Early American urban planning at the Boston Common

Several weeks ago we visited the Boston Common which has this plaque located at its eastern corner:


Established in 1634, the Boston Common provided common space for grazing and later served as a military camp, site for public hangings, place for public assemblies and speeches, and a major urban park. But, it is hard to imagine central Boston without this large open space. What would it be otherwise – more space for office buildings and residences? To have it set aside at an early date and originally toward the edge of the city just like Central Park looks quite prescient today. Having the city grow up “organically” around it also helped compared to new cities and major developments where parks may be planned but have a difficult time developing a welcoming atmosphere. (Perhaps this is where Jane Jacobs’ ideas about parks needing more than just existence to be successful could be useful.)

Although this area isn’t really nature (too much ongoing human interference), it still is a welcome respite from the activity all around it. Indeed, urban parks like these really do help make cities all that they are even if they might be “negative space” in their lack of buildings.

Chicago to grant 900 more camping permits on Northerly Island per year

Yesterday, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel discussed further plans the city has for Northerly Island which includes more opportunities for camping:

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Thursday endorsed predecessor Richard Daley’s infamous late night bulldozing of the runway at Meigs Field on the grounds the destruction of the airport opened Northerly Island to use by many more Chicagoans…

With Chicago Park District Superintendent Michael Kelly and a representative of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on hand Thursday, Emanuel talked at the Field Museum about the next steps in the evolution.

In the short term, camping permits will be increased by 900 per year starting next year, which the mayor said will give more children in some of Chicago’s hard-scrabble neighborhoods a chance to experience nature.

A pond and a savanna area will also be developed on the 91-acre peninsula.

Camping on this location sounds like a very interesting experience: Lake Michigan on one side, skyline of Chicago in the other direction.

I know some people may still be upset by Daley’s midnight destruction of Meigs Field but this is a reminder of how Chicago continues to develop its lakefront as a park while other cities lag far behind in developing land along their waterways.

Google Street View using tricycles to capture images of places that cars can’t go

Google Street View is using some heavy-duty tricycles in order to provide images of more public areas where cars can’t travel:

The Internet giant has this week launched a large collection of images taken by the 9ft-long tricycles.

The novel off-road vehicles will allow Street View to increasingly include images of public and private sites such as Kew Gardens in London, hiking trails in California and Sea World in Orlando, Florida.

The tricycles weigh 250lbs and are each equipped with a 7ft-tall stalk of cameras on the back.

Heavy and tough to pedal, Google has hired football players and other athletes to drive them.

The idea of photographing public off-road places came to Google engineer Daniel Ratner when he was on Street View and noticed cobblestone alleys impassable to cars in Barcelona.

When I first saw this headline, I envisioned camcorders duct taped to tricycles that children were riding around parks. Google’s actual method does seem better, if less quixotic.

I know there are all sorts of privacy concerns due to Street View but I look forward to seeing these images of public parks and other areas generally inaccessible to cars. Urban parks, in particular, can often be fantastic places that offer a respite from the controlled chaos of large cities. Walking through the heart of Grant Park in Chicago, Central Park in New York City, Hyde Park in London, or the Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, one can almost forget that one is within a several mile radius of millions of people.