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Conclusion: Searching for Resting Space

Were any individual or group ever to make it their mission to turn Charlotte into a picturesque garden city, they would hopelessly fail. Green space in Charlotte evolves with the entire city and this process does not reach any terminal destination. There are no Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The evolution of green space is a perpetual cycle and a cycle that during my research I have come to understand better than any single park plan or country club history. The green space in Charlotte, past, present and future, deserves the city's attention because it is an urban element as dynamic as asphalt or orange traffic barrels.

This urban dynamic cycles around two factors: human agency and landscape ideology. This paper shows that garden suburbs, public parks, golf courses and greenways do not happen by themselves. They are not purely natural creations. Someone must design them. It cannot be left to the rest of the city to leave space for them. They must be planned. It took human agency to create urban oases like Latta Park, Freedom Park, and the Charlotte Golf and Country Club. These particular examples illustrate a secondary theme that private interest yields better results than public initiative. The greatest green landmarks in the city today are the work of private individuals: the D. A. R., George Stephens, the Lions Club, and Sutt Alexander. As seen with public parks and greenways, it is exceedingly more difficult to push green space through the public filter. The second factor, landscape ideology, is less tangible but no less vital than the human component. The spaces that have true meaning survive longer. Green space cannot exist without an ideology or raison d'être, because otherwise people will not support them. It is a fact that people need open space but they need a reason to go also.

When all this is written down it is very easy to become discouraged over the green alternatives in Charlotte, North Carolina. It seems as though suburban planners have been asleep since the 1910s, the public park commissioners have stopped listening to their constituents, good golf is only to be had at private clubs, and greenways are doomed to remain on planners' maps. It has not been my intent to write a paper condemning the Charlotte landscape. It has been my intent to show what green alternatives exist in Charlotte and tell a bit about how and why they exist. There are in fact, green alternatives I completely omitted due to space or sheer lack of foresight. School campuses and private gardens come to my mind the quickest. Then there are all the neighborhoods, parks, golf courses and greenways I missed.

I do feel the need to discuss a few of the difficulties and frustrations met in doing this project. Their mention might help the future Charlotte landscape historian. In general, it is difficult to find people who think about land with an historical perspective. Managers of golf courses, city planners and even folks in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Park and Recreation had a hard time understanding what they had in their possession that could help me. Another problem was that these folks did not always have in their possession anything that could help me. Park and Recreation, having gone through structural changes so many times in the last century, has not maintained a clear paper trail beyond the last ten years. Golf courses change management and ownership. Some private clubs seemed reluctant to talk with me at all.

These frustrations aside, I do think that the paper raises interesting questions in its inadequacies. Is more green space in the hands of private individuals and corporations than in the hands of the public? How have structural changes in the city and county public park system affected the green space in Charlotte? What exactly has been the role of the city-county planning commission in the evolution? Are the reasons behind green space more often political or economic than social? Is green space more valuable because of the ideology behind it or the memories attached to it?

One foible I lament most, for my own sake really, was that I did not personally visit more green spaces myself during this yearlong project. What one park critic wrote in a source of mine rings loudly in my ears.

Above all, good design should reflect experience not theory. Visiting successful parks and analyzing why they work is the best possible way to learn how to develop good design ideas. Similarly, visiting parks that do not work and figuring out why they failed is an important part of the learning process.1

This is not a paper solely on landscape architecture and design, however, it does attempt to assess the success and failure of various green spaces. To be able to critique landscape with any authority, you must have familiarity with the territory. I knew where to begin looking and I found a few new places I might not have considered. Still, it would not have hurt to spend one more afternoon under the sky on a different grassy field.

For the sake of closure and my own memory, I do want to end with the story of the Charlotte Biblical Garden. In 1967, a local movie producer Walter J. Klein came up with the idea for the Charlotte Biblical Garden. This was to be a piece of land adorned in flora from Palestine reserved for nothing more than the contemplation of oneself, one's religion or one's time. In that year, he created a non-profit board of thirty individuals and established the garden in the park surrounding the Charlotte Mint Museum. It being on public land, the Charlotte Park and Recreation Commission agreed to maintain the garden.2

Between 1967 and 1975 Klein and his board spent approximately $30,000 in purchasing plants for this space. Through an agreement between the U. S. Department of Agriculture and the Israeli government the group secured some 300 varieties of plants and flowers such as lilies of the field, bulrushes, and cedars of Lebanon.

In 1975, Klein made the decision to move the garden out of the public park by the Mint Museum to land on his property in southeast Charlotte. Both Klein and superintendent of Charlotte Parks Marion Diehl agreed that vandalism and poor reception from the local neighborhood made the Mint Museum site a poor spot. Too much money was being spent on upkeep and not plants, thought Klein. So the garden moved to Klein's own land on Lancelot Road in the subdivision of Providence Plantation.3

In the 1990s, Walter Klein sold his home and property to a developer who proceeded to subdivide the large lot into smaller lots for building. The Charlotte Biblical Garden, tired and mostly overgrown, became the victim of this real estate deal. It is today no more, simply fertilizer beneath the foundation of some 3-bedroom, 2-1Ž2 bath-unit.

I used to ride my bike with my friends to the Charlotte Biblical Garden. We discovered the little sign for it at some point on the school bus ride home. It was definitely beyond the bounds of allowed bike riding but that made it all the more inviting an adventure. Upon riding there we would set down our bikes by the side of the road, walk along a path through some brush and then step into the glade that was this garden. It seemed very holy to us just because the word Biblical was in the title. With all the plants having Latin binomial names on their markers we never knew their common names and thus failed to understood the direct biblical connection. We just thought it was a place to go read the Bible. This was never our intent and subsequently we felt a bit unworthy. It still held a strong mystique for the few of us that bothered to visit.

The garden disappeared quickly. I was in high school and because it was out of my way, I did not even notice. Now there are a few houses with poplars and monkey grass in the lawns where cedars of Lebanon once stood. One man, Walter Klein had planted the idea for this garden. He nurtured the concept and ideology. When the plot lost favor in one location, Klein gave it new life in his own yard. When he could no longer take care of it, others forgot the meaning. Eventually nature selected against this green space. I myself will always have a bit of sentimental regret over the passing of the garden, even if the event retains some academic curiosity.

The evolution of green space in Charlotte does not stop. That may be the simplest conclusion. Man either creates it or destroys it. Ideology is either instilled or forgotten. If you do not watch out it will leave you.

Continue reading...

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four