The Genesis of the Green Infrastructure: the international diffusion of new concepts and design principles for public parks, 1840-1900.

An international symposium, Tuesday 26th May 2020, at the historic Birkenhead Town Hall, Hamilton Square

When Frederick Law Olmsted first visited Birkenhead Park on the 27th of May 1850, few people could have predicted the enormous impact it would have on the development of public parks in the USA. Birkenhead Park had only been opened three years earlier and was heralded by Olmsted as a ‘Democratic Institution’ where for the first time ‘the privileges of the garden’ could be ‘enjoyed about equally by all classes’. In many ways his design for Central Park, New York (1858) was ‘a facsimile of Birkenhead Park’ and similar design principles were incorporated in Prospect Park, Brooklyn (1867) and Delaware Park (1870).But his visit to Birkenhead Park was not part of a plan: it was the result of a casual recommendation by a local baker. 

In fact, little is known about how new concepts and design principles for public parks, now regarded as key heritage assets, were disseminated in the nineteenth century, or how the green infrastructure developed from a planning and aesthetic perspective. The symposium will therefore address the following issues. 

1. What role did tours of gardens and parks play in diffusing new ideas? 

2. How important was personal correspondence and professional networking among leading landscape gardeners? 

3. What were the benefits of overseas employment in securing subsequent commissions? 

4. Did European colonisation lead necessarily to the adoption of ‘national’ park designs? 

5. How significant was the rapid growth in commercial publishing on landscape gardening in influencing developments in the design of public parks?

6. To what extent, did visitors to public parks fully understand the local context in which they had been created?