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The Topography of Wellness: Health and the American Urban Landscape

Sara Carr, University of Hawaii, Manoa, Mellon Fellow 2016–2017, Spring

I am tracing how planners and designers have shaped the public realm in response to urban epidemics since the Industrial Revolution in order to better understand the links between health and design today. The Mellon fellowship was a chance to tie historical precedent to contemporary practice, researching and drafting the introduction and opening four chapters. The access to primary sources—from original sanitary surveys of New York and Boston to medical topographies and accounts of “health resorts” in the Adirondacks and White Mountains of New Hampshire to the papers of Frederick Law Olmsted—gave insight into how city officials and public intellectuals at the turn of the twentieth century considered the landscape’s role in contagion and miasma. I was also given the opportunity to present my work in the Mellon Midday Dialogues, where the feedback from the directors, coordinators, and my peers was crucial to shaping the book’s theses.