“He paints with lakes and wooded slopes; with lawns and banks and forest-covered hills; with mountain sides and ocean views.”
Daniel Burnham, speaking of Frederick Law Olmsted.

Stone Bridge in a park setting

Cherokee Park in Louisville, Kentucky, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted

In 1893, Chicago architect Daniel Burnham was working hard to finish the design of the Chicago World’s Fair, also known as the Columbian Exposition. It spread over 600 acres with more than 200 buildings and attracted some 26 million visitors in its first six months. Working with Burnham was Frederick Law Olmsted, the father of modern landscape architecture.

By the time they collaborated on the World’s Fair, Olmsted had already designed New York’s Central Park and thousands of other projects around the country.

In the mid-19th century, industrialization sparked dramatic growth and cities became crowded and generally unpleasant places to live. In 1857, Harper’s Weekly called New York “a huge semi-barbarous metropolis…with filthy and unlighted streets, no practical or efficient security for either life or property.”

With this as the backdrop, it’s no wonder that Olmsted’s designs, focusing on “pastoral” and “picturesque” scenery, became so popular. Olmsted was all about giving people a natural, restorative landscape. It’s not as easy as it looks, and it’s why his work is still relevant today and why his principles of design are so revered.

Landscape architecture has evolved as the needs of the world have changed. Even so, landscape architects today would do well to paint scenes in the landscape with lakes and lawns and wooded slopes. And though our cities are not the semi-barbarous metropolises of the past, our need for restoration is greater than ever. Good landscape architecture can give us a place where our spirits find rest.

Pullman Square, of course. 

Posted: October 14, 2015 in Uncategorized

It’s a Tuesday evening, and Pullman Square is packed. Live music under the grandstand.  Why can’t someone do this in your hometown?

The secret is in a question.

I walked in the Jos. A. Banks store at Pullman Square.  The clerk says, “What brings you here?”

“Coffee,” I said.

It’s not what she meant, but it was true.  We had stopped in for a cup of coffee.  Then we discovered the music.  Then I shopped.  My wife shopped.  Then we listened to music again.

That is the secret.  Multiple reasons for people all day and all night to come by.  It works.

Murals in Covington.

Posted: June 18, 2015 in Uncategorized
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Last year I found a wild and crazy mural and parking lot in Covington, Kentucky.  Last week, I discovered two more.  These are by Faile, some sort of art collaborative that to be honest, I don’t understand.

Here are my sidewalk phone pics of the murals:

Covington Mural 1 Covington Mural 2

You can find better photos, along with more of Faile’s work, here.

“The street is the river of life of the city, the place where we come together, the pathway to the center.” – William H. “Holly” Whyte.

A friend in my writing world recently visited Paris and wrote a beautiful and engaging summary of her experience.  Read it, and you’ll understand what Holly Whyte meant when he called the street the river of life.  As Damyanti said, “It is the people who remain with me.”

Read her impressions of Paris here.



dig that crazy parking lot, man

dig that crazy parking lot, man

Look what I found.

It’s quite mad, you know. A Madlot, is what they call it. Is it art? Whimsy? Silliness? It’s the beginning of a re-branding effort of part of downtown Covington, Kentucky, to be known as Madland. Read about how it all came together here.

Sure, there are all kinds of questions associated with something like this.

Can you really drive on it? Yes, it still works as a parking lot.

How long will it last?   Who knows? Who cares?

What’s the point?  You must be an engineer.

Just follow the stripes.

Just follow the stripes.

I almost forgot to mention the mural.  That is high-quality art, friends.

Art on a very big scale.

Art on a very big scale.

In our planning and design, we strive for a result that is greater than the sum of its parts. In a downtown environment, there are many, many parts and there is always room for a little diversity. Downtown needs its colorful characters. Covington has a good one.

The village green at MainStrasse, Covington, Kentucky.

The village green at MainStrasse, Covington, Kentucky.

Oh, where have you been, Billy Boy?

Yes, it’s been a while. The truth is, I’ve exhausted the good public spaces in my corner of the world. So exploring I go.

I’m working on a project in Covington, Kentucky, a city I first came to know at my niece’s wedding.  What I remembered from that visit is the spectacular view of the Cincinnati skyline across the Ohio River.  But now I’ve been able to walk the streets of Covington and have discovered some nice spaces. I’ll be sharing those with you over the next few weeks. First, let’s got to MainStrasse Village.

MainStrasse is on the National Register for Historic places and it’s easy to see why. Historic homes and buildings are everywhere, as are references to the Village’s German immigrant roots.  All of this is good for history buffs, but what I like is that it’s a great place to hang out and be among people.  In other words, a it’s a great public space.

To get there, I traveled west on Sixth Street, under a railroad overpass, into what feels like another world. The first thing you notice when entering this way is the wide median separating the streets. Kind of a village green. In fact, the green was once used as an open-air livestock and produce market.

As you travel west on Sixth Street, you come to the intersection of Main Street and Sixth.  This is where the action begins.  On Main Street are shops, restaurants and pubs – everything you could want for a lazy afternoon. Sidewalk cafes abound, and then spill over into the Sixth Street village green plaza. It’s here we can see some of the principles of good design at work.

At lunch time, the plaza attracts a crowd, and the moveable table and chairs allows for that little bit of freedom to sit where you want. It’s one of those very subtle liberties that you’re not even aware of, yet it has a significant impact on the subconscious when we look back at the sum total of our experience. When tables and chairs are anchored into the pavement, it feels like an institution. When you can scoot your chair a little, even if it’s just a few inches, it feels more like a party.

The plaza is the center of life in MainStrasse.

The plaza is the center of life in MainStrasse.


Sidewalk cafes on Main Street.

Sidewalk cafes on Main Street.

Another good design principle at work is the choice of levels of intimacies. You can snuggle right next to someone special (intimate space), keep an arm’s length distance (personal space), chat with the people at the next table (social space), or have a seat on a bench along the green with reasonable assurance that no one is going to bother you (public space). In fact, the green is so broad that even someone walking down the middle of the walkway will feel comfortable because they are in their own public space zone.

I’m fairly sure MainStrasse Village is not the result of someone’s grand design. It looks like it just happened. But give the city leaders of Covington credit. They have recognized a good thing and preserved it. It’s a lesson for all of us.Sidewalk cafes on Main Street.

The grand hall of the new Canaan Valley Resort State Park Lodge welcomes visitors,

The grand hall of the new Canaan Valley Resort State Park Lodge welcomes visitors.

We typically talk about outdoor public spaces in this forum, but when I first visited the new lodge at Canaan Valley Resort State Park, I discovered interesting indoor spaces that address many of the same issues that we face in developing outdoor spaces.

The first thing you see when you enter the lobby is the grand hall with soaring ceilings.  A large window at the far end draws the visitor like a moth to a flame.  You’ll see beautiful, organic material – tile floors, stone walls – as well as comfortable carpets and eye-catching artwork.  Really a warm and inviting space.  But what’s interesting is the variety of spaces within the grand hall.  Rather than simply providing boring benches or a haphazard collection of chairs, the designers have created a real variety of seating opportunities with conversation nooks and gathering alcoves.

A grouping of four chairs makes a great place to share a cup of coffee.

A grouping of four chairs makes a great place to share a cup of coffee.

The sprawling sectional can easily accomodate a small group.

The sprawling sectional can easily accomodate a small group.










In one area, four high-back upholstered chairs make a nice space for a small group to share a cup of coffee.  In another area, a sprawling, upholstered sectional provides a place for a larger group to get together and hang out.  While these two spaces are nice and will fill a need, I’m really interested in two others.

Sofas and chairs offer seating that could encourage social interaction.

Sofas and chairs offer seating that could encourage social interaction.

The facing chairs are spaced in the social range, while the fireplace serves as a point of triangulation.

The facing chairs are spaced in the social range, while the fireplace serves as a triangulation point.










One of the things that makes a good public space is the opportunity for social interaction.  The placing and arrangement of seating plays an important role in determining the sociability of a place.  I saw two areas in the Canaan Lodge that could encourage social interaction.  One is just a typical arrangement of sofas and chairs.  They are spaced is such a way that one person could occupy one end of the sofa and a stranger could sit in a chair at the opposite end without violating the other’s personal space.  Four to twelve feet is the social space range.  We’re generally comfortable if the stranger is at least four feet away, and yet they are close enough to engage in conversation if we would want.

A similar situation exists in front of the fireplace, although I would move the two wood weave chairs to encourage easier access.  The opposite-facing upholstered chairs are around four feet apart and the fireplace provides a point of triangulation.  Could be a great place for making new friends.

Next time you’re in the area, stop by and check out the new lodge.  It’s a great place for apres-ski.  And while you’re there, see how people are using the space.