The Nineteenth Century American Promenade. Precedent and Form
The promenade became firmly established in Europe as a public space type in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, appearing on the North American continent in the late eighteenth century. By the mid-nineteenth century a number of American cities offered designated outdoor settings for citizens to engage the social practice of “seeing and being seen”, in locations as diverse as cemeteries, fashionable streets, waterfront embankments, resort beachfronts, and later, in urban parks and along parkways. These public spaces attracted diverse populations, from working and middle classes to social elites, fulfilling a range of social and recreational goals in a variety of contexts. The promenade has endured as a highly popular public space type over many generations and across diverse cultural and geographic contexts, prompting the question whether there are certain formal qualities that have enhanced the success of the promenade as a public space? Are there are particular physical and spatial conditions that have persisted, contributing to its capacity to endure?
This paper describes the evolution of urban promenades in Western Europe and in the United States from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries, before applying typological analysis to a set of promenade precedents drawn from several countries and across a span of several hundred years. The analysis reveals that factors such as location, connectivity, adjacency, alignment, dimensions, scale, and amenity features have contributed to the qualities of accessibility, activity, and comfort that have attracted people to promenades and supported their popularity over time. The paper concludes that nineteenth century American promenades were legitimate successors to earlier European precedents, exhibiting similarities in physical and spatial attributes that place them squarely within a typological tradition.
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