Cemeteries were the first parks. While that may seem a bit of a stretch for most, especially applied in any contemporary sense, these open spaces can serve multiple roles for communities. Fundamentally, they are a place for burial, and as such, programming is limited to primarily passive recreation (walking) out of respect. However, with that in mind, these spaces have deep spiritual connotations and can be used to expand that meaning with the other benefits of public open spaces.
It’ll take a distinct change in thinking to fully take advantage of these large green spaces in any sort of way beyond visiting relatives, but the work of the Historic Preservation Commission in St. Joseph County has taken steps to change the way the public views the City Cemetery in South Bend. Between tours and re-enactments, they have used unique programming as ways to introduce the public to the resource these places offer.
South Bend Cemeteries: As interesting note about the cemeteries around the city of South Bend is the residential areas that surround each of these open spaces. Better integrating these spaces into the neighborhoods will provide additional value to each area and better support the spiritual facet of health within these neighborhoods.
Case Study: Mount Auburn Cemetery in Massachusetts
Located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Mount Auburn Cemetery was founded as a “Garden Cemetery” in 1831. With classical monuments that still serve as public art set in a beautiful landscape, this cemetery was a strict departure from traditional burial sites most often associated with church graveyards. Similar to South Bend, this cemetery serves as the largest contiguous open space in the region. Its construction marked a wave of not only cemetery design, but even the use of the word cemetery (“resting place”) and signaled the beginning of the modern idea of parks. Unlike South Bend, Mount Auburn Cemetery is 170 acres and 8 times the size of City Cemetery, despite Cambridge having a similar population size of just over 101,000 people. When Mount Auburn Cemetery was constructed, the public saw an opportunity to utilize its grand vistas, beautifully landscaped pathways, and ornate monuments as something other than simply a final resting place for their family and friends. Driven by a need to get away from an overcrowded and unclean city, people utilized Mount Auburn, and the many cemeteries designed thereafter, as parks; places for passive recreation like walking and picnicking. It was because of the lack of public green spaces that drove this usage and eventually evolved into a nationwide advocacy effort for public parks.