Emerald Networks | Sasaki Associates research initiative examining planned park systems in six cities

Cities with park systems designed by historic visionaries are endowed with a legacy of generous, well-connected open spaces. Designers behind some of America’s greatest urban park systems imagined the squares, rings, and axes of green space for the people of major metropolises. However, they could hardly anticipate the ensuing demographic changes, financial challenges, and environmental concerns that would impact the role these spaces play in contemporary city life. Emerald Networks: Reviving the Legacy of City Parks explores how cities are innovating within historic park visions to meet contemporary needs.


This research initiative examines case studies of six cities with historically planned park systems: Boston, Chicago, Hartford, Minneapolis, Raleigh, and Washington, DC. Emerald Networks explores how these cities are building on their legacy plans with innovative contemporary projects focused on the principles of sustainability and resiliency, active programming and use, community connectivity, social equity, economic development, and rethinking infrastructure. The research initiative and exhibition build on Sasaki’s expertise in park system planning for cities across the country.



Today’s city dwellers seek a diversity of easily-accessible greens for sport, social gatherings, civic functions, concerts, farmer’s markets, and a whole range of other uses. The historic park network plans of the past emphasized acquisition of land to protect it from development in eras of urban growth. This resulted in beautiful pastoral escapes from the urban environment, but it takes significant investment to keep them lush, beautiful, and safe. Park planners and city governments are trying to cultivate green spaces that make the most sense for new urban uses.


Emerald Networks presents the trajectory of historic park legacies from their conception to present, exploring what evolution toward the future might look like. The exhibit asks, given the rich history of legacy park plans developed by the likes of Daniel Burnham, William Christmas, Horace Cleveland, Pierre L’Enfant, and Frederick Law Olmsted, where do we take the park systems of the future? How can we pay homage to and leverage the best of the past while reorienting park systems to better meet our needs today and in years to come? Emerald Networks celebrates the amazing legacy of these incredible urban park systems, but also raises a critical discussion of how we can honor and preserve them within changing cultural contexts.



In addition to the social and economic changes impacting modern-day park uses, many of the park system plans in cities across the country were never fully realized. This exhibition provides examples of innovative new projects in each studied city that offer different, yet respectful approaches to park systems that suit new populations with new needs. In addition to the historical overviews of legacy frameworks and new projects from a host of park planning design firms that creatively re-envision park systems, the exhibition features an interactive engagement with visitors about how Boston’s park system, in particular, can move forward.


Emerald Networks appeared as an exhibit at Northwestern University in spring 2015. The exhibit was sponsored by Sasaki Associates in collaboration with the Humanities Center, the Northeastern Center for the Arts, the College of Social Sciences and Humanities, and the College of Arts, Media and Design.

Sasaki project team:
Gina Ford | principal, Landscape Architect
Laura Marett | Landscape Architect
Terri Dube | Graphic Designer
Jessica Grant | Graphic Designer
Ashley Pelletier | Landscape architect
Jill Allen Dixon | Planner
Eamonn Hutton | Landscape Architect
Ryan Collier | Graphic Designer
Anna Scherling | Copy Editor
Ingrid Borreson | Historian
Brie Hensold | Planner

Christian Philips | Photographer


About Damian Holmes 5447 Articles
Damian Holmes is the Founder and Editor of World Landscape Architecture (WLA). He is a registered landscape architect (AILA) working in international design practice in Australia. Damian founded WLA in 2007 to provide a website for landscape architects written by landscape architects. Connect on Linkedin at https://www.linkedin.com/in/damianholmes/