In 1891, the City of Chicago made a shift from their focus on the large iconic parks of Lincoln Park, Jackson Park, and Washington Park (all made in the image of Central Park New York). They instead took on a neighborhood scale open space approach to address the unmet social needs of the working class. This change brought about a distinct changing in programming, with swimming pools and other active recreation amenities prioritized over the grand scale of the previously dominant parks. While this change was necessary at the time, in order to maintain this vast assemblage of open spaces and facilities, cities have had to dramatically change the look and feel of these spaces. Uniformity became the priority, with large, unprogrammed lawn areas dominating the aesthetic.
With over 1300 acres and over 70 parks, the South Bend Park system has a variety of different places to experience the parks. Owing much to dwindling municipal budgets and the influence of the Chicago Parks approach, many of those parks have the same look and amenities. This limits their overall impact – on attachment to the community, on their responsiveness to ecologic and social context – and ultimately, it changes how the City of South Bend is perceived by residents and visitors alike.
To resolve this, creating a unique park identity, responding to the flavor of the communities in which they reside, helps create ownership and more civic pride in these spaces. Taking the lead from Chicago again and in a collaborative effort with the neighborhoods themselves, these park identities become part of our own identities in how we recall the story of our City to other people. These places tell are story through a compilation of shared history and our public spaces, especially the public parks because they’re so accessible, should reflect that. Identity of place is important and it starts with our public spaces and parks.