As many baby boomers are reaching retirement, many think we need to have more of those important end-of-life discussions. There’s The Conversation Project, and as of this year, Medicare is now reimbursing discussions about near-death medical care. But what about the permanence of our cemeteries? How will urban areas—with increasing land shortages and rising urban populations—address, preserve, maintain, finance, update, and develop these spaces? Our cemeteries were some of the first public urban green spaces in the United States, serving as refuges from city life. But perhaps more so than other urban public parks, they are layered with a complex web of social, political, cultural, and environmental issues. “As the meeting point between the living and the dead, cemeteries are peculiarly fraught ground. That makes them easy for cities to ignore,” writes Next City. “Crime, environmental problems, historic preservation, social class, religious traditions, and the thorny legacy of who is included in cities, and who is not, all come crashing together in urban cemeteries.” Beyond traditional land burials, cremation is popular. Some are proposing vertical or skyscraper cemeteries. And then there are eternal reefs, cryonics, and composting. But in Austin, Texas—a city with one of the highest concentrations of millennials in America—urban planners and city officials are attempting to tackle the issues of future cemetery planning and historic preservation head-on. The city is proposing a top-down approach with its first-ever cemetery master plan that spans five urban cemeteries. The report outlines maintenance plans—a key part is improving drainage to prevent flooding–as well as developing outreach services to local residents. One idea Austin is proposing is columbariums: vertical funeral niches that would hold funeral urns. Voters approved a $2 million bond to begin the cemeteries' capital improvements in 2012, but the city will need to further address funding. Up for some historical reading? Here’s a 1950 report on city cemeteries from the American Planning Association’s Planning Advisory Committee.
Posts tagged with "Cemeteries":
Archtober Building of the Day #29> Green-Wood Cemetery Columbarium, Tranquility Gardens, and Chapel/Crematorium
Archtober Building of the Day #29 Green-Wood Cemetery Columbarium, Tranquility Gardens, and Chapel/Crematorium 500 25th Street, Brooklyn PBDW Architects The trend in burial at Green-Wood Cemetery is decidedly toward cremation. Built in 1838, and the final resting place of 570,000 people, it is “literally running out of space,” according to Green-Wood President Richard J. Moylan. He estimated they’ll run out of space for in-ground burials in the next five years. “We could pack them in tighter, but that would ruin it,” he said. Anne Holford-Smith said her firm consulted a feng shui expert when designing the gardens and columbarium. “To make sure we don’t commit too many sins,” explained Moylan. The “qi” flows well through the garden, which is dominated by a shallow pond, complete with koi fish. A footbridge over the pond supports a striking glass obelisk whose interior offers a place for contemplation. The path leads to the columbarium, Latin for dovecote, a building filled with niches to house urns of cremated remains. “We really fell in love with the glass,” said Holford-Smith, explaining the dominant motif of the horseshoe-shaped columbarium that circles one end of the pond. PBDW wanted to bring “the outside inside, and the inside outside,” she said. Although they are somber and richly textured, the rooms have an airy openness, with floor-to-ceiling windows showcasing the rolling hills of the old-fashioned cemetery beyond. Intimate spaces have curved walls of niches and discrete seating areas with upholstered furniture and soft carpeting. Orchids sit on coffee tables. The only sound is the rushing of air. PBDW worked in several different materials, which Green-Wood offers at different price-points for its “niche” customers. Transparent glass is the most popular, followed by opaque granite. Frosted glass is not a big seller, and no one seems to want the wooden niches with folding doors and little locking compartments. Apparently the columbarium’s customers want their jade urns, complete with small pictures of their deceased loved ones, visible to all passersby. Moylan explained that niches at eye- or heart-level are the most expensive. “It’s all location, location, location,” he said.
Tyler J. Kelley is a freelance journalist living in New York City. His documentary film Following Seas will be out this spring. See a trailer and more of his work at the-jetty.com
The Museum of the City of New York presents A Beautiful Way to Go: New York’s Green-Wood Cemetery, a new exhibition that examines the Brooklyn cemetery’s astonishing 175-year history, on view from May 15 to October 13. As a National Historic Landmark that predates both of Olmsted's Central Park and Prospect Park, the cemetery grounds cover a vital 19th-century American public green space and remain a critical site in New York’s architectural history. The landmark landscape characterizes the “rural cemetery movement” and tells a complex narrative that links architectural, art, social, and cultural histories. The installation involves a gallery-sized map of the cemetery that serves as a guide for visitors to walk upon and as the framework for the arrangement of over 200 artifacts, sculptures, architectural drawings, and documents. The exhibit not only focuses on exploring the cemetery, but also its most eminent permanent residents. Burial at Green-Wood garnered considerable respect and attracted posh New Yorkers to choose it as the ultimate resting space. The cemetery also represents a new type of burial space: non-sectarian and not bordering a church. The rural burial ground concept, with its greenery and comfortable travel distance from the city, was first designed for Paris’ 1804 Père-Lachaise. The idea reached the United States by the 1830s and Mount Auburn in Cambridge was the country’s first such cemetery. Green-Wood Cemetery, designed by David Bates Douglass, followed in 1838 within the newly incorporated city of Brooklyn. Highlights of the exhibition include 19th-century landscape paintings by Asher Brown Durand and John William Casilear, chief Hudson Valley School artists who are buried at Green-Wood. The exhibition incorporates viewing machines with “stereographs” that provide popular period three-dimensional pictures of Green-Wood Cemetery and one of four zinc Civil War soldiers on site that were reproduced in cemeteries nationwide.