The Quest For Green Space In An Urban Setting:Four Cities As Examples
Why adjacent parkland is important to urban sanity and survival
In the long history of cities, there has always been a fundamental need to escape to a nearby green space to alleviate the tensions of urban life. This is especially true of larger cities but it also applies to smaller ones like Lansing. As a respite from the hectic urban pace, they can prove absolute godsends to harried local residents. Such familiar examples as the Bois de Boulogne in Paris, Epping Forest near London and Central Park in the middle of New York come readily to mind. Near Lansing, the Rose Lake State Wildlife Research Area and the Fenner Nature Center provide these green escape mechanisms. This article is concerned with the essential need to escape--at least temporarily--and how well these green resources do in the task of absorbing excess urban stress.
Bois de Boulogne
The Bois de Boulogne is the Parisian answer to built-up urban pressure in what may arguably be the world's most civilized large city. It is located on the western edge of the French capital, and has long been a favorite retreat for urban dwellers. It was ceded by the Emperor Napoleon III to be turned into public land in 1852. Earlier, it was the site of the first balloon flight by the Montgolfier brothers in November 1783. Lakes and other waterways provide a refreshing elixir of land and water, and a sense of getting away from it all. There is something quintessential about boating or fishing within sight of a city skyline that makes these accessible escapes so alluring. It is this illusion of escape that so defines the country-within-the-city experience, and the Bois admirably delivers the required antidote to the overdose of asphalt and people always found in a primate city.
On the northeast outskirts of the London metropolitan area, and bordering on the county of Essex, is an expanse of land that harks back to an earlier time. Like the now vanished Sherwood Forest of Robin Hood fame, Epping Forest was once under direct control of the Crown, and was classified as a royal forest. It is currently managed by the City of London Corporation, and consists of over four thousand acres of ancient woodland and old growth stands and copses of trees. All studies of its contents suggest that the area has been used by humans dating back to at least 700 BC. Trails, rivers and ponds dot the landscape, and many species of wildlife are found throughout this domain. More recently, game animals such as deer have been added to enhance the British hunting season, and camping facilities are abundant to stimulate that "get away from it all" experience. Clearly, Epping Forest stands out as a star example of human need for escape from urban tension, and an inspired solution to this basic urge.
New York's Central Park may be the most perfectly enclosed green space in any large city in the world. Dedicated in 1862, it was designed by the renowned team of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux in a very different earlier New York. As the American Civil War raged to the south, these two far-sighted planners determined to create the ultimate urban oasis. Fifty-one city blocks long and several avenues wide, it forms a perfect rectangle in the heart of Manhattan Island. It is most conspicuous in the summer season, covered in a blanket of green deciduous trees, but in any season it is visually striking. A large reservoir, now renamed for former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis-- who use to jog around it-- is only one of several water bodies that contrast pleasantly with rolling meadows, woods and athletic playing fields to fill in this essential 840 acre urban paradise. For many years the scene of outdoor music concerts and Shakespeare staged presentations, the park is also home to the famous Metropolitan Museum of Art, giving it a cultural veneer that is second to none. Unfortunately, it has also become the site of some profoundly overpriced apartments on all four sides of the park perimeter that can set residents and investors back upwards of $100 million in costs. This to an extent negates the earlier democratic vision which Olmsted and Vaux had for it, and while there is always hope that New York will revert to more normal prices in the future, no letup seems in sight as of 2019!
Rose Lake State Wildlife Research Area
The Rose Lake State Wildlife Research Area sprawls across two counties to the north and northeast of Lansing, Clinton and Shiawassee. It encompasses over four thousand acres of roads, a fairly recent shooting range, fields, woods and a sprinkling of small lakes that make up the Area. It is well stocked with deer and wild turkeys, and is the scene of much hunting during Michigan's game season every fall. It can be thought of as Lansing's local Epping Forest, and camping is permitted there as well, within reasonable time limits. While it is practically synonymous with the hunting community--and indeed hunter monies paid for it--it is also the scene of scientific research, especially into Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), a real threat to Michigan's native deer herd. At times, a stray black bear or mountain lion have been reported as being sighted within the Area, but it is generally safe for hikers and sightseers, not just hunters. It offers a real getaway back to deep nature, just twelve miles from Lansing.
Fenner Nature Center
Fenner Nature Center is a 134 acre environmental education center on the southeast side of Lansing, although entirely encased within the city limits. It is run by the nonprofit Fenner Conservancy, and features a mixed habitat of woods, ponds, prairie ecosystems and four miles of winding trails with scenic lookouts at various points of the hike. There is also a visitor center with exhibits of the animals and their habitats as well as a gift shop for interested patrons. In addition, annual maple syrup and apple butter festivals are held where visitors may draw the sweet liquids from Center maple and apple trees. This is obviously very popular with the younger crowd! Closer to downtown Lansing than Rose Lake, Fenner offers the same kind of getaway experience, but spread over a smaller domain. The most incredible thing about it is this illusion of escape, right within Lansing itself.
All of these urban or near urban escapes serve to balance the problem of dynamic density so often referred to by urban sociologists. While society is always a good thing, too much condensed living can produce urban angst and anomie which is why these "green lungs" are just the cure. A recent TV public service ad campaign urged viewers to put away their devices and to unplug and get to the forest. Without these escapes, the modern family is indeed in danger of becoming too estranged from the natural world around us. So whether seeking civilized adventure or a true escape, the fundamental need will exist for these parks, and not just in the four cities studied here, but everywhere people have disconnected from nature.