Sunken Gardens at Paseo, Kansas City, Mo.

In 1893, planner and landscape architect George Kessler completed his plans for a large system of parks in Kansas City. Integral to these plans was the Paseo, a landscaped boulevard that would form a ribbon of green space across the city and connect a series of smaller parks. Kessler made plans for fountains, colonnades, and dramatic sunken gardens—all intended to bring a European sense of order and sophistication to a Midwestern American city. His scheme resembled, and may have been inspired by, Chicago’s late nineteenth-century system of parks and boulevards, which the Plan of Chicago proposed to amplify. Kessler’s approach to planning reflected his training in landscape gardening in Germany, where he was inspired by designees who combined naturalistic and formal styles in their parks. Kessler’s ideas caught on in the United States, and he went on to win many commissions from American civic leaders looking to beautify their cities.

Like Burnham and many other planners, Kessler recognized that park spaces presented numerous health benefits to urban dwellers: the green spaces offered clean air, encouraged outdoor exercise and other leisure activities, and provided visual and psychological respite from the crowds, dirt, and hectic pace of urban business districts. Kessler believed that real estate values along the Paseo would increase dramatically, laying the foundation for the formation of a solid middle-class core surrounding the boulevard. The scheme was not without social costs, however, as it displaced many impoverished African-American residents from the district.

 

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Schirmer, Sherry Lamb. A City Divided: The Racial landscape of Kansas City, 1900-1960.Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2002.

Scott, Mel. American City Planning Since 1890. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971.

Tishler, William H., ed. Midwestern Landscape Architecture. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000.

“Sunken Gardens at Paseo, Kansas City, Mo.,” Postcard. Used by permission of the University of Missouri-Kansas City Libraries, Dr. Kenneth J. LaBudde Department of Special Collections