Happy Halloween from StudioTLA!
Did you know that around the turn of the 19th century, the re-design and expansion of cemeteries in North America marked the beginning of the public parks movement?
In the early part of the 19th century, cities were very grim, grimy, and dirty. Many plagues and unsanitary conditions led to an increase in deaths, forcing smaller cemeteries to expand quickly. Many moved to what was then the outskirts of town, to avoid the sometimes-gruesome floods, and minimize the spread of diseases like cholera and typhoid fever. The style of the “rural cemetery” or “garden cemetery” was invented, giving additional places to lay the dead to rest, while also providing comforting and beautiful spaces for the living that often mimicked the meticulously manicured Victorian Gardens that were popular at the time.
Cemeteries of this kind quickly became the only park-like spaces accessible to the common public. Many enjoyed these sacred spaces as strolling gardens and picnic spots. Designed with grassy rolling hills, meandering pathways, beautiful statues and picturesque views, they were serene and romantic green pockets in the increasingly dark and industrial city.
They rose in popularity in the later part of the 19th century, spurring the beginning of the design of larger public parks, which eventually overshadowed the cemeteries as popular destinations in the city. Due to changing cultural attitudes towards death and new efficiencies in the burial process, cemetery design became more minimal and efficient in the later part of the 20th century.
Many of these old cemeteries still exist today, and can be visited (respectfully, of course). Some great examples in Toronto are Mount Pleasant Cemetery (which also happens to be an arboretum), and the Toronto Necropolis on Winchester St. These were the predecessors of many of the public city parks we enjoy today and the beginning of accessible public works of landscape architecture.