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From Olmsted to the High Line and Back: The Evolution of Urban Open Space

Dumbarton Oaks Fellowship House
November 30, 2023
06:00 PM to 07:00 PM
Garden and Landscape Studies Public Lecture with Ray B. Oladapo-Johnson

logo for the National Building MuseumThe Garden and Landscape Studies program is thrilled to partner with the National Building Museum to bring Ray B. Oladapo-Johnson to Dumbarton Oaks.

When you walk in New York’s Central Park in the morning, visit the High Line in the afternoon, and then drop by Wave Hill for a summer concert in the evening, you are experiencing different versions of urban spaces and how they are used. In this conversation, after considering Frederick Law Olmsted's vision for urban spaces and how to care for them, we will consider the High Line. We’ll explore what inspired Robert Hammond and Josh David to create this most remarkable example of urban infrastructure reuse; how garden designer Piet Oudolf chose the planting pallet for the park; how the park has evolved; and the challenges the park faces with an ever-shifting cityscape. Then we'll touch on how it feels to sit in Marco Polo Stuffano's personal garden. how he approached planting Wave Hill, in the Bronx, New York, over 50 years ago, and what his expectations are today. We'll also consider how the pandemic changed the perception of urban open space globally and has impacted public gardens like Wave Hill. Finally, we'll look at what the future holds for urban open spaces: What can we gain from lessons learned? How will urban open spaces look going forward, especially given climate change? How can we creatively look at new parameters for defining open space opportunities in densely populated areas?

Ray B. Oladapo-Johnson, President and Executive Director at Wave Hill, a public garden and cultural center in the Bronx, New York, has deep, operational experience in public green spaces, domestically and internationally. His work is grounded in a profound commitment to building equity in those green spaces and working collaboratively with city governments. Previously, he was Vice President of Park Operations at the High Line in New York City and Director of Park Operations at the Emerald Necklace Conservancy, which seeks to restore and preserve Boston's 1,200-acre Emerald Necklace Park system. Of Nigerian and Trinidadian heritage, Mr. Oladapo-Johnson received his undergraduate degree from University of Ibadan in Nigeria, before studying urban design and landscape architecture at New York City's Pratt Institute. He has lectured at Northeastern University, Yale University, and Harvard’s Graduate School of Design.

Wave Hill: view looking west at the Flower Garden, Great Lawn and Pergola, with the Hudson River in the background. August 2023. Credit: Wave Hill.