Overton Park

Overton Park 


Landscape architecture is focused on organization, designing, handling, preserving, and restoring open spaces. It is an art that is becoming important in urban environments, which are greatly influenced by the shift from urban and residential developments to the planning of parks and recreation areas. Even though a journey is complex, landscape architecture seeks to accommodate users’ needs, while, at the same time, incorporating cultural heritage and integrating functional requirements into planning. Based on the above definition of landscape architecture, this paper will discuss American landscape architecture, using Overton Park as a case study. Overton Park is a public ground that is covering 342 acres in mid-town Memphis. The park houses a zoo, museum, college of art, golf course, Rainbow Lake, forest, and hiking trails, among other features. The paper will discuss the origin, concept, and design of the park, its historical trends in landscape architecture, as well as its contribution and influence on landscape architecture.

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Historical Synopsis and Deliberations in Setting up Overton Park

Founded in 1901, the Overton Park is the formation of George Kessler and is entitled in the name of Memphis’ co-founder John Overton. The current area, occupied by the park, was formerly known as Lea’s Woods. Memphis purchased this piece of land in 1901 and hired George Kessler – a landscape architect to design a master plan. Lea’s Woods was a favorite picnic site for the people of Memphis in the latter decades of the 19th century. Overton Park was established during the City Beautiful program, which was at the eastern edge of Memphis. Kessler designed the park, adding selective plantings and paths to it. The park is indeed one of the earliest Kessler’s landscapes to be included in the National Registry of Historic Places.

The practice and growth of landscape architecture in the United States is not a new pursuit in the United States; this practice has grown from amateurs in the early 19th century to fully developed and respected architectural designs. The development of landscape architecture was a comeback to the industrialization of American metropolises in the 19th century. Before the civil war, parks were of little importance, since the underdeveloped countryside was located close by. However, as cities became more densely populated, areas that were set aside for natural growth were developed, and open spaces moved further. In Memphis, the ideology of evergreen neighborhood reflected regional, national, and international influences that shaped local ideas concerning urban development. The development of Overton Park was accelerated by political pressure, which forced Kessler to offer amiable landscape designs, predominantly obtained from New York City’s Central Park design ethnicities. The design was completed in the early months of 1902, paving the way for the initial development of open areas, drives, pavilions, and lakes.

The initiation of Overton Park resulted from a section of new entrepreneurs in the 1870s and the yellow fever epidemics that affected the city socially and economically. As a result, these entrepreneurs established a movement – the Greater Memphis Movement. The Greater Memphis Movement was promoting a progressive agenda, which included the refurbishment of suburban areas located in the east of Memphis and establishing a system of parks to create a new city. After the election of John Williams as the mayor in 1897, the movement had pushed for the purchase of property among it Lea’s wood, the current home to Overton Park. The development of Overton Park is connected with the late 90th and early 20th-century city’s beautiful movements and progressive era, which changed the looks of municipal park systems across cities. The park epitomized one of the significant efforts of the south to introduce concepts associated with comprehensive urban planning and designs Kessler, who is widely regarded as America’s urban planning. Overton Park was at first a momentous illustration of the natural style of a landscape project, as it is imperative in a kinship design through the Central Park in New York City, as well as Prospect Park, which is situated in Brooklyn, New York.

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The Design and Implementation Process

Overton Park’s development and its historic use by the people of Memphis have undergone several periods that were affected by local and national trends. However, what is more, important to note, is that within a decade, most of the park’s structures were put in place. The development of Overton Park began in the early 1990s when Memphis city accepted Kessler’s bid to design the park and parkway systems. Kessler had, for a substantial amount of time designed remarkable programs for park improvement in Kansas City. Together with his partner Henry Wright, it took Kessler over 13 years to implement a remarkable program for park improvement, which encompassed designs for site plans and structures of Lea’s Woods. Kessler was trusted with the Memphis architectural landscape project, which was included in redesigning and developing the city’s four original squares into four urban parks. Most importantly, the project emphasized the importance of designing and developing Overton and Riverside parks, as well as new parkway systems that would connect the parks and induce their development.

The first few years (1900-10) witnessed the establishment of the park’s basic infrastructure characterized by improvements in drives, walks, and landscaping features. The development of facilities included the construction of the main pavilion, two small lakes, formal gardens, the picnic pavilion, and maintenance facilities. In 1906, the first institution – the Memphis Zoo was developed from an uncertain origin. To enhance landscape design elements, Higbee and Conway memorial monuments were donated and carefully developed. Several recreational facilities, including the baseball fields and golf links, were established to encourage a multi-dimensional use of the park. Major tree planting activities were undertaken to plant trees in bare parts of the forest and open spaces, while, at the same time, ornamental trees and shrubs were planted for decoration purposes.

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The following years were characterized by covering up the park to its intended appearance. Plantings became well established, as the planting programs were created to landscape the specific components, such as the golf course. The Duke Bowers wading pool and the playground were established during this period as additions to active recreational facilities. The phase also saw the establishment of the Memphis-Brooks Museum of Art, which was significant in imposing cultural and educational elements of the park. The Japanese garden was also created by rehabilitating the small lake, and the wooden-style bridges were reconstructed with stone ones that could carry greater loads. The third phase brought a little change to the physical aspects of the park, as most of its developments had reached equilibrium. Thus, more resources were directed toward the expansion of other schemes and undertakings. People started to use the park more. However, the park’s design produced limited thrust for the development of additional facilities.

The Great Depression of the 1940s brought about opulence and tragedy to the park. A storm hit the main pavilion severely and even destroyed it. It was demolished a few years later, an element that altered Kessler’s park plan. Its replacement was the Overton Park Shell, a cultural facility that offered a platform for the Memphis Open Air Theater. The public invested interest in the Shell due to its inexpensive evening entertainment. The site plan for the zoo was also restructured to have animal exhibits throughout the facility. The plant materials that were damaged during the storm were also repaired through the installation of new plantings. However, events of the Second World War halted all development plans but recorded vandalism. The 1950s saw major developments in the park, leading to the establishment of the Memphis Academy of Art on the site of Japanese gardens that were destroyed during the Second World War. The construction of the Academy was important to the park due to its ability to reinforce the role of the park, as a cultural center of Memphis. The Higbee memorial was removed from its site and additional construction was made to the Brooks Museum. Finally, the park’s appearance was enhanced through the construction of the Tucker street entrance gate and the placement of the Crump memorial.

Overton Park has been a bone of contention for several years. In the 1960s, highway planners constructed Interstate 40 to ease the movement of commuters and, consequently, demolish about 26 acres of the park. As a result, a group of residents formed a ‘Citizens to Preserve Overton Park’ group to preserve the park, while, at the same time, challenging the highway planner’s actions. The court gave a decree in favor of populaces. The park has countless amenities, which are suitable for hosting passive and active recreational activities. Since its inception, the park was, and remains, a special place for the people of Memphis. Even as the park was facing challenges from authorities, its institutions flourished, and full integration of the park was fully accomplished. The park has, for a long time, shown nature its beauty through plantings. Entertaining amenities have been expanded to suit more categories of consumers, comprising jogging developments along the forest tracks. During its 80 years of existence, Overton Park has indeed provided Memphis with popularity.

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The Influence of Overton Park on Scenery Planning

The architectural project of Overton Park accentuates the prominence of assimilating ecosystem services into the urban park’s development and strategy. Subsequent sections have chronologically developed a discussion, which highlights the evolutionary nature of the park from Lea’s woods to its current nature and the importance, accorded to Memphis people. Given the imperative role that parks play in the endowment of the urban ecosystem, budding literature recommends that ecosystem service deliberations that are ought to be integrated into urban park scheduling. Landscapes are the dynamic interaction between cultural and natural forces in the environment and are, thus, prone to changes. Cultural landscapes, such as the Overton park and its features, arise from the constant reorganization of the land to be adapted to spatial structures and capture societal demands. Overton’s history has recorded successive and devastating landscape changes, whose reality can only be explained by the people of Memphis and tourists who access the park.

Urban parks offer superlative open spaces for leisure time and sites to endorse physical happenings. After a critical look at contemporary cities, we realize that urban parks are integral and they form a part of a city’s spatial organization, its functioning, as well as its social and cultural identity. The make-up of urban parks is the point to its relationship with the city through its structure and impacts on the functional characteristics of the urban context. Parks have a significant influence on the economic, social, and cultural attributes of cities. Access to green spaces has increased the recognition of green spaces, as an issue of environmental justice. Currently, a significant number of cities have taken up strategies that are aimed at greening their urban areas with most of these efforts directed to neighborhoods with few or no parks at all. Implemented landscape strategies include transforming remnants of urban lands and reusing underutilized transport infrastructure. In a nutshell, cities are trying to reduce gray areas and replace them with green areas, where people can recreate, while, at the same time, giving the city a nice architectural look. For the last few years, American institutions have passed laws and supported activities that direct towards increasing green spaces. These efforts can be explained through the growth of pocket parks, which are linked to urban renewal programs and improving the quality of life.

Current parks are managed differently from former ones. Recent studies indicate that a mixture of state and local environmentalism efforts is attributed to the park movement in the United States. Similar to Overton Park, most parks emphasize the development of recreational activities and transportation amenities intending to make these areas more accessible to the public. However, what sets Overton Park outstanding is the availability and retention of large underdeveloped areas for dense tree growth, the low percentage of open spaces, and the designation of the park, as a natural space, containing both active and passive recreational activities. While many of these factors are found in many municipal parks, none contains the predominant acres of forest found at Overton Park. It is no wonder that the park is regarded as a jewel that crowns Memphis city through its provision of nature and relaxing arena full of activities that can be desired by all and sundry.

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The main aim of this paper was to discuss American landscape architecture within the context of Overton Park. We have documented a critical analysis of the park from Lea’s Woods, a piece of land that was used for a forensic to Overton Park, a geographical area that houses natural and manmade features. The starting point of Overton Park is interconnected to the reformist era and the city’s fine-looking arrangements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. However, it is important to note that the architect Kessler gave the park an aesthetic look, which was similar to the Central New York Park. The paper has further identified local communities through the Greater Memphis Movement, as the main driving forces toward the park’s establishment.

Throughout the discussion, the main forces towards the look of the park appear to be the local community and people who have fought hard to safeguard the park from encroachers. By highlighting the historical development of landscape architecture, our findings are significant to urban planners and landscape architecture. Overton Park is not just a simple park. The complexity of its design and the ability to retain most of its natural features is an important features that current landscape architects should emulate. Given the current trend of greening grey areas in major cities of the world, we believe that Overton Park is a real epitome of an urban park that continues to serve to the population of Memphis. However, the conservative efforts of the current landscape architects and environmental conservation forces will determine its future.

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