Reading List on Urban Parks

Deadwood takes place in an urban park inspired by Wynnewood Valley Park in Lower Merion, PA, and Wissahickon Valley Park in Philadelphia, so I asked Kate Galer, an open-space, education, and urban park activist, for some resources. Kate, one of the forces behind the establishment of Linwood Park, a pocket park in Ardmore, PA, supplied this reading list.

General Resources on Urban Parks

Edens Lost and Found: How Ordinary Citizens are Restoring our Great American Cities by Harry Wilan and Dale Bell with Joseph D’ Agnese. 2006

The book written with the documentary on PBS. With Edens Lost & Found, award-winning filmmakers Harry Wiland and Dale Bell herald an exciting sea change in the relationship between ordinary citizens, environmental groups, and government. From across America they gather evidence of a new spirit of cooperation among neighbors, planners, architects and builders, city officials, and government agencies. Indeed, as urban issues have become undeniably urgent problems that demand answers, people from disparate backgrounds and political leanings are joining forces to recast life in American cities. As citizens take action where government has failed, they are finding support, encouragement, and help from their neighbors. Conversely, as progressive-minded government agencies and organizations explore nontraditional solutions, an energized community rallies to the cause.

Neither exclusively top-down, nor grass roots, we are in the midst of an unprecedented movement that unites efforts from every quarter in a common cause. Focusing on Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Seattle — four cities that face vastly different challenges — Edens Lost & Found highlights the remarkable power of hope, pride, ingenuity, and chutzpah that characterize this era of collaboration. Bioengineering concepts — now increasingly understood by many to offer the most effective, cost-efficient solutions — are playing a central role. Working with — rather than in opposition to — nature is leading to such innovations as rooftop and urban gardens, restored parks, transformed vacant lots, the re-greening of city streets, and eco-friendly watershed management. Edens Lost & Found shows how working to reshape the land also transforms the relationships people have to one another.

Public Parks: The Key to Livable Communites by Alexander Garvin. 2011.

Everything that anybody (whether they are citizen activists, or public officials, or professional landscape architects, architects, and planners) needs to know about the critical role public parks play in creating livable communities. Millions of dollars are being spent on restoring parks and creating new ones. Planner Alexander Garvin explains the rationales for their existence, the forms they take, their value, ways to pay for and govern them, and the ingredients that make successful parks, providing the first single definitive source of wisdom about them. 250 color photographs and plans.

Parks, Plants, and People: Beautifying the Urban Landscape by Lynden B. Miller. 2009

An internationally renowned public garden designer, with 27 years’ experience and an artist’s eye, Lynden Miller has changed the face of New York City’s public places by providing a connection with nature for neighborhoods, rich and poor. Parks, Plants and People describes the elements of successful public space and tells how to design, improve and maintain year-round plantings, how to advocate for increased public funding and how to attract private dollars.

She calls on the general public, gardeners, urban designers, architects, landscape architects and public officials — everyone who cares about the quality of life in urban areas — to create and support well-planted parks and gardens as essential urban oases that reduce crime and have positive effects on the economic welfare of cities and their citizens. Miller demonstrates the power of plants to soften and civilize public life and proves that beautiful public spaces, planted and maintained to high standards, have the power to transform the way people behave and feel about their cities. Her motto is: Make it gorgeous and they will come. Keep it that way and they will help. 150 color; 50 black & white photographs.

Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.  Richard Louv. 2006.

Richard Louv was the first to identify a phenomenon we all knew existed but couldn’t quite articulate: nature-deficit disorder. His book Last Child in the Woods created a national conversation about the disconnection between children and nature, and his message has galvanized an international movement. Now, three years after its initial publication, we have reached a tipping point, with Leave No Child Inside initiatives adopted in at least 30 regions within 21 states, and in Canada, Holland, Australia, and Great Britain.

This new edition reflects the enormous changes that have taken place since the book — and this grassroots movement — were launched. It includes:

  • 101 Things you can do to create change in your community, school, and family.
  • Discussion points to inspire people of all ages to talk about the importance of nature in their lives.
  • A new afterword by the author about the growing Leave No Child Inside movement.
  • New and updated research confirming that direct exposure to nature is essential for the physical and emotional health of children and adults.

This is a book that will change the way you think about your future and the future of your children.

Wissahickon-Specific Resources

Metropolitan Paradise: The Struggle for Nature in the City by David Contosta and Carol Franklin. 2010

Four paperback volumes packed into a beautiful hardcover case, Metropolitan Paradise is the definitive book on the relationship between natural and urban environments.

Sacred to the Lenni-Lenape and to many early Europeans who settled in the area, the Wissahickon Valley has all the elements of “paradise” recognized in many cultures — the dramatic gorge with high cliffs, twisted rocks, dark hemlocks, sparkling water and the bountiful rolling terrain directly to the north beyond the city boundaries. Ironically, this paradise is part of a large, old North American urban region, suffering from all the troubles of the modern metropolis.

The Wissahickon Valley is a microcosm of changes in the American landscape over the past 400 years. The lessons of its history, present treatment and future possibilities, are both universal and unique. The book is both a local journey and, by extension, an exploration of how to resolve the crises of a collapsing natural world.

Today cities are exploding into complex, densely packed, multi-dimensional organisms. With six billion people on the planet and a projected nine billion within 50 years, almost everyone will be living in a megalopolis. This book is the story of a struggle to establish and maintain connected natural systems in one metropolitan area. The preservation and restoration of this valley is offered as a possible model for the world’s cities.

Sustaining natural lands within the matrix of an increasingly pervasive urban landscape is crucial. These places are our “canary in the mine.” If they cannot succeed, all wildness is imperiled, impoverishing all life and ultimately threatening human survival. This book is the authors’ contribution to a remarkable and widespread effort to restore the Wissahickon Valley and to envision a bold and imaginative future.

The Wissahickon Valley within the City of Philadelphia

Francis Burke Brandt (Author), Philip B. Wallace (Photographer), Rau Studios (Photographer), Henry V. Gummere (Photographer). 1927. Still available on Amazon.

A fine old book with lots of black and white photographs and titles to chapters such as “The Wissahickon from a Motor Car.”

The quote on the title page is “…tongue in tress, books in the running brooks,

Sermons in stones, and good in everything.”  – As You Like It

Children’s Picture Book

The Curious Garden – by Peter Brown. 2009.

Written and illustrated by Peter Brown and inspired by the High Line, The Curious Garden tells the story of Liam, a young boy who discovers a hidden garden atop an abandoned railroad structure. As he helps the garden thrive, he inspires others in his city to look for little patches of green among the concrete, until the whole city begins to blossom. Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

About the writer: Kate Galer, M.Ed, is a lifelong resident of the Philadelphia area and a lifelong hiker in the Wissahickon. She works with children with autism with a special interest in using the outdoors for sensory-based teaching. Kate is the President of The Friends of Linwood Park and chair of the Lower Merion Township Environmental Advisory Board.