on Olmstedian curves

> they are all well and good for automobiles and park-like vistas, but for trying to get from point A to B, the Olmstedian curves of parks and parklike subdivisions only frustrate and delay! (:

I’ve been biking to work more and more lately thanks to the October Bike-to-Work challenge. My most bike-friendly route takes me straight through Piedmont Park followed by the neighborhood of Ansley Park which spits me out perfectly across the street from Rhodes Hall. This would be fine, but getting through these circulinear paths and streets puts me in straights almost every morning as, going against logic I turn away from my compass to get to my destination, lose my compass entirely, and throw my hands up to come out on the other side (hopefully) where ever that may be. No big deal, but when you’re commuting you usually aren’t out for a leisurely ride.

ansley park map 1911 tracks


Grading the wide streets of Ansley park, this is Peachtree Circle with Rhodes Hall in the background

Ironically, the neighborhood’s book, Ansley Park: 100 Years of Gracious Living calls Ansley park “a textbook example of ‘New Urbanism,’ …places where people can live, work and pla without getting in a car.” But Ansley Park’s parklike streets were actually designed FOR cars (or maybe cotton pickers?), and unless you’re jogging, it’s highly unlikely you’ll make it beyond your neighbor’s house without a car. The streets are large and unweildy, giant football fields of pavement rolling onward, this way and that until you don’t know up from down. It’s great for cars, you just sail through the streets, yielding here and there to an adjoining road, biking here is frustrating with the unnecessary number of hills, and pedestrians wishing to get anywhere have to sprint across the wide roads hoping a vehicle doesn’t suddenly appear. So ultimately, maybe my biggest complaint with Ansley Park is width of the streets even more so than the circular patterns they make.

I mean, biking here would certainly be enjoyable but it is not efficient.

WHY ALL THE CURVES??
Automobiles came to Atlanta in 1901 when bicycle dealer William B. Alexander introduced the first three motorized buggies and as a 1905 Atlanta Constitution article touted, Ansley Park was the first Atlanta suburb built with the automobile in mind: “In the very near future those who own homes in Ansley Park are going to sit on their verandas and see among their neighbors the best people in Atlanta and on the boulevards before their doors everybody who rides, drives, or ‘motors’ an automobile, for all roads must lead to these, the only driveways in Atlanta.” The prediction would come true, in 1910 there were 106 households, in 1920 there were 458, and in between there, in 1915, half of all Ansley Park households owned cars.

But this curvilinear, parklike idea urban planning really began before cars were even a dream. The Garden Suburb idea was part of the late 19th century urban reform aimed at providing remediation of the ills of the industrial city. Houses were set back against sweeping lawns, trees towered above curving streets (well, maybe not at first) and parks were set as gathering places for neighborly interactions. Ansley park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted’s chief surveyor, and is based on Olmsted’s plan 1869 plan for Riverside, Ill., one of the first planned suburban communities with this aesthetic. Even though the suburb is set within a larger urban context (and notably a part of it, not cut off like cul-de-sac subdivisions of later periods) the neighborhood still manages to secure its own little oasis.

Piedmont Park, the other bane of my commute, was designed by the Olmsted brothers (post-Frederick Law) based around an existing racetrack and the remains of the 1895 Cotton State Expo (which, following close behind the Chicago Columbian Exposition was also born of the City Beautiful Movement).

This morning I opted for a different route. I cut through just a corner of Piedmont (gosh I hope I can remember which path!), struggled up 12 St. road along the ridge of Peachtree St., the backbone of this city, for the next mile to work.

Traffic vs. Olmstedian curves? I’m leaning toward traffic right now.

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