With the world’s attention recently focused on the Olympic Games in London, did you know that Olympic Medals were awarded in the category of “town planning” from 1928 through 1948? Moreover, it may surprise many to learn that there is a direct connection between the planning one of our nation’s largest urban parks and the Olympics.
Nowadays, it may seem odd to award Olympic medals in an area such as “town planning.” Nonetheless, according to a July 26, 2012 article in The Atlantic, “it was International Olympic Committee founder Pierre de Coubertin's great dream to marry the aesthetic with the athletic.”
Until 1948, it was commonplace to award gold, silver, and bronze medals to artists in categories such as architecture, painting, sculpture, literature, and music. Sounds like an international version of the Arlington County Fair!
Only one American ever won a medal in the field of “town planning.” Charles Downing Lay brought home the silver for the United States in 1936. Fittingly, the award recognized his design of Brooklyn’s Marine Park, an urban park. At nearly 800 acres, Marine Park almost matches the size of its more celebrated neighbor, Central Park.
Marine Park meets the varied needs of Brooklyn’s urban population, protecting 530 acres of grassland and salt marsh while providing a wide variety of active recreation opportunities including a golf course, bocce courts, cricket fields, baseball diamonds, bicycle greenways, and a launch site for canoes and kayaks.
Charles Downing Lay’s career encompassed more than just one silver medal. He designed many acclaimed parks, including the grounds of Washington, D.C.’s National Academy of Sciences, and consulted on the landscaping of the 1939 World’s Fair. He also founded the Housatonic Valley Association that continues his vision of land conservation in a 2,000 square mile watershed in Connecticut, New York and Massachusetts.
So, if the Olympics still included awards for “town planning,” would Arlington be in the running for a medal? Is there an Arlington park today that would give Marine Park competition to represent the United States in the Olympic Games? What do you think?