans into the area, white groups looked to the renovation of these
buildings as a method of increasing property values to deter further migration into
their neighborhood. This period of renovation concurred with the destruction of
the elevated EL and the construction of the subway system which residents initially
though would help to build property values. These changes however left the
neighborhood in disrepair for years perpetuating sharp falling property values and
allowing less affluent individuals to move into the area. Due to the overall poor
conditions of the area, as African-Americans moved in property owners saw the
ability to make money through raised rents and the allowance of large families to
move into small units often leading to overcrowding and unsanitary conditions.2
Bedford-Stuyvesant was slowly on its way to becoming the ghetto of Brooklyn.
African-Americans were labeled as the bottom of the social hierarchy and often
where found residing in conditions similar to that of immigrants during the industrial
revolution. In their bid for employment they were given the lowest unskilled labor
positions that had been vacated by ethnic minorities. This however was soon to
change when the effects of the Depression flowed across the country. Adaptation
of the borough to the changing population dynamics, created a numbers of issues
paramount among those the negative image the city was developing leading to neglect
throughout. The new population concerns that developed at this time were the
beginning of a set of changes that would be expressed through social reformation and
the transformation of the park within the next trajectory. Negative connotations of the
city in general mixed with the decrease of funding in maintaining the park signaled
changes in the ability to function within the concepts set forth by Olmsted, leading
to the general degradation of the park. With the new neighborhood structure and the
definition of neighborhood specific areas in the park, the creation of contested spaces
within the park generated an adaptive response to the datum altering the idea of a park
for all w ith equal access.
Job loss plagued all areas of employment, hitting unskilled labor positions
the hardest. This forced a large portion of the poorest residents out of their jobs,
and into destitution. Among the groups hardest hit were the African-Americans and
Italians, followed by the Jews, Germans, and Irish.1 Due to their lower standing
in the population they w'ere often passed over to give jobs to the native Protestant
population. Those w'ho were unemployed were hampered by a cut in pay and often a
position title. The Depression greatly effected a massive majority of the population
however the total population and mix of groups remained constant. The other side
of the conflict arose when Jewish community members sought positions of political
power effectively taking the Irish out of the higher political positions they held.
These ethnic disputes lingered for some time, and were intensified with the election
of LaGuardia to Mayor in 1933.4 This period during the Depression expressed a
marked change in the overall demographic of Brooklyn and political leaders of the
time, creating a new social setting in the borough. The new social setting in the
city changed the perceptions of Brooklyn and the park to segregated communities,
contrary to the quasi greater community sense that once existed. Adapting to this
social setting the park faced few physical changes, but was hampered by the change
in perceptions and the overuse of the park as an aid to cure social issues.
With the onslaught of World War II, the Depression soon ended and
manufacturing jobs were once again in high demand prov iding employment to all
groups within the community. As the economic future of the county began to look
positive more people began to settle in the borough, especially African Americans.
This group was forming a very dense neighborhood as their population had hit an
all time high of four percent of the boroughs" population in 1940, concentrated in
Bedford Stuyvesant near Prospect Park. Brooklyn served as an important source
of draftees along with many other cities, and the removal of this segment of the
population opened the doors in many job markets along with the increased production
of wartime goods. The production of many of these goods took place in Brooklyn
as the location offered easy transfer to shipping areas located all around the borough.
This period during the war forced many groups to come to agreements and direct
their energies towards the war effort. Despite the community feel attained during
the war years Brooklyn contained a mix of ethnic and racially diverse populations
that developed lines of separation and distinct neighborhoods that are still evident
today. Relating the trajectory to the park describes the shift in community feeling
as the separation of neighborhoods became evident within the park, and Brooklyn
was forced to adapt to the changing population and the development of distinct
neighborhoods. The adaptation to the new conditions within the city was not
handled well and began to create tension which would eventually spill into park and
throughout the neighborhoods.5
Governing the Park
The park had gained momentum in the development of relationships and
programs from the previous era increasing the amenities it offered to the community.
Local governing bodies of the park worked closely with social workers and other
park leaders to create programs that would fill the new found leisure time of the mass
populace. After the start of the Depression, local governments were put on hold
as the federal government began to administer a range of programs to aid in cities
and the nation. Through federal funding and relief groups like the Works Progress
Administration (WPA), numerous people were put to work concentrating their
attention to the provision of public facilities. The trajectory shows the adaptation
of the park to the new programmed uses meant to offset the current social and
economic climate prescribed by government agencies and not community needs. The
deviation in the use of the park to governed programming marked a stark difference
in the openness designed by Olmsted and the passive use of the park to en joy nature.
Coinciding with the Depression and the allotment of money to federal programs is
the naming of Robert Moses as Commissioner of Parks for New York City (Figure
28). His term in the office lasted from 1933-1968 and contained a number of positive
and negative happenings for Prospect Park and the borough. Under his guidance in
1933, the parks within all five boroughs were consolidated into the New York City
Park Department managed by himself and the superintendent of parks.6 Working
diligently with state and federal agencies between the years of 1946-49 he allotted
ps 22.5 million dollar on reconstruction
of older parks and playgrounds.7 In
his term he built playgrounds at
established parks, created play lots,
and through taking excessive lands
in his highway projects provided
small parks throughout the boroughs.
Figure 28. Robert Moses 1940s. Source: Carr. Changes implemented by Moses
would shape the park system and communities as he often overlooked the integration
of neighborhoods in his plans. Other projects he worked on were meant to stem the
increased congestion in the boroughs including the construction numerous bridge,
highways, and other major roadways. Despite his reputation of community neglect,
during this period he posed few alterations to the park and those that were completed
resulted in the construction and restoration of playground areas along the perimeter.
In his struggle to maintain the parks in times of financial strain he turned towards
the standardization of all park elements to lower maintenance costs and the overall
costs of his projects. As a part of the park Moses was instrumental in the trajectory
placement as he forced standardization of park elements and lowered maintenance
funding generating a growing neglect of parks triggering a disinterest by many
This period in the history of parks stressed the development of the park
as a recreation facility taking many of the ideas from the last era of leisure time;
government took an active roll in the provision and management of these new'
recreation programs and centers. Across the nation recreation facilities and
their associated grounds were being dropped into communities. The role of the
government in providing recreation, need no particular justification, that park
facilities were an expected feature of urban life.* This lead to a crop of parks that
provided a smorgasbord of activities, but paid no attention to the quality of the park,
this would later become a problem as cuts in spending across all government agencies
left these parks without the ability to carry out the predetermined functions. The
difference in the conception of these areas to Olmsteds idea of park was the design
of the park as a commodity within the city, not linking the park to its context and
encouraging the evolution of the two. The pleasure grounds and landscape parks of
the previous era were predicated on inclusion of all, individual spaces, and the act of
congregating. Prospects adaptation to the changing perceptions of parks shifted it
away from the original openness of design and individual enjoyment of the spaces.
The WPA funded and built two structures the Zoo (1935) and Bandshell (1939) in
Prospect (Figure 29). Both of these structures generated new interest in the park and
created a wider variety of activities in
the park bringing more people to the
park. The addition of these structures
to the park negatively effect Olmsted's
conception of the space through the
integration of the civic structures Figure 29. Bandshell. Source: Author.
bringing more defined program into the park. During the war period 1 c)41 -1945
the park sustained a halt in building and a shift in emphasis to programming. The
relationship between the park and the government was rooted in a strong connection
of the park and its elements to the overall planning of city spaces and the distribution
of funds in an equal manner. Overall planning policy and political system had an
effect in the trajectory turning it away from the datum due to its absence of contextual
design, incorrect assessment of community, and lack of maintenance.
Utilitarian Structure of the Park
Parks began to change after 1930's becoming a function of government,
a service offered rather than reforming the population and focusing on supplying
a need.9 This perception of parks disregarded the surrounding contextual issues
resulting in park that were less related to individual use acting as government activity
centers. During the Depression, parks were seen as a way to occupy unemployed
individuals and offered programs funded by the WPA to create centers of activities
acting as a refuge. The park as a refuge was a founding principle in the original
design, but instead of protecting one from the city the park served as protection from
the harsh realities of life. This shift in the parks mission is a pivotal move in the
break with the Olmstead concept taking the element of nature out of the park and
relying on program. In the provision of more recreational activities the park played
a role in the community as an urban safety valve.10 This idea of the park as a safety
Figure 30. Patterns of use T2. Source: Author.
valve focused government attention on the creation of activities to offer fulfillment in
the new abundance of leisure time due to the large numbers of unemployed persons.
Increase in the number of users who turned to the free activities at a time when park
funding was decreased created some conflicts of use as the resources and the means to
maintain and manage the park were falling in importance. Management of the park as
part of the trajectory defines the essential ability of the park to adapt to new uses and
the increased diversity of users. The social need for the park as an active space was
necessary and Prospect provided an oasis to those without employment or without the
ability to partake in recreation trips out of the borough through a variety of programs.
For Olmsted the park as an oasis represented the respite it offered in its landscape and
contrast to the city, during this period the park functioned as an oasis to the turmoil of
social changes, war, and the recovery from an economic crisis.
World War II changed the economy as the need for employees and production
of various wartime supplies increased, so did the need for parks in urban areas.
Similar to the Depression era the park offered an easy escape for many in the city
who worked long hours to supply the wartime need. The park again acted as a
community sink for a variety of programs including wartime camp programs,
numerous organizational and volunteer programs collecting items for the war effort.
Programs throughout the park system were retrofitted to work in conjunction with the
war effort, including children projects for the Red Cross along with the replacement
of previous programs with first aid classes, and preparation for combating incendiary
bombs. During this period the main motive of the park was to boost morale, and this
Wartime Civil Defense programming encouraged interagency cooperation at a local
and national level." As a functional element of the city the park sent a message of the
reliance on government defining it as a ward of city, offering communities a place to
concentrate volunteerism and wartime efforts while also creating a diverse array of
recreational opportunities for the city of Brooklyn.
The war and the Depression both pointed to the park as a necessary element
in the community. Prospect Park as a staple of the community offered programs,
activities, and organized play that gave residents a sense of fulfillment despite the
conditions occurring at the time. The relationship of these events to the development
of the park created a lasting bond with the community and a reliance on government
funding. Due to lessened interaction with the communities in shaping activities
within the park the trajectory of the park for this period has inversed from the
previous period with the overextension of programming and the reliance of the
government to shape programming, which differed from Olmsteds idea of the park a
r space rooted in its openness.
Defining the location of the trajectory in relation to the datum for this period is
based on two categories of influence: government programming and the relationships
of the park to its users and surrounding communities. Throughout this time period,
the park experienced changes physically in the addition of structures and in the
increase of users to attend organized programs. The user population in the park was
not viewed as a concent at the time; however the park suffered from the overuse of
various areas to support the increased programming. The overall appearance of the
park in this period began to resemble less of the vision that had been set forth by
Olmsted. This was due in part to the poor park maintenance and management at this
time, without the ability to fully service a park especially as intricate as Prospect
one can only expect some degradation in the overall quality of the landscape.
Degradation of the park in its visual essence was a result of standardization of
features within the park, the design mentality of the recreation park overlain on a
landscaped park, and the reliance on the park as a recreational element and not a
return to nature. Despite the general upkeep of the park, the park was an active
social agent in the supplementation of social needs offering a mental escape from the
current economic situation. The park, through programming and its vast connection
of spaces was easily employed for the various activities that were to occur there due
to the openness of the design. With the new influx of migrant populations to the
Brooklyn area, the park began to function for new groups of users and their differing
cultural activities. Spaces within the park became open to a variety of uses by diverse
groups of individuals bringing new activities to the park allowing their unfolding
within the open-ended design of the spatial layers. Prospect experienced a number of
changes in this period that were not structural, defining the park as a municipal entity
and a utilitarian space for active pursuits to offset the challenges of the surrounding
agent driven environment.
The relationship of the park to the community during this time period was
based on the refuge it offered for the community as a place for coming together with
others. Congregation within the park during this period stemmed from the need to
gamer support for the concents of the time, versus the pervious era where the park
served as a social setting in the creation of new relationship through enjoyment of the
park. This time period also fostered the solidification of many of the neighborhoods
around the park creating distinct boundaries and associations to these areas. This
development of neighborhoods although at time separating the communities also
worked to strengthen the internal bonds linking each neighborhood through different
means to the park. As the park was mainly a function of utility during this time, it is
only reasonable that this determined goal to sustain the perceived social needs created
a bond between the park and community. The park provided a new relationship to the
communities and offered its use of facilities instead of wonderment in the spaces that
first founded the park. The shift in the trajectory for time period illustrates the shift in
the mentality of the management and the adaptations of the park to the various agents
including social, political, and economical issues. Adapting to these varied agents left
the park in a state of over use and intense programmatic themes which set in motion
the downward turn of the perception of the park.
Endnotes Chapter Four
1 Connolly, Harold. A Ghetto Grows in Brooklyn. New York, NY: New York University Press,
1977. pg. 72.
Ibid. pg. 73.
1 Jews and the Irish were in eonstant conflict during this time especially in the Flatbush area as they
both were vying for similar jobs in the garment industry and clashing over polities. The Jew s who
came from a skilled background in the garment industry had began to compete with the Irish before the
Depression, but soon after in the intense competition for jobs their rivalry flowed outside of each group
erupted in fights at business and within the neighborhood.
J Bayor. Ronald H. Neighborhoods in Conflict: The Irish, Germans. Jews, and Italians of New York
City 1929 1941. Chicago. II.: University of Illinois Press, 1988. pg. 37. Upon beginning his term
in office he worked to put more minorities (both ethnic and racial) in varying positions within NYC
government. The rise of various backgrounds within the political scene w as view ed by many to
beneficial effects on the city as a whole, but did cause conflict w ith the Irish and Protestants. These
groups were slowly loosing the majority of political pow er they had come accustomed and although
this did not cause any major disturbances, w hile creating a new- dynamic in the citys power struggle.
5 Relationships between different neighborhoods w ere often intensified by the division of income
within the city. The housing areas of many poor communities fell into disrepair leading tense
relationship between residents and political. Overall these issues were largely not addressed due to
budget cutback, lack of representation of all groups in government positions, and racism.
6 Docll, Chas E., Fitzgerald. Gerald B. A Brief History of Parks and Recreation in the United Stares.
Chicago. IL: The Athletic Institute, 1954. pg. 74.
7 Carr, Ethan. Three Hundred Years of Parks: a Timeline on New York City Park History. New York,
NY: City of New York, 1987.
x Cranz, Galen. The Politics of Park Design. Cambridge, M A: Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
1989. pg. 102.
9 Ibid. pg. 101.
"'Ibid. pg. 105.
" Ibid. pg. 114.
T Population Upheaval
This section of the trajectory depicts the changing communities surrounding the park
and the effect they had upon the park. The shift in the trajectory will be explored
as a function of the new urban population developing in Brooklyn as an agent of
change forcing the park to adapt in numerous ways to the large scale changes within
the city. Topics that will be examined as agents of change in the delineation of the
trajectory are population upheaval, civil rights, economic downturn, programming
and perceptions of the park, and the cumulative effects of these on the park. Focusing
on population statistics specific to the communities around the park and the shift that
defined many elements of adaptation, this period expresses the resultant resilient
White Flight as Urban Development Strategy
As the war ended and troops began to return home a shift in housing occurred
which would dramatically change Brooklyn and outlying areas of New York City as
well as settlement patterns across the nation. By the time Brooklyn soldiers returned
home from the war, they encountered changes in the immigrant neighborhoods due
to new generations of immigrants moving away from the central core of Brooklyn
to the outlying neighborhoods. The group that showed the most movement in the
borough was the Jews; they had spread from Williamsburg and Crown Heights to
Platbush. Borough Park, and areas along the Pastern Parkway.' Reorganization of
the borough through this movement resulted in the development of new communities
especially around Prospect Park often containing diverse population groups.
Brooklyn Heights experienced an influx of affluent individuals; this area was seen as
an artist community as they worked to restore many of the brownstones that were in
disrepair due to the affects of
the Depression. The Heights
area gained a population of
gays in combination with
the artisans, these groups
worked to refurbish the area
and set a trend for the later
restoration of brownstone
during this period, began
to experience the first signs
of a major population shift
as soldiers returning from
the war seeking new homes
Figure 31. Outlying suburbs Brooklyn, 1950s.
for their families often choose to settle outside of Brooklyn into the newly popular
suburbs. This period in history is largely based on the rise of suburban housing
and the development of massive swaths of tract homes stretching from the city
edges into the countryside slowly changing the landscape of the nation (figure
3 1). Neighborhoods throughout Brooklyn began to diversify causing the previous
relationships, which were strongly based within the specific areas, to alter developing
differences in the use of the park and its perimeter.
Urban centers across the United States encountered the same situation as
they witnessed a steady decline in white population. This decline in population
did not last long however as African-Americans began to relocate to these urban
centers, especially Brooklyn. As mentioned in the previous section, during the war
the migration of Southern African-Americans to the northern and western states
was widespread; as they began to move into the New York City areas they were
concentrated in Manhattan and Harlem. During this period, Brooklyn experienced
an explosion in the African American population principally between 1950 and 1960.
With the drop in housing prices new areas opened up to this population and Brooklyn
soon become a rich mixture of a wide range of cultures. African- Americans were
still migrating from the south in search of employment that was plentiful. Brooklyns
population peaked in 1950 with 2,738,175 residents making it the most populous
borough of New York City and the fourth largest city in the United States.3 At this
time the African-American population was up from the four percent in 1940 to 7.6
percent in 1950 this was a marked changed in the overall population dynamic of
Brooklyn. As this group continued to fill many of the cities vacated areas with the
assistance of the subway line connecting the borough to Harlem, the population as a
whole in Brooklyn began an unprecedented decline that would linger until the 1980s.
The 1950s also saw an increase in the Puerto Rican population, this new group to
Brooklyn often found residences in the outlying areas of the African-American
settlements predominately around the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. By
1951 this neighborhood consisted of a 51% African-American population and only
increased as the white flight scenario continued into the 1970s (Figure 32).4 These
groups portrayed for many of the white residents a new urban population that was
not desired, leaving many feeling uncertain and pressured further contributing to the
decreased use of the park. The white flight from Brooklyn eclipsed the black flight
Percent Increase of African Amercian Population in Brooklyn into Brooklyn.
Figure 32. Population chart. Source: Author.
the lower class
areas of Flarlem
to suburban feel of Brooklyn quickly finding jobs in the early 1950s, but this changed
as the 60s represented a period of city wide decline. The changing community
structure of the city produced differing effects for each segment of the population
creating a strong feeling of loss in community connectedness and the separation
of the city by race. Prospect Park began to feel segregated and was often not used
leading to a decrease in interest and therefore maintenance, beginning the downward
spiral of the park exhibiting its adaptivity to agents. The representation of resiliency
through hard times was exhibited in the new types of spaces and perceptions the park
Changes in 1960s would influence the future of Brooklyn in a variety of
ways. White flight was an ongoing event in the borough, the exodus to suburb
was aided by increased roadways put in place by Robert Moses. The loss of
population due to this phenomenon took its toll on the boroughs population with
the first decrease in population in the boroughs history. This population loss would
soon cause a number of unplanned changes in the communities. As the white
population was either moving to different areas of the borough or to the suburbs
new immigrant groups began to move into the city with the amendment in 1%5
to U.S. immigration laws. Differing from the earlier I9'h century-' migration from
liurope, individuals entering the Brooklyn area at this time were Puerto Rican,
Caribbean and Asian.5 These groups found it easier to assimilate into the culture
than the previous generations but had to deal w ith many of the same racial issues
facing the current African American population. Although many areas in Brooklyn
still contained a large number of w hites, they became more segregated as they left
their older neighborhoods to settle in distinct areas, further reinforcing the formation
of neighborhoods that created apparent lines that were (and still are) recognizable
in the city. Not all groups however were segregated and conflict often arose where
areas contained a mix of populations, such as Crown Heights which supported
populations of African-Americans and Hasidic Jews. The division of the city
coincided with many of the issues occurring in the nation at the time; the civil rights
movement was slowly growing in the south and would soon impact all of American
society. With the evident changes about to occur areas such a Brooklyn proved
important in not only their mix of population, but also in defining what it takes to
make a city. Brooklyn as an adaptable space in terms of its ability to support diverse
groups was in part due the poor perception it received from many of the surrounding
boroughs, and the movement of less affluent individuals forming the borough into a
collection individuals rather than a collective of communities. The transformation of
neighborhoods overnight forced the park to learn how to accommodate the range of
users in terms of race and cultural differences, often changing the perceptions of areas
adjacent to communities and moving away from the Olmstedian idea of the park as a
common ground for community camaraderie.
Civil Rights Movement Begins
The civil rights period is roughly stated to have occured from 1954-
1968 although these dates are arguable, many of the tensions lasted well into the
1970s. Brooklyn experienced similar issues occurring in nation in regards to this
movement, as a large percentage of the population was now African-American.
Many of the issues concerned in the movement where highlighted in the Brooklyn
area, specifically issues of housing equality which was rampant throughout the
Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. After the war, the continued decline of the
housing conditions for many of the new arrivals to Brooklyn was only intensified
w'ith the white flight. As real estate values continued to drop, property owners took
advantage of these new' residents and the resulting areas faced an uninterrupted
decline in services, appearance, and overall
ability to provide the necessary quality of life
requirements. The movement concentrated in
the south soon spread to the Brooklyn area;
with the first major racial riot (1964) occurring
in Harlem and quickly engulfing the Bedford-
Stuyvesant neighborhood (Figure 33). The
riot was instigated by an Irish American police
officer shooting a 15 year old African-American for allegedly charging him with a
knife.6 This incident sparked an outcry for civil rights in the neighborhoods and led
to other riots throughout New York City in the late 1960s This confrontation bought
with it community solidarity between the races and increased segregation as Brooklyn
Figure 33. Riots New York City 1968.
was now a borough of two populations. Elements of adaptability present in the
park at this time where largely based on the inequality and racial tension in the area
creating an air of fear around the park compiled with mounting disinterest, and poor
appearance. The park still, however, managed to function as demarcation of the civic
space in the city and a place where opinions could be expressed.
As the war brought an end to the Depression, jobs everywhere became more
plentiful and this was one reason why Brooklyn appeared so favorable to such large
groups of populations. New York City and the surrounding areas offered the ability
to define everyone as an entrepreneur through the general openness of the economic
system in individual communities allowing many new residents of the area to open
their own businesses. In the years after the war as the white population left the
borough, a slow progression of economic downturn began to affect the city. Due to
many factors including the drop in tax revenues as less affluent individuals moved
into the suburbs, big government, and lack of appropriate planning and management
numerous areas began to fall into disrepair. Areas hardest hit by the slow loss of
borough funding and services were the poorer areas consisting of mainly African-
American populations, re-introducing the idea of slums into Brooklyn society.
This lack of basic amenities in numerous dwellings, overcrowding, and poor state
assistance coupled with the rising feelings across the nation of the need for civil
rights and equality among all people, African-Americans looked to the government
for assistance and found none. City governments across the United States and
especially in big cities like New York City had become a large entity to far removed
from the people with no communication between its numerous branches.7 As protests
began to take a daily presence outside of slum tenements throughout the borough,
these conflicts fostered growing tensions between numerous groups. With the