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What is a Park For?

Olmsted, Obama, and the Meanings of Urban Landscape

Carlo Rotella, Director of the American Studies Program, Boston College

Tuesday, April 3, 2018
6:00pm Reception | 7:00pm Lecture
Wheelock College, Brookline Campus
43 Hawes Street, corner of Hawes and Monmouth Streets, Brookline, MA
Registration is strongly encouraged and seating is limited. Register here.

In 2017 Barack Obama announced that he would build his presidential library in Chicago’s Jackson Park, one of most important big-city parks designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. Despite widespread admiration for the Obamas and hopes that the library will give the area a much-needed economic boost, this plan has raised concerns about drastically transforming such a vital piece of the nation's system of urban public green spaces. The resulting debate takes up fundamental questions about the meaning of urban landscape: How do we balance a park's various purposes? What is the relationship between the park and the surrounding neighborhoods? What—and who—is a park for? Finding answers requires digging not only into the archives that hold records of the South Side’s spatial and social histories but also into the imaginations of South Siders whose identities have been shaped by the enormous green fact of Jackson Park.

Carlo Rotello is the Directorctor of the American Studies Program at Boston College. His books, on subjects ranging from city life to blues to boxing, including Playing in Time, Cut Time, Good with Their Hands and October Cities. He writes for the NewYork Times Magazine, he has been a regular columnist for the Boston Globe commentator on WGBH, and his work has also appeared in The NewYorker, Harper's and the Best American Essays. He is at work on a book about South Shore, a neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago.

This event promises to be a very different perspective on how archives help tell the hidden stories of the Olmsted firm and the special places they created with special relevance for one of Olmsted’s greatest legacies — livable cities.

Image credit: Former President Barack Obama speaks at a community event on the Presidential Center at the South Shore Cultural Center in Chicago on May 3, 2017. (Nam Y. Huh / AP)

Walking Tours

We've posted the South End and Back Bay Self-Guided Walking Tours.


Visit the Walking Tours page for more information.

Arm Chair Traveling at Mass Hort This Winter

history_symosiumOn January 30, 2018, spend a winter’s day touring iconic gardens from across the world. Join us for an afternoon symposium that will lead you on virtual tours through a variety of historical gardens. Our award-winning presenters include Patrick Chassé lecturing on Asian Gardens; Patrice Todisco reviewing trends of New England Gardens; and Marion Pressley discussing Italian Gardens. With stories and images, they will highlight design features that you can apply in your own landscapes. January 30, 1-5 p.m. at The Gardens at Elm Bank. Register Today!

Lecture, Reception & Book Signing by Robin Karson
A reception, lecture and book signing in celebration of Robin Karson's new book Warren H. Manning, Landscape Architect and Environmental Planner will be held at the Arnold Arboretum's Weld Hill Research Building on Thursday June 15, 2017 beginning at 6 p.m. Karson is the Executive Director of the Library of American Landscape History.
This event is free but registration is requested. Seating is limited. Register at or call 617-384-5277.  Sponsored by Friends of Fairsted and the Arnold Arboretum.
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