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Reshaping the American Landscape to Minimize Disease Professor Robert Hewitt Professor Hala Nassar Department of Planning and Landscape Architecture Clemson.

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Presentation on theme: "Reshaping the American Landscape to Minimize Disease Professor Robert Hewitt Professor Hala Nassar Department of Planning and Landscape Architecture Clemson."— Presentation transcript:

1 Reshaping the American Landscape to Minimize Disease Professor Robert Hewitt Professor Hala Nassar Department of Planning and Landscape Architecture Clemson University, USAClemson University, USA

2 Professors Hewitt and Nassar teach courses in planning and landscape architecture at Clemson University in the United States. They are practicing landscape architects working internationally on urban design projects that address sustainability and human health. Their research interests include the influence of medicine on environmental design and international education. Their research on medicine and public health addresses both historical and contemporary changes to urban areas based on medical thought.

3 Background Steady exchanges of medical knowledge between Europe and America, and popular beliefs that environmental modification alleviated urban disease and improved health, contributed to the transformation of a rapidly urbanizing nineteenth-century America interested in creating healthier urban landscapes.

4 Medical thought played a meaningful role in this structural and functional transformation of the nineteenth-century American urban landscape, particularly in terms of urban features such as hospitals, asylums, almshouses, penitentiaries, sewerage systems, parks, and cemeteries.

5 This second of two courses illustrates the influence of medial thought on the design of 19 th -century American urban landscape through an examination of American physician Daniel Drake, and American landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsteds writings and work.

6 Medical Topographies in America The publications of John Claudius Loudon and the widely published medical topographies that identified environmental factors related to disease and miasma influenced the exchange of medical and urban design ideas between England and America Figure 9 Daniel Drakes New Orleans Topography

7 Physician Daniel Drakes ( ) medical topographies are representative of many of the period medical studies in America referencing conditions that associated environmental characteristics with miasma. For example, in these topographies, Drake described certain kinds of soil as necessary for autumnal fever.

8 And in this work, Drake also suggested that organic soils provided the matter out of which a poisonous gas is formed, and that autumnal fever prevails most where the amount of organic matter is greatest... (Drake 1854)

9 Mounting Etiological Evidence in America Like Southwood Smiths studies, Daniel Drakes and other physicians studies provided a medical basis for the elimination, remediation, and enhancement of landscapes associated with specific soil types, climates, topographies, and settlement patterns Figure 10 Daniel Drakes Topography of Louisville

10 As in England, problematic environmental conditions were associated with standing water, moisture in the soil, wetlands, a lack of air circulation ( in streets and dwellings), high population densities, and the decay of vegetative and animal matter.

11 The presence of trees for oxygenation and the mechanical cleansing of the air, wide and well- drained streets, breezes, and wide-open spaces were thought to prevent miasma. In America, as the etiological evidence mounted,so did the impulse to develop a body of landscape and urban design responses to the threat of disease.

12 New Urban Typologies Just as physicians identified environmental characteristics within their rationale of disease causation, American urban designers identified salubrious environmental typologies through which to create healthy urban areas. Figure 11 Robert Morris Copelands Plan for Boston Parks and Boulevards 1852

13 These environmental typologies included parks and open spaces, the planting of street trees, the removal of urban wetlands and cemeteries, the filling of low-lying lands, the straightening and/or widening of streets, and the design of new boulevards and suburbs that were less densely populated.

14 Frederick Law Olmsted and Miasma It was on the basis of these landscape typologies that distinct urban design proposals were provided to public health and city officials by architects and landscape architects. One of Americas most significant landscape architects advocating such proposals was Frederick Law Olmsted. Figure 12 Frederick Law Olmsted 1895

15 F L Olmsteds ( ) awareness of both American and English medical opinion related to disease and miasma was heightened during his appointment as the General Secretary of the Sanitary Commission during the American Civil War, where he worked closely with nationally recognized physicians and sanitarians.

16 Landscape Transformation Based on Miasma Theory Landscape characteristics identified with miasma theory were published by the Commission during Olmsteds tenure. Figure 13 Boston Landscape with Affinity for Miasma Prior to Transformation Figure 14 Boston Landscape Transformed into Franklin Park

17 These characteristics described miasmas affinity for dense foliage, the power of vegetation to obstruct its transmission, the association between miasma and soil, and miasmas absorption by bodies of water. (Beverage, 1997) Olmsteds readings of John Loudon also introduced him to the intricacies of miasma theory and urban landscape design.

18 Urban Transformation Based on Miasma Theory Based on assumptions that industrializing cities would continue to grow Olmsted proposed three landscape typologies to prevent disease. Figure 15 F L Olmsted Proposed Plan for the Riverside District in New York City Figure 16 F L Olmsted Proposed Plan for the Riverside, Illinois

19 Those three typologies included: low density urban and suburban neighborhoods, large pleasure parks and smaller local parks, and tree- lined parkways with connecting promenades. According to these typologies, urban housing needed to be less dense to permit the flow of air to diffuse miasma.

20 Trees were needed throughout the city to purify the air passing through their foliage and to act as a barrier to miasma. And trees in parks were needed to absorb excessive moisture from the soil preventing the release of the miasma.

21 Park Design Based on Miasma Theory According to Olmsted, park edges should be planted with trees to act as barriers to urban miasma sources. Figure 17 F L Olmsted Plan for Central Park, New York City Figure 18 F L Olmsted Photo of Prospect Park, New York City

22 But in park interiors trees were to be planted in small groupings to prevent the damming up of miasma. Grass was also to be kept very short to prevent excess moisture on its foliage, which could create miasma. And tree-lined boulevards were proposed to provide healthy connections from all parts of the city to parks and less dense housing.

23 These ideas shaped the American urban landscape for at least fifty years during the 19 th century. The remnant parks, suburbs and boulevards created through the belief in miasma theory underlying their design still remain important parts of most American cities; and reminds us of the important role that medical thought plays in urban design.

24 References Beverage, C E., Hoffman, C, eds. (1997) The Papers of Frederick Law Olmsted: Defending the Union, London and Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press Cassedy, J. H. (1986) Medicine and American Growth, , Madison, Wis.: University of Wisconsin Press Drake, A. (1854) A Systematic Treatise, Historical, Etiological, and Practical, on the Principal Diseases of the Interior Valley of North America, as they Appear in the Caucasian, African, Indian and Esquimaux Varieties of its Population, ed. by S. Hanbury Smith, Francis G. Smith, 2nd. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Brambo & Co Hamlin, C. (1992) "Predisposing Causes and Public Health in Early Nineteenth-Century Medical Thought," Bull. Soc. Hist. Med., 5:1,


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