Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

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

September 20th, 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.

Tags: 2010 Jesse

Get Up On Your Soapbox

September 15th, 2009 · 1 Comment

Parks is a topic I know all too well, considering that was what my group project was about. I thought that this blog post should be the easiest because of that fact, but actually it has been quite difficult trying to figure out what aspect of parks I should talk about. Parks, as I learned through research, are more than just aescetically pleasing. They can serve a purpose of immortalizing people and places or even as a place of national pride. What I was most interested in when I was researching parks though was the use of parks as a public space, in the sense of the public being able to use it as a place to proclaim their beliefs, where they could be ridiculed, praised or even arrested.

In Hyde Park, the park I have studied more in length, seemed to have the most to do with free speech. The first example of this was with Edmund Beales and his Reform League in 1866. They protested in Hyde Park on the 23 of July, 1866 over male suffrage and the representation of the working and middle classes in England on the ballot. Fighting broke out between the Reform League and the police, and there was much consideration on banning these demonstrations. The Prime Minister at the time though soon allowed such demonstrations to continue “unchallenged…since 1872” when Speaker’s Corner was sort of informally born.


Speaker’s Corner is found on one of the far corners of the park, and today is relatively unmarked so that walking by you wouldn’t even notice it was a place of importance. Since 1872 people have basically had the “right” to speak on whatever topic they so desired on any given Sunday, so long as no profanity or violence be used. Many famous people have come here to speak such as Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenon, and George Orwell to name a few. There is really no law that states that this place is the only place of free speech here in London, but police will allow those who wish to speak their mind (granted they follow the very basic rules as mentioned previously) to do so.


One of the most famous events of free speech in the park was Women’s Sunday on the 21 of June, 1908. The Women’s Social and Political Union decided to hold a “meeting” at Hyde Park featuring suffragettes from all parts of the United Kingdom. They all rallied to obviously prove the point that women should be allowed the right to vote. It attracted a crowd of at least 300,000 people and it was one of the largest single demonstration of that time. Women were advised to “wear the colours” which were white for purity, green for hope, and purple for dignity. Although the demonstration was successful in proving its point, it ended in many women’s arrest.

It is strange to think of the limits on free speech, coming from a country where it is allowed (within reason). The importance of these green spaces to the history and heritage of London and England as a whole can be seen through such events of free speech and demonstrations. These places hold a sense of national pride to England’s history, and I am glad that people are still allowed to get up on their “soapboxes” today and speak on whatever they so believe in. That is the beauty and power of history.

Tags: Alli