When Frederick Law Olmsted was designing the Emerald Necklace, he envisioned a park that could serve as an escape from the harsh city environment, regardless of status or background. Even though Olmsted has passed away, his parks still serve as a lush paradise for busy city dwellers. However, this is not the only function that parks serve, especially the parks of the Emerald Necklace. Our Emerald Necklace Transect will explore the different purposes park spaces serve through visiting both Franklin Park and the Boston Common. These parks have been used for recreation and as platforms for people to speak out against injustice, as well as being the home of important historical events.
On opposite sides of the Emerald Necklace, Franklin Park and the Boston Common are separated by about seven miles through the Emerald Necklace and four miles directly from park to park. The areas occupy over 500 acres of land combined. When both are toured together, they illustrate the different functions that park spaces serve.
Franklin Park is the very last of the parks connected through the Emerald Necklace in addition to being the largest space. Olmsted had multiple visions regarding Franklin Park and how it could be utilized by Boston’s residents. The green space and all its sites demonstrate the main expectation of what parks should be used for: recreation and relaxation that natural settings provide. In addition to acres of forest and beautiful scenery, Franklin Park includes a large sports area called the Playstead, the William J. Devine Golf Course, and the Franklin Park Zoo, all of which are sites on our transect. Our Emerald Necklace Transect will start in Franklin park for this reason. The park emulates Olmsted’s goal of a paradise with a bustling city, even with the decline of the park in the past. In addition, the park’s facilities also illustrate a divergence from Olmsted’s ideal plan. The Franklin Park Zoo, for example, was a development not included in Olmsted’s original design and deviated from his vision for wildlife. Facing disinvestment, areas of Franklin Park fell into dilapidation. For the past decade, the public has raised $28 million worth of funds to restore the park to its former state, with an official project started in fall of 2019. Because of the benefits Franklin Park provides, people are willing to put money and effort into caring for it.
Visiting Franklin Park as Olmsted’s creation connects the park to the national phenomenon at the time. The introduction of parks into urban planning stems as a reaction to the rise of industry in America. As more and more land was dedicated to factories, the health of workers and the city itself declined. Olmsted viewed nature as a remedy to the industrialization issue, and advocated for landscape preservation. Franklin Park, the “jewel” of the Emerald Necklace, and the sites on our thematic tour demonstrates this, made for the people of Boston to enjoy. However, these leisure purposes are not the only purposes a park can fulfill which is visible in the Boston Common.
Despite not being designed by Olmsted, the Boston Common became a part of Olmsted’s master plan of an integrated park system. Boston was among one of the first cities to be established in America. The Boston Common is not only the oldest park in Boston but also the oldest park in the history of the United States, established in 1634. Although the park was not created in reaction to society, it is essential to Boston’s past. Given its age, the green space has played an important role in recording Boston’s history through movements, monuments, memorials. Scattered throughout the space are multiple monuments and memorials in the form of statues, plaques, and reliefs. These artifacts are dedicated to infamous events during the American Revolution as Boston was very vocal during the time period. Others are dedicated to occasions and people. Our transect visits the Boston Massacre Memorial, Soldiers and Sailors Monument, Shaw Memorial. The last two also honor the progress of black people in Boston both in the Revolutionary and Civil War.
Yet, the park is not just a display for these places. The park has also been the backdrop to famous speakers and people such as George Washington and Lafayette in the early days of America and Martin Luther King Jr. in the past century. Patriot soldiers used the park as a camp during the Revolutionary War. Protesters flooded the green space in 1969 to protest the Vietnam War. And more recently, hundreds of people gathered in the Boston Common to peacefully protest for the end of police brutality, in honor of the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter Movement. The Common presents a different way of using parks, almost as a museum of history and a stage for fights against injustice. The park functions as more than a space for reprieve or recreation. By juxtaposing these two areas on the Emerald Necklace, one sees the broad range of uses for the park space that might be overlooked.
One comparison of the two parks reveals connections to race and socioeconomic effects on landscape architecture. Franklin Park is a much larger park with more services, but it receives significantly less investment than Boston Common. This is likely due to the racial and economic atmosphere where the two parks are geographically. Franklin Park’s most notable neighbor is Roxbury, which has been an epicenter of racially-motivated disinvestment in the city, while Boston Common is sandwiched between Downtown Crossing and Back Bay.
The two parks also share a collection of unique “bookend” connections. The two parks are on either end of the actual necklace of parks when they’re connected together on a map. Boston Common is the oldest park out of the necklace, and Franklin park is the newest. Franklin park is in one of the poorest areas of Boston, while the Common is in one of the wealthiest. These contrasting qualities make the circumstances of each park indicative of the relationship that the landscape architecture forms with the neighborhood, and vice versa.