Three Key Favorite Spaces

Paley Park in New York City image: RomanK Photography via Flickr

Paley Park in New York City
image: RomanK Photography via Flickr

In a 2013 survey of ASLA’s Professional Practice Networks (PPNs), the questions focused on the theme of favorite spaces, touching on a range of landscape types, from best places to move through and linger, to small but mighty spaces and the most technically innovative designs. Across nearly all questions, three places in particular appeared most frequently: Central Park, the National Mall, and Paley Park. Below, we highlight comments from our members on what sets these locations apart, helping to pinpoint why these three spots appeared with such consistency in response to a variety of prompts.

Central Park, New York City

Central Park image: Remi Ravaz via Flickr

Central Park
image: Remi Ravaz via Flickr

It should come as no surprise that Central Park—described as the “birth of Landscape Architecture in America” by one member—was one of the most popular answers. It appeared (often numerous times) in each of the following categories:

  • Favorite iconic space
  • Designed space
  • Child-experience space
  • Space worried about losing
  • Great space to move through
  • Space for lingering
  • Technically innovative project
  • Project that changed the profession

Here are some of the reasons why:

Favorite iconic space

“It’s a seamless sequence of wonderfully complex spaces. You can people-watch by the Bethesda Terrace, but find solitude just across the pond in the Ramble.”

“It is amazing that you are in one of the biggest cities in the world and can feel as though you have left the city.”

“Central Park is the heart of NYC and allows it to function without exploding! It is relaxing, intriguing, wonderfully complex and engaging every time I visit it.”

“Because it is quiet design, for the masses, with nature, and it works. The design doesn’t scream.”

Central Park circa 1892 image: The Internet Archive via Flickr

Central Park circa 1892
image: The Internet Archive via Flickr

Best designed space

“Historical perspective of what a park does for a community.”

“It represents nature in the middle of an urban jungle.”

“Because it is designed, not naturally occurring.”

“Olmsted created the ultimate urban park by blending several layers—vehicular circulation, pedestrian, and natural spaces—into one park.”

Child-experience space

“Places to run, places to think, places to play, places to learn, places to dream, places to rest, places to create.”

The National Mall, Washington, DC

The National Mall image: Alexandra Hay

The National Mall
image: Alexandra Hay

The National Mall appeared in each of the following categories:

  • Favorite iconic space
  • Best designed space
  • Child-experience space
  • Space worried about losing
  • Great space to move through
  • Best space in a city with a network of open spaces
  • Absolute favorite space

Favorite iconic space

“Because of the diversity of activities that take place there and the immensity of the space.”

“Because when the Mall is filled with people gathered to demonstrate in a peaceful way you absolutely feel the power of the people in a working democracy.”

“Public space that is open and large. The dimensions alone afford every type of group or individual activities. Sometimes clean open space is enough. In this case being surrounded by high quality public architecture is a bonus.”

“The National Mall, known as America’s civic stage, is one of the most significant spaces in the country.”

Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. [A wide-angle view of marchers along the mall, showing the Reflecting Pool and the Washington Monument.], 08/28/1963 image: The U.S. National Archives via Flickr

Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. [A wide-angle view of marchers along the mall, showing the Reflecting Pool and the Washington Monument.], 08/28/1963
image: The U.S. National Archives via Flickr

Best designed space

“It’s American and iconic.”

“It represents history and peacefulness. It is a space that is designed to take in and reflect the challenges America has faced.”

“This is the heart of U.S. government. It profoundly imparts the weight, care, and importance of the work that happens there for the whole country.”

“It is an awe-inspiring space that is consistently occupied and constantly evolving—not always for the better.”

“The Mall has a historical context that expresses the change in design over time, while containing contemplative private to open public gathering spaces.”

Space worried about losing

“Too many memorials on too sacred a space. We’ve seriously departed from McMillan Commission & Olmsted’s vision.”

“It would be a loss due to benign neglect, which creates a cheap face for the nation’s capital.”

Paley Park, New York City

Paley Park image: oinonio via Flickr

Paley Park
image: oinonio via Flickr

Paley Park in New York City, designed by landscape architecture firm Zion & Breen Associates, was one of the most-mentioned places. It was suggested in each of the following categories:

  • Favorite iconic space
  • Best designed space
  • Child-experience space
  • Project that changed the profession
  • Small, but mighty space (20 percent of respondents picked Paley Park)
  • Absolute favorite space

Favorite iconic space

“This park demonstrates that you don’t need a big space to create an effective respite from a dense, urban area.”

“Defined the genre. It’s still a wonderfully intimate, refreshing space.”

“When I stumbled upon this space as a 17-year-old, it was an epiphany! I decided on the spot that I wanted to devote my life to creating elegant public spaces. I was particularly struck by how unprepossessing this small, vacant lot—dwarfed by nondescript buildings—must have seemed prior to the realization of the designers’ vision.”

Child-experience space

“Children will feel immersed in a giant waterfall while actually surrounded by buildings.”

“Water + kids = fun.”

Small, but mighty space

“It’s a microcosm of relaxation amidst the bustle of midtown Manhattan. If you blink, you’ll walk right by it.”

“It’s still a comfortable and engaging place years after it was first built.”

“Water, scale, the sense of refuge from the street, and the possibility of engagement and isolation.”

“A surprising space that provides respite just steps away from the hustle and bustle of an urban environment.”

“Sandwiched between two buildings in a dense area, the scale is unexpectedly small but perfect. The concept that land used as a public park is as valuable as a high-rise building is very compelling.”

“Its energy—from water, people, trees—is both restful and invigorating: a perfect oasis in the urban desert.”

“Perfect balance of light, shadow, form, function, proportion, scale, and movement.”

At the start of 2013, a questionnaire was sent out to members of ASLA’s Professional Practice Networks (PPNs). The theme: favorite spaces. As you can imagine, responses were varied, and included many insightful comments and suggestions. Synopses of the survey results were originally shared in LAND over the course of 2013, and we are now re-posting this information here on The Field. For the latest updates on the results of the annual PPN Survey, see LAND’s PPN News section.

One Response to “Three Key Favorite Spaces”

  1. Favorite Places Around the World, Part 1 | The Field Says:

    […] (PPNs), the questions focused on the theme of favorite spaces, and throughout the responses, a few locations were consistently mentioned—with nearly all of the most popular places located here in the United States. But now, we’re […]


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