Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

A Walk in the Park

September 21, 2010 · No Comments

After having lived in London for a little more than three weeks, I am struck by two facts of the city. The first is that I am extremely excited about the accessibility of art in the city (mostly the theatre). The second is the expansiveness of London. As we’ve read, London was brought together from a number of smaller hamlets and towns. Like an amoeba, the growing London expanded, surrounded, and consumed each village it came to. A good deal of the land was owned by private individuals or the church and it too was eventually incorporated into this growing city. Since there was no real rhyme or reason to the expansion of London, the city is a patchwork of highly urbanized areas abutting parks abutting suburban sprawl.

Both of my parents are urban planners and if you were to ask them about London I’d imagine they would compare it to the big cities of the American Mid-West, perhaps akin to the infamous sprawl of Chicago. In their profession, the spreading of urban areas equals inefficiency, a definite negative indicator for quality of life. However, London doesn’t feel slow or congested as most cities with such long computing distances usually do. It has managed to succeed where Chicago fails: it is huge and efficient while maintaining its openness. Even more than any of this though, the thing which most impresses me about London, or rather, what London has most impressed upon me is how little I know about the world.

I’m sure that most of the humanities students would agree that we’d like to think of ourselves as well-travelled or at the very least, culturally aware. I know I would, but being in London has made it somewhat hard to keep up that delusion. I’ve lived in Israel twice, for three and nine months, respectively. I’ve been to Hungary and Uruguay. I attend a liberal arts school and I read books. However, the very fact that I was so impressed by London’s parks is an indicator that I do not have the global perspective—especially in terms of what quality of life is actually like in other countries—I’d like to think I do.

That’s not to say that London’s parks aren’t amazing, they are. However, I take for granted the fact that they must be exceptional simply because I have never really been exposed to anything like them. Central Park in New York and even the Golden Gate park in San Francisco and Mount Royal in Montreal are nothing compared to the biggest urban parks around the world, some even under my very nose, within the United States itself. A bit of research taught me that Phoenix, Arizona has a 16,283 acre park. Compared with Hampstead Heath at a measly 760, that’s massive. Stanley Park in Vancouver is 1,000 acres. Chapultec Park in Mexico City, Metropolitan Park of Santiago, and Phoenix Park in Dublin are 1,800 acres a piece.

A lot of factors feed into how citizens use a park: climate, accessibility, population age and ethnicity, security, and government promotion all play roles in this complex formula. Based on my limited knowledge, London seems particularly proud of its parks and what they provide for the citizens of the city. This is in large part due to something any critic of the class system would balk at. That is, the parks are and traditionally have been gated, controlled environments. Originally this was done to keep out the poor but over time, the rules were loosened and these ‘city lungs’ became much more egalitarian, soon available to all citizens and their livestock. But the gates allow the parks to be closed during the night, thereby keeping them nice for the day when criminal activity is less likely to take place.

Today, London’s parks provide to their citizens a natural place of pause in the midst of one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. They’ve also provided me some perspective on how people live in other societies. When Durden asked at our alumni event what we’ve seen in London that we’d like to take home with us and incorporate into our own lives, I replied balance. The parks have helped me to realize exactly the extent of the importance of balance between the urban and the natural world and what that balance can provide to a city like London.


http://blog.ratestogo.com/largest-city-parks/ http://matadornetwork.com/trips/10-cities-with-the-biggest-parks-in-the-world

Categories: 2010 Daniel

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