Strange Attractions

Arriving by automobile to most American cities the exit ramp marks the boundary between fast and slow. The city street grid connects park, plaza, lot and yards.

Urbanist Jane Jacobs suggested that parks are mere abstractions without the streets that act upon them. In the same context are urban landscape types simply abstractions until we begin to think about the things and spaces that they touch?

Walter J. Hood
Walter J. Hood Enlarge [+]

This research project suggests that there can be spatial relationships between the freeway and the park, and that there may be an indeterminate system that can be derived from their relationship.

The public landscapes serve as case studies for cities with large-scale infrastructure (freeway) morphologies. Examining the various landscape types in each city (parks, plazas, streets, etc.,) reveals a simple set of landscapes that preceded the freeway as the governing morphology. In each city the freeway is superimposed onto a clear system of streets, squares and parks.

The attraction between the park and the freeway is facilitated in two scenarios.


The freeway and its rights-of-way are autonomous, fallow space in the city…a fence; a protected boundary; space set aside for future use; a planting zone to ameliorate and mitigate; a set-aside; a space for future expansion; a space for enlargement. Freeways never get narrower. They always get wider.


Large parks within the city are now an anomaly. Eight hundred or more acres in the middle of the city! Industrial sites no longer in use are yielding large parcels for park use…but most are at the city’s edge. By the end of the 20th century we are content with parks that are a mere one-quarter acre. Given this scale, parks can’t give structure to the city, to the neighborhood. They just multiply without a clear strategy. Everyone wants open space!


These studies suggest that parks and freeways can attract one another. This manifests in two ways: the park can strategically multiply itself or it can be enlarged. In either case a new city form manifests. Formally indeterminate, the scale and structure can now act upon the freeway–and in turn the freeway can act upon the park; a strange but welcome attraction!

Walter J. Hood
Walter J. Hood Enlarge [+]