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The Garden Squares of Boston

By Phebe S. Goodman
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Book Details
  • Author: Phebe S. Goodman
  • Edition: 1
Of the many types of historic landscapes that have become treasured open spaces in North America's dense urban fabric, the garden (or residential) square largely has been overlooked. Yet the garden square played an important role in the planning of Philadelphia, Savannah, Boston, and New York, several of America's major early cities. Boston's garden squares most closely resemble the squares of London in purpose and appearance. Intended as speculative real estate ventures, the London garden squares were distinguished by row houses and ornamental iron fences enclosing gardens planted with trees and grass. The gardens served as welcome patches of greenery for affluent residents who chose to live in relatively cramped quarters within the city. As such, gardens were the raison d'etre for this early form of urban design.

Although garden squares pre-date well-documented municipal parks, the historical significance of these squares is not fully understood. In this remarkable book, Goodman tells the story of Boston's garden squares and offers her readers a fascinating glimpse of early urban planning. Goodman traces Charles Bulfinch's connection with these historic landscapes and compares them to their London prototypes. While Bostonians and others are familiar with Boston's iconic Louisburg Square on Beacon Hill, few people know that Boston's South End neighborhood boasts a group of eight garden squares.

After discussing London squares and their effect on urban planning in several eastern seaboard cities, Goodman turns to Boston's three privately developed garden squares, all of which were located close to the original center of the city. She pays special attention to Louisburg Square, the only one that has survived. Focusing on the characteristic landscape features that define the gardens, Goodman also showcases the five of the eight publicly developed garden squares of the South End--Blackstone Square, Franklin Square, Chester Square, Union Park, and Worcester Square.

Concluding with a chapter on the evolution and preservation of the garden squares of the South End, Goodman discusses private versus public ownership and access, maintenance, and preservation treatments--issues that provide practical information helpful in the management of historical as well as contemporary landscapes. She urges a combined effort of neighborhood groups and the public sector to maintain these squares. Otherwise, she warns, "the future of these historic garden squares will be in jeopardy."

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