Help to Restore Luster to Jewel of Hartford
Park isn’t what it used
to be. But Smith students and faculty are working to restore
the one-time jewel of Hartford’s nationally renowned parks
A sprawling tract of open lawns,
trailed woodlands and public facilities in the city’s northeast corner, near
the Connecticut River, Keney Park has in recent years become
a victim of budget constraints, lack of maintenance and public
misuse. The 693-acre public park, which is comparable in
size to New York’s 843-acre Central Park and was designed
by Frederick Law Olmsted’s sons, is underused, neglected,
and avoided by most residents of surrounding neighborhoods.
Keney Park on a sunny, fall afternoon.
Engineering major Peace Young '12 maps Keney Park in
the Smith GIS Lab.
Keney Park on paper, marked by students for danger spots
(red dots) and assets and resources (green dots).
Students in two classes taught
by Nina Antonetti, assistant professor of landscape studies,
are contributing to an effort to redesign and revitalize
the area as part of a project led by Community Solutions,
a nonprofit agency that takes on municipal projects to strengthen
troubled communities, in partnership with the City of Hartford.
“Keney Park could become an
incredible resource for Northeast Hartford,” says
one of the largest open public spaces in New England, and
a very important resource in our national park system.”
Like Smith’s campus landscape, Keney Park, which opened in 1896, was designed
with the natural surrounding landscape in mind, incorporating local plantings
to encourage native fauna, and an attempt to retain a natural look. Both landscapes
were designed by Olmsteds—Smith’s by Frederick Law Olmsted, who was born and
is buried in Hartford; Keney Park by his sons John Olmsted and Frederick Law
Olmsted, Jr., with associate Charles Eliot.
Antonetti’s students are analyzing
public records and the park’s charter to determine its historical use and record
of maintenance, as well as landscape changes throughout the past century.
students, who are enrolled in Antonetti’s courses “Socialized
Landscape” and “Rethinking
Landscape,” will produce a cultural landscape report that
will inform the park’s
redesign by the Conway School of Landscape Design, a graduate
program located in Conway, Mass., and renowned landscape
designer Michael Singer.
“Historically and ecologically Keney Park possesses so much information,” says
Jennifer Krain ’12, who serves as project coordinator for Antonetti’s two classes. “It
is both rich in landscape and history. You can tell by the size of the trees
there just how old the park must be. The Northeast neighborhood in Hartford has
an amazing landscape in their backyard.”
Antonetti, who has been a visiting
historian at the Conway School, sought to involve her students
in the project as an ideal way to demonstrate real-world
applications of landscape studies and the impact of cultural
and sociological issues on landscapes.
“Students at Smith are activists at heart,” she says. “This kind of project gets
them acting. The more I realized our students have unique resources at their
disposal, and know how to use the resources at Smith, the more it made sense
for them to be involved.”
Antonetti’s students have taken advantage of a number of Smith’s resources, including
the college’s GIS Spatial Analysis Lab, the Lyman Conservatory, the Museum of
Art and the Mortimer Rare Book Room, to inform their research.
“Our research has covered philanthropy around the park, the development of Hartford’s
parks system, biographies of Henry Keney, who donated money to buy the land,
and Charles Eliot, infrastructure, and crime,” explains Krain.
her students’ involvement in the Keney Park renovation will help encourage people
in the city to use the historic park and spend positive time outdoors.
“Being involved in this project has made me realize that landscapes have a deep
and rich history,” says Krain. “Keney Park can be a place where people gather,
communicate, and create a sense of belonging.”
This month, four of Antonetti’s students, along with graduate students from the
Conway School, will present their cultural landscape report at a community gathering
of Friends of Keney Park with other associations. Her students are also exhibiting
their work in Smith’s Campus Center Gallery for most of May. They will apply
for a Ford Foundation grant to continue their research into next year.
“In the academic world, students are often given fictional situations or projects
that never come to be,” says Krain. “But with the Keney Park project, I know
my work will be used in the future. The understanding that people are counting
on my research and that it matters has made me work harder and care more about
the project. I’m confident that I can work on landscapes in the future because
I have had this experience.”