The urban oasis : Timeless Spaces
The urban oasis
Timeless Spaces
Delphine Bailly, February 14, 2007
Every city in North America seems to have a park at its heart. Both Mount Royal Park in Montréal and Central Park in New York are leading examples of urban green space as the defining characteristic of a city.

Try to imagine Montréal without its ‘’mountain’’ and right away we see that the logic of how Montréal is organized disappears. As the focus of the city, the mountain sets the visual rules for the development of our urban architecture, as well as allowing for sinuous roads rather than strictly traffic thoroughfares. The park coincides with the space and time continuum adopted by Montrealers, as well as offering the opportunity to either wander in a natural setting or simply rediscover themselves with the changing seasons.

Central Park offers New Yorkers a similar experience, an island of real nature squeezed into the hustle and bustle of a major metropolis. People go there to relax, play sports, admire an installation, listen to a concert….Twenty million visitors a year define Central Park as one of Manhattan’s major tourist destinations.

Central Park, New York - NYC. gov. Parks
Central Park, New York - NYC. gov. Parks


In each case, these cities have shown a similar way of integrating nature into the urban fabric, striking a balance. They also share the same history relating to the development of urban parks in North America, during the latter period of the nineteenth century, in response to unprecedented industrial and commercial growth.

Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903), an American social reformer and democrat, was the instigator of the design and creation of numerous 'central parks' and is considered the founder of landscape architecture.  He was highly regarded as an environmental planner, and won the competition to design Central Park in New York. His concepts of landscape planning and design not only continued to develop, but were regarded as the standard in North America.

Frederick Law Olmsted
Frederick Law Olmsted


Central Park, New York
Central Park, New York


In 1857, Olmsted’s plan for Central Park comprised the three characteristics that were his claim to fame: woods, fields and water. Fifteen years later he implemented the same elements in Mount Royal Park. These features became the principles of urban landscaping, designed to offer the practice of leisure and the rediscovery of nature, as a counter current to the chaotic nature of cities at the time, where anarchy and overpopulation were rampant. Wooded areas created scenic views within each of these havens enhancing the natural aspects of the site while emphasizing its personality. At the same time, pastures evoked the grand open lawns of England, to create calming areas suitable for recreation. Finally, wetlands, fountains and even belvederes were designed as more formal spaces for use as meeting places. The whole was interconnected by roads and paths designated for this purpose and for secure access by Park visitors.

Olmsted’s replication of nature was clearly successful, as demonstrated in his execution of the plan for Mount Royal Park in 1874. Always considerate of the natural topography, the planned layout and its sustainability, he approached the Mount Royal project with visionary zeal. Rather than provide direct access to the mountain’s best views and features, he studied the mountain’s various natural landscapes and designed a winding bridle path to connect them, following the natural curves of the mountain. Walking this gradual meandering path today, the visitor can appreciate that Olmsted’s great accomplishment in landscape architecture has stood the test of time.

www.lemontroyal.qc.ca
www.centralpark.com