Nicholas Serrano,

landscape historian :


Nicholas Serrano is an Assistant Professor in the Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture at Louisiana State University, where he teaches courses on urban systems and plant community ecology.

He has a background in professional horticulture and landscape architecture, and is finishing his dissertation with the Ph.D. in Design program at North Carolina State University. His research focuses on the history of landscape architecture and urban development in the post-World War II southern United States, and his scholarship has been supported through fellowships with the Smithsonian Institution and Dumbarton Oaks Research Library.


Green Fingers of the City: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Greenways in Urban Form

This presentation will consider greenways as spatial borders imbedded in planning policy and urban form. The common narrative of greenway systems is rooted in the convergence of environmental consciousness and contemporary city planning. Rapid urban development in the decades following World War II saw the rise of an ecological consciousness among the middle class as local municipalities struggled to maintain the environmental quality of cities. This coincided with the widespread professionalization of city planning and new federal mandates for zoning ordinances that increasingly homogenized cities across America. Greenways were promoted as a planning tool to mediate the physical and psychological effects of urbanization by providing a network of natural corridors for drainage that doubled as a recreational amenity while also buffering “incompatible” land uses.

The rise of environmental consciousness and modern city planning also coincide with a very particular moment in the racial history of America, complicated by a slightly longer view incorporating the Jim Crow ordinances of early 20th-century urban life. In this presentation I will explore the concept of greenways as landscape buffers that were, and often remain, social borders between neighborhood units and that reinforce group identities through spatial distance. I will argue that greenways naturalized the white privilege of past socio-spatial practices and racialized urban geographies through normative planning policies of “designing with nature.”