City Walls as Parks
LNP 03 - 11 - 2010

Since arriving in Eastern Europe, I have had the opportunity to explore two Baltic capitals so far: Tallinn, Estonia and Riga, Latvia. And while walking through these cities, I have started to notice a prominent theme that is used here and also a collection of cities that we have visited on this tour. This concept involves the transformation of fortifying structures into a system of green space. Avignon is perhaps the first example that we came across. The city wall that surrounds the oldest part of town dates back to the mid-1300's and today, the walls stand just as they did in the Middle Ages. Second was Siena where people can walk along the top of the wall and experience a part of history. Third, we visited Xian, which is perhaps the most exaggerated transformation of a fortress into park space. Visitors can rent bicycles and completely circumnavigate the oldest part of the city to experience the differences between modern and ancient architecture. Also, immediately surrounding the wall is a continuous park filled with exercise equipment that is constantly in use. Next, Peter and Paul's fortress in St. Petersburg, while never actually used for defense, has now become a popular park space for residents. Visitors can access a pedestrian walk starting from the southeastern corner along the river that was completed in the year 2000. And lastly, there are Tallinn and Riga. Both of these cities were once completely surrounded by dominant fortifying walls to ensure their safety from travelers on trade routes and also from other Baltic peoples. However, today, both cities feature large park spaces that encourage a healthy lifestyle, provide "lungs" for the city, and delineate between ancient and modern districts. This morphing of obsolete structures into something functional stems from a very sustainable ideal. Since many cities are very dense and built to capacity, these spaces surrounding downtowns are perfect for recreational purposes due to their continuous quality and convenient connections to surrounding areas. They become "lungs" for the bustling city, a place where people can get moving and almost feel as if they are in the forest, rather than in an urban area. They also serve as distinct boundaries between the "old towns" and the new construction, which may be useful in determining building codes and preservation regulations. In general, these functional developments are the ideal examples of sustainability. It reduces the need for more construction, reuses existing infrastructure, and recycles old ideas. Images: Green corridor surrounding old Tallinn, Estonia (top, right); park surrounding the city wall in Xian (bottom, right) S

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