The greenway is a modern twist on an outdated concept. Ancient cities sprung up around trade routes. Many modern US cities were originally formed according to access to a local train station or navigable river. Today’s metropolises were brought to success by an advanced highway system. All of these circumstances were brought about by two prevailing factors, location and traffic. In a post-modern world however, when the infrastructure has been laid and a consumer society comes to live for a variety of new reasons how can these concepts be applied. The answer lies, partially at least, within the recent push for a developed greenway system.
From rural areas to bustling cities, the introduction of greenways has been proven to increase foot traffic and bring economic growth to an area. Communities across the United States are taking notice of the environmental, political and economic advantages of greenways and their advocacy and popularity has grown quickly in recent years. A number of these Greenways are structured around either current or decayed and unused infrastructure and either is credited with re-greening an area.
Despite it’s relatively short time in the public eye, New York’s Highline Park by Diller Scofidio + Renfro has not failed to turn heads. When ground broke on Section One in 2006 the fact that this conceptual park in the sky was even being realized was a feat in itself. The opening of Section Two can now be celebrated, in part, as the city’s continued support of the park and its cultural and architectural significance. The Highline has been a breath of fresh air for the area, creating a sort of Renaissance for the seemingly forgotten neighborhoods on previously vacant eyesore that was the West Side Line. Increased foot traffic has made the area more enticing for commercial and cultural development. With residential and smaller scale redevelopment of the area also comes the larger scale productions like Renzo Piano’s proposed new Whitney Museum. The “greening” of this area adds to its modern feel and forward thinking agenda which New York has increasingly been trying to portray.
Boston’s “Emerald Necklace” was one of the first experiments with the greenway. Design by Frederick Law Olmstead from 1878 to 1896 was aimed at connecting the historic Boston Commons with the Public Garden created in 1837. Instead of simply creating a footpath, Olmstead conceived of a plan that alternated between active and passive spaces. By the end of the necklace’s construction it came to include nine separate parks, gardens, rivers and ponds. Olmstead’s linear park can be said to act as a roadmap for subsequent greenway designs. The newest of Boston’s green ventures is the Rose Kennedy Greenway, constructed along the “Main Artery” in downtown, which was fully buried in 2003. The sudden availability of prime urban real estate intrigued the city and developers alike but a mixture of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society and green-minded residents pushed the greenway plan into realization. The greenway is now heralded as having improved both the lives and activity of Bostonians.
Greenways are not limited to urban landscapes or North America. The European Greenway Association, created in 1997 has facilitated and advocated for greenways connecting the continent. Historic paths such as the Roman roads and “pilgrim’s path” have been preserved and restructured for modern use. Along with these historic roads hundreds of new greenways have been planned and built across Europe including the Bristol and Bath Railway Path in the UK and La Périgourdine in France.
In the fashion of the transcontinental railroad, larger scale greenways are currently in the planning and marketing stages looking to connect and improve large sections of countries and regions. The East Coast Greenway has the ambitious proposal to connect nearly 100 greenways from Florida to Maine, spanning nearly 3,000 miles. This grand greenway project is an attempt to bring economic and pedestrian activity to the whole of the east coast. Such a primeval idea in a modern world is a true symbol of our postmodern society and yet the greenway is being sought as the path to economic recovery.
Sources: Rose Kennedy Greenway, European Greenway Association, The High Line, East Coast Greenway
Photos: Andy Mc, Jeremey Jannene, Ed Yourdon, Joe Dunckley, Philly Bike Coalition, Todd Van Hoosear, Ledonne Morris, Jay Woodworth, Brett Woodvine, Shinya Suzuki, Wally Gobetz, Chris Devers, Flickr user tatsuhiko