Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Parks as separated spheres (sorry my title is not more exciting)

September 20, 2010 · 2 Comments

I have been avoiding the parks post because I initially felt like I had very few interesting things to say about them. I’ve spent a ton of time in Hyde Park (because I keep coming back to see if there will be people at Speakers’ Corner), some time in Regents Park and briefly visited the other ones plus the various greens and squares in the middle of the city. A lot of people have already mentioned that the parks are very beautiful, good places to withdraw from city life, make beauty accessible to people of all classes and economic means, etc. All good points, so I won’t beat them to death with another post about them.

I wandered about Hyde Park to a good two hours one day because I got lost, it’s huge, and the landscaping does a really good job of hiding the existence of a city outside the oasis inside (It’s kind of like how the mega Walmart at Dickinson has no windows so once you get in you lose your ties to the outside world and can’t escape, except Hyde Park is absoloutely beautiful and a not soul sucking). Anyway, what struck me as really weird was that a lot of the park seemed to have no other function than to be pretty. Every park I’ve ever been to at home is composed of a playground to entertain kids and open space to play sports. They might be landscaped or otherwise decorated, but that part takes up very little space. Landscaping at home serves as decoration for a space designed for some other purpose, while her prettiness seems to be the main purpose and other functions (open fields, playgrounds, etc.) are an afterthought in a different section. (I’ve also spent very little time in big city park, so it might just be a difference in suburban and urban parks). For example, the first section in Regents Park does not allow balls, so I had to go to a different, less decorative part to play Frisbee. It’s very deliberately divided up.

Assuming it’s not just an urban suburban difference, I think designing a green space just to be a green space and having these deliberate divisions is very in keeping with the English character, the London character in particular. Kate Fox talks a lot about the obsession with privacy. People like to have their own sectioned off garden with a very high fence. They hold up giant newspapers in the subway, stare straight ahead, or make out in very public places as a way to section themselves off into artificial private spheres. The character, Wemmick, from Great Expectations divides his home and work spheres so completely that he seems like he has multiple personality disorder. It’s as if it’s an English disease (thought I think not necessarily always a bad thing).

London is a crowded place, and I can totally understand the need to have all these spheres to create a semblance of privacy. In the Arran House alone, I’ve been having private skype conversations that my entire hallway can hear while sitting in view of one of the cameras at the desk; I’ve just been pretending it’s a private sphere. Parks in London just seems like a strong physical manifestation of these psychological divisions – a section specifically for just being pretty, a section for runners, a section for team sports, a section for free speech (Speaker’s Corner). It’s the very opposite of the complaints I so often here in the United States about our over-stimulated, forever multitasking populace. It actually makes me wonder if British television, advertisement, and video games are significantly different from American ones. As far as I know British students start specializing much earlier, too. In contrast, our education system stresses the idea of the well-rounded student, good at every subject in school and doing a million extracurriculars to get into (among other types of schools) a prestigious liberal art college that continues to focus on well roundedness (required courses in other disciplines), even though the job market is specialized. That’s getting a little off topic, though.

Bottom line: parks — super pretty. Divided into single purpose sections. Reiterate the idea of British spheres for the purpose of privacy (although I think there are many other purposes and results of those spheres besides privacy).

Pictures coming as soon as my computer stops being lame.

Categories: 2010 Jesse
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2 responses so far ↓

  •   Karl // Sep 20th 2010 at 11:34

    good post. I wish I knew who wrote it (but it sounds like Jesse to me).

  •   battilaj // Sep 20th 2010 at 12:26

    yeah, it’s mine. I’ve been having a lot of trouble with the wiki. It keeps deleting my most recent drafts after I post them.

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