Guthrie Green: In Defense of Minimally Green Urban Parks

Author: Evan Sack

In “Guthrie Green: In Defense of Minimally Green Urban Parks,” Evan Sack sets the ideas of Frederick Olmstead in a modern context.  Using the Guthrie Green Park as an example, he illustrates how Olmstead’s views are not entirely relevant to today’s circumstances.  Sack’s essay is of importance because the example given shows how a fresh mindset is necessary to provide for today’s needs. – Editor: Anne Arts


Urban density is here to stay. It is best to accept it as an indisputable fact, so that we may better incorporate green space into the city.

However, the case worth arguing over is the very definition of “green space.” In Frederick Olmstead’s “Public Parks and the Enlargement of Towns” there is certainly a case for green spaces within our cities, that are essentially perfectly preserved snapshots of the lands as they existed prior to the town (Lange 2012). The ideal park in Olmstead’s mind was his design for central park, that is seen today, which is certainly appreciated and widely used by New Yorkers.

However, Olmstead is highly critical of the idea that parks could be a combination of man-made and the natural environment. He says, “We want, especially, the greatest possible contrast with the constraining and confining conditions of the town, those conditions which compel us to walk circumspectly, watchfully, jealously, which compel us to look closely upon others without sympathy. Practically, what we most want is a simple, broad, open space of clean greensward….” His argument here, no matter how emotionally powerful it may be, carries no more support than his word assuring the public that his is the best solution. Instead, I propose a new definition: the minimally green space.

The Tulsa metropolitan area is home to just under 1,000,000 people. The density of this population pales in comparison to that of Olmstead’s New York City example, however, there was a need until recently for more open space in the downtown area. The primary difference here between the objectives of Central Park and the solution for Tulsa was that the goal sought to provide more than just access to green space in Tulsa. Instead, the “park” was conceived as a multipurpose outdoor space that could incorporate seating, lounging, movie nights, live music, outdoor yoga classes, private dinners, food trucks, and art exhibitions. The scope was intentionally broad and ambitious, with the hope that they could cover activities that would attract the entire population of the Tulsa area.

The solution was a small pocket park in the Brady Arts District known as “The Guthrie Green.” The space features a stage and backdrop to incorporate performances of all kinds, including film festivals.

The site is mostly an open grassy area, with enough slope that the stage can be seen over the heads of anyone seated closer, but still flat enough that picnics are possible and comfortable. The site was chosen because of its access on three sides to direct street parking, either for use of the facility, or for food trucks. A local yoga studio hosts free classes once a week, and the art crawls over the summer draw some of the largest crowds downtown Tulsa has seen in years.

Ultimately, this space is not something that could have been predicted in Olmstead’s time, namely because many of the activities possible were not remotely feasible in 1870. This example is not meant to discredit or dismiss Olmstead as a past figure with outdated ideas. Instead, Guthrie Green, much like its concept, could be an addition to the definition of what a park can be.


Lange, Alexandra. Writing about Architecture: Mastering the Language of Buildings and Cities. New York: Princeton Architectural, 2012. Print. pp. 120-45.
U.S. Census Bureau (2015). American Community Survey 1-year estimates. Retrieved from Census Reporter Profile page for Tulsa-Muskogee-Bartlesville, OK. CSA.


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