Saturday, November 15, 2014

On the Early Years of Television

On the Early Years of Television: When the television made its debut at the 1939 World's Fair in New York City (NYC), nobody understood what its ultimate impact on society might be. Such a dilemma had already been playing out with the radio, which came into existence during the 1920s. Would this new communications technology be used for crass commercialism (in the form of advertisements & entertainment) or cultural uplift (in the form of educational information)? This question was central to the early historical development of television. And two shows in particular helped steer television toward a mixture of both entertainment and cultural uplift. First, I Love Lucy, which ran on CBS from 1951-57, followed the trials and tribulations of a rambunctious NYC housewife, Lucy Ricardo, as she tried to break the daily monotony of household activities. Second, The Honeymooners, which ran on CBS from 1955-56, followed the lives of a crude NYC bus driver Ralph Kramden (who later became the inspiration for Fred Flintstone) and his witty wife Alice. Because each show existed mostly before the days of cable, their analog appeal reached nationwide. Ultimately, however, both shows were social commentaries about the basic nature of family and class structures in post-World War II America.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

On Early American Landscape Architecture

On Early American Landscape Architecture: In the 1850s, American architects began to consider the importance of landscape design in urban planning. Cities like Boston and New York were becoming overcrowded due to the influx of European immigrants (mostly Irish). These cities needed more housing (tenements), more infrastructure (sewers), more streets, and more open spaces. Textile, shoe, and steel factories had begun to dominate urban landscapes, and thus, make city life rather uncomfortable. Often deemed the "father" of American landscape architecture, Andrew Jackson Downing was originally drawn to the design and construction of homes. He believed that people's moral dispositions were firmly tied to their living circumstances. But from his work on home design, he started to understand the significance of landscaping. And until his death in 1852 from a steamboat explosion on the Hudson River, he was considered the front-runner for designing New York's Central Park. That duty later fell to Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., who in 1858, won a design competition to expand Downing's plans. As a committed egalitarian idealist, Olmsted concluded that every New Yorker should have equal access to the park. Such an idea was quite radical in the 1850s, especially since some urban parks had been reserved for private functions in certain neighborhoods (e.g. - New York's Gramercy Park).