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Review: 'Parks, Plants, and People: Beautifying the Urban Landscape'

Parks, Plants, and People: Beautifying the Urban Landscape,

Parks, Plants, and People: Beautifying the Urban Landscape," by Lynden B. Miller Photo Credit: Handout

Guest blogger Pam Robinson just read "Parks, Plants, and People: Beautifying the Urban Landscape," by Lynden B. Miller (W.W. Norton, $49.95), which chronicles the author's work creating green spaces at Stony Brook University, among other places. Here's what she has to say about it:
Creating green spaces, enhancing public areas and replacing concrete with plants and trees is the lifelong mission of author Lynden B. Miller, whose work ranges from the parks of New York City, to Stony Brook University and the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.

Miller, trained as a painter and a horticulturist, turned the ugly look of Stony Brook's bunkerlike complexes into a more attractive vision by first removing concrete pavings near the administration building and planting 20,000 trees, shrubs and perennials to create a pleasant central mall with walkable paths and benches. Later projects, over an eight-year period, involved redesigning the approach to the library and performing arts center, adding a Sept.11 memorial and planting scores of perennials in the median strips at the entrance driveway.  "Plants can enhance even the most modern, minimalist architectural setting," she argues, and the results at Stony Brook support her view, with dawn redwood trees, flowering and evergreen trees, shrubs and sedums, yellow false sunflower and catmint lining the walkways and other open spaces.

Among other places, her work can be found at Columbia and Princeton universities, where the buildings were more attractive, but where gardens and approaches to the buildings were in need of better landscaping.

The book offers dozens of photos showing the beauty of Miller's projects and lists several ways to improve public-garden visits: dressing workers in uniforms so they are identifiable as sources of information about the gardens, maintaining plenty of trash receptacles so litter doesn't wind up on the ground, encouraging volunteers to participate, and having compost equipment on hand to improve soil conditions.

Most important to her effort to improve public spaces though is the economic argument. She notes that when economic times are tough, park budgets are often the first to be cut. But she argues that they should be the last because they help preserve public morale and serve to revitalize rougher neighborhoods. Her ideas and arguments for more and better public spaces are compelling, and this fine book supports her views.

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