Grime and Glory: A History of Prospect Park

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Taught by Patrick Lamson-Hall

Patrick Lamson-Hall is an urban planner and a research scholar at the NYU Stern Urbanization Project. He has contributed to the development of the Atlas of Urban Expansion: 2016 Edition, a groundbreaking and original study of the dynamics of global urban growth. He manages the India Urban Expansion Observatory, a 30-person research facility located in Mumbai, India. He is also the New York-based coordinator of the Ethiopia Urban Expansion Initiative, a project to implement long-term spatial plans in 16 Ethiopian cities. He coordinates the Climate Smart Cities: Grenada program, a collaboration with the Green Climate Fund.

Mr. Lamson-Hall holds a Master’s Degree in Urban Planning from the NYU Wagner School of Public Service and is currently a PhD candidate at the Wagner School. In addition to his work at NYU, he has contributed to the crafting of the sustainable development goals as an expert urban planner, has collaborated with UN-Habitat on the writing of a methodology for the assessment of public open space, and has shaped new strategies for the evaluation of cities using high-resolution satellite imagery. His other research interests include alternative transportation, special economic zones, and the measurement of urban density. He is from Eugene, Oregon and now lives in Newark, New Jersey.

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Landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux envisioned Brooklyn’s Prospect Park as a pastoral refuge in the midst of a rapidly urbanizing city. For generations, the park fulfilled its promise, but by 1976 the goddess driving atop the arch in Grand Army Plaza had fallen over in her chariot, a symbol of the park’s decay. Spiraling crime rates and degraded infrastructure threatened the future of this vital urban public space.

Three decades later, the park has once again become a Brooklyn institution, with a revitalized lakefront, a new ice skating rink, and a safe and family-friendly environment. Learn about the history of Prospect Park, from its original conception as a rival to Manhattan’s Central Park, through its glory days into the 1940s, its decline and near-collapse, and its stunning rebirth. Along the way, see how the use of urban public space changed over time, as the park mirrored the history of its native borough, with boom giving way to bust, and renewal bringing new hope for some and displacement for others.

Prospect Park is the the heart and lungs of Brooklyn, and the great pleasure ground of New York’s most populous borough. Its decay and subsequent revival showcases important lessons about urban public space, public safety and policing, and the powerful role of citizens in reclaiming their city.

(This is a classroom session, not a walking tour!)

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