One of my most favourite places on the TU Delft campus is the beautiful Mekelpark. The 800 m long and 80 m wide landscaped park acts as the green heart of the campus that connects TU Delft’s different faculties. It’s a great example of a vibrant space, especially during summer, to just lie on the grass and enjoy that beautiful sunshine, or grab a bite to eat from one of the food trucks nearby.
I still remember my first impression of this park during the introduction programme as a bustling place with so many activities. However, it was not so long ago that the Mekelpark used to be a road and a parking lot filled with cars and traffic. I cannot help but wonder how this transformation took place and a story about a park in New York that may have inspired it.
In the popular hit Amazon series Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, there is a scene (season 1, episode 4) where the main character Midge encounters a protest led by Jane Jacobs in Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village, New York. The protest signifies an iconic moment in history, especially for urban planning. Jane Jacobs was a local journalist and a stay-at-home mom who then went on to become an activist fighting against the construction of a major road through the heart of Washington Square Park.
Parks are not meant to be a faraway oasis to escape urban life
She is considered a pioneer and one of the most influential people in 20th century urban planning and design. Her most acclaimed book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities is considered as a sort of Bible in the field of planning and talks about the importance of public spaces, especially parks.
According to her, parks are not meant to be a faraway oasis to escape urban life, but the very centre of it. They are kaleidoscopes that create different experiences for their dwellers and are interwoven with day to day activities that result in what she calls an ‘elevated life’. She describes her neighbourhood parks as places for people to come together for a hog roast or to repair their bikes. They are informal gathering spaces that enrich the community.
She was the first to talk about urban parks as an essential component of city life. In her words, “In its need for variety and acceptance of randomness, a flourishing natural ecosystem is more like a city than like a plantation. Perhaps it will be the city that reawakens our understanding and appreciation of nature in all its teeming unpredictable complexities”.
A similar opinion is also shared by architect Francine Houben, founder and Director of the acclaimed Dutch architecture firm, Mecanoo, that designed the Mekelpark and the TU Delft Library. Talking about the Mekelpark, she describes how the park was designed to facilitate interaction and the exchange of ideas between students and staff from different faculties. She believes that the design is not just about visuals but should appeal to all the senses. ‘Before she starts sketching designs, she wanders around endlessly, taking in the dominant direction of the wind, where the sun rises and sets, and the local social conditions’, says a Dutch newspaper after an interview with her.
It is interesting to draw a parallel between the ideas of Jane Jacobs and the redesign of Mekelweg from a busy road to a serene landscaped park. There may or may not be any direct correlation or influence between the two, but what is certain is the relevance of that movement even today. It is vital to understand the importance of green spaces in our urban areas and the reinvention of its uses in the present day. Thanks to Jane Jacobs, we have moved past our idea of parks from being well-manicured French parterres and English rolling gardens, to something that connects us. Be it a neighbourhood park or a campus park like the Mekelpark, the transformation is truly remarkable as spaces like these end up elevating our day to day lives.
Malavika Krishnan (25) is a second year Delft MSc Urbanism student from Kochi, India. An architect by profession and a writer by passion, she loves everything to do with art and design and the way they shape the human experience. In this monthly series on urbanism she will try to change the way you perceive the TU Delft campus.
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