Wendy R. Jacobson


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.


How to Cite
Jacobson, W. R. (2017) “The Nineteenth Century American Promenade. Precedent and Form”, The Journal of Public Space, 2(4), pp. 37–62. doi: 10.5204/jps.v2i4.140.
Author Biography

Wendy R. Jacobson, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Wendy Jacobson is Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture in the School of Architecture + Design at Virginia Tech, where she teaches design studios, as well as courses focusing on social and cultural factors in landscape architecture. Prior to joining the faculty at Virginia Tech, she was in public and private practice in Canada, Australia, and Malaysia. She is interested in people and their interactions with the urban landscape and in particular, with the role of public space as a vehicle for fostering, expressing, and mediating the public lives of individuals and communities. Her scholarly, teaching and outreach activities address a range of urban design topics, including revitalization of post-industrial towns, urban intensification, and sustainable community design. Additional areas of inquiry include urban morphology, sociocultural influences in urban design, and issues pertaining to the design of urban public space.


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