Friday, October 17, 2014

The Struggle for People, Place, and Nature since 1900 as seen by Rutherford Platt

Professor Rutherford Platt
The Struggle for People, Place, and Nature since 1900 as seen by Rutherford Platt

"Reclaiming American Cities: The Struggle for Humane Urbanism Since Olmsted" was presented at Harvard Forest on November 17, 2014 by Rutherford Platt, Professor Emeritus of Geography at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and Senior Fellow at the Institute for Sustainable Cities at the City University of New York (CUNY).

Platt’s lecture provided an overview of Frederick Law Olmsted’s philosophy as the principal designer of hundreds of parks and boulevards, including Boston's “Emerald Necklace" and Forest Park in Springfield. Olmsted pioneered the idea of “humane urbanism,” asserting that cities are not simply economic engines to
Harvard Forest Director, David Foster (standing left)
introduces Professor Platt
enrich the few, but must also serve and sustain all their inhabitants.

The lecture followed the history of the City Beautiful and Settlement House Movements of the early twentieth century, and end with a discussion of the contemporary movement to reclaim neighborhoods, renew parks, resist gentrification, expand bike paths, restore urban streams and waterfronts, grow food and organize farmers' markets, and more.
In Platt's book "Reclaiming American Cities," he states that "for most of the past century, urban America was dominated by top-down policies serving the white business and cultural elite, the suburbs, and the automobile. At times these approaches were fiercely challenged by reformers such as Jane Addams and Jane Jacobs. Yet by the 1980s, mainstream policies had resulted in a nation of ravaged central cities, sprawling suburbs, social and economic polarization, and incalculable environmental damage."  Published in 2013, by the University of Massachusetts Press, the book can be purchased at

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