Exploring the United States through Parks
As a Fulbrighter studying Landscape Architecture, one of the most enriching parts of my studies has been visiting nature parks around the United States. Some of the parks I visited were field studies through my program, while some were personal visits I underwent to find inspiration in nature and the power of man to recreate nature.
I travelled to New York to visit these sites with my professors, my fellow classmates, my good Fulbright friend Julia, and even students from other programs through the Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning at UMass. I travelled with them because we all share a common interest in this field and because it is always good to be accompanied with students your age as well as wise knowledgeable professors who guided us and told us more about the sites than we had already known. Thanks to Professor Jack Ahern, we have gained more insight on parks in New York City.
One of the first places I visited in New York City was the Highline Park. It’s a project I’ve been meaning to visit for years, given the fact that I’ve been interested in open spaces, public realms, and landscape design for a long time. This project is of particular interest to me because it is an urban renewal site of an old railroad which was turned into a public open space. Afterwards I visited Prospect Park in New York and was mesmerized by the expansive amount of space to accommodate the high numbers of visitors. It couldn’t be a more interesting place considering its topography and was created by the renowned Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, who created Central Park, the first landscaped park in the United States.
I learned a lot from a “Landscape Patterns and Process” class which sometimes took place in the Harvard Forest. I learned a lot about the ecology of the site and its patterns of change over time through studying the dioramas at the Harvard Forest Museum. I also visited many other parks, such as Fenway Park (where baseball games are held), Battery Park, Kylde Warren Park, Hadley’s Town Common and many others. In Boston, I was a free-wandering spirit exploring the city and its parks on my own. That experience was liberating, as I lingered wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted.
In my other visits to parks in Texas, I was accompanied by my brotherwho happens to enjoy them as much as I do because they gave him a space to breath and destress after long days at work. He also enjoyed my thoughts on the park’s design, or those little details I noticed and shared with him. We visited the Fort Worth Water Gardens, a spectacular site of gushing water which has great symbolism of mountains, rivers, through hard landscape elements.
Every project I’ve visited has enriched my own design sense I visit parks not only to enjoy them, but to analyze them, understand the concepts behind them, at times symbiological, at other times historical and cultural. I look for storm water management amenities, and I look at the type of trees and try to assess them. I try to understand what type of park this is and how it influences its visitors. I even evaluate the furniture used. It is inevitable that the more you see the more you become enriched, especially if what you see is directly related to what you’re studying and aiming to practice in your future career.
I’ve also had the chance to visit Niagara Falls with another Fulbrighter and we had a blast! The flowing waters are mind blowing and it was an unforgettable site. Before I finish my Fulbright, I would love to continue my exploration of national parks in the United States, including but not limited to: Mount Rainier National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Sequoia National Park, Grand Canyon, Colorado Mountains, and Yellowstone National Park.
After visiting so many parks in the United States, I can say that Americans enjoy being outside: throwing a Frisbee to one another, walking their dogs, biking around in the park, or enjoying strolling their babies and talking to one another. I can also add that Americans enjoy street furniture that is movable, which accommodates their needs for personal space. They also are inclusive of disabled people, as almost all parks I’ve visited are ADA (disabled) accessible. It is fascinating to know that there are parks especially for dogs, called dog parks, or for instance parks built for little toddlers and their parents, called tot lots. All these parks help me better understand the spatial needs of an American, and helps me appreciate how American culture impacts parks’ designs in a very positive, healthy way where all are given space to play, bike, admire the view, or sit and have a snack. Fulbright gives me the chance to explore a new culture, and I’m excited to explore it through parks and nature.
Dania is a first-year Jordanian Fulbrighter who is studying towards a MLA in Landscape Architecture at University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
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