Gardens fit for a great society

There are many ways to enjoy the Luxembourg Gardens. Some jog around its perimeter, each going at their own speed, passing those who prefer to stroll.

There are many ways to enjoy the Luxembourg Gardens. Some jog around its perimeter, each going at their own speed, passing those who prefer to stroll. Some converse before the beautiful Medici Fountain, as did Sartre and de Beauvoir in 1929, igniting their erotico-intellectual relationship. Others stop to contemplate the many artists and writers celebrated in the form of statues and monuments. Such places can inspire new thinking, encourage enjoyable interludes from working life, or provide a setting for romance. There should be more of them. Once, it was permissible to ask how public works could improve wellbeing or stimulate the senses. Although further economic stimulus is required to ensure that the grandchild of someone unemployed is not condemned to the same fate, it is unlikely that modern governments would invest in beautiful shared spaces in suburbs that need them most. Investment in construction is preferred because it brings ongoing economic, rather than merely human, value. Sublime gardens created in socially depressed suburbs would improve the wellbeing and outlook of local residents looking for five minutes of sunshine in which to bask. The Luxembourg Gardens, located in Paris’s 6th arrondissement, started life as the private garden to royalty. Marie de Medici, widow of King Henry IV of France, created a new residence inspired by the Pitti Palance of her native Florence. The gardens were an attempt to make the natural appear palatial. The Luxembourg Palace, which now houses the French Senate, and its gardens may have been originally designed to accommodate royalty but have long since been the gift of the people. Lodhi Gardens in New Delhi originally evolved around the tomb of Mohammed Shah, the last ruler of the Sayyid Dynasty. Architectural works of the Afghan dynasty, which ruled much of northern India and parts of modern-day Pakistan from 1451 to 1526, were soon built in close proximity. Walking through Lodhi Gardens today, the remains of these buildings give some insight into the tapestry of historic in fluences that have contributed to Indian identity and thinking. The beauty of Lodhi Gardens is very di fferent to that of Luxembourg Gardens, but it is enjoyed in much the same way. Cabinet ministers briskly walk around the gardens each morning, surrounded by their posses and contemplating whatever powerful people contemplate. New Delhi’s a uent abound, sometimes accompanied by their well-heeled companions who share the space with the local strays that are neither guaranteed shelter nor food. Many locals use the space to improve their fitness, by jogging or by exercising on the equipment accessible to all. Lodhi Gardens is a public space used to enhance the common good. The Lodhi and Luxembourg gardens do not share the same aesthetic appeal. Luxembourg Gardens are more vibrant but less rustic than those inspired by the Lodhis. It is not just aesthetics that appeal to the senses, however. Concierto de Aranjuez, written in 1939 by the Spanish composer Rodrigo, was inspired by the gardens at Palacio Real de Aranjuez. The gardens, which were also created to serve royalty but are now open to the public despite remaining a residence of the King of Spain, are beautiful, pristine. The power of Rodrigo’s concerto is felt in the evocation of the sounds of nature, which takes the listener to a place of great beauty. Not that Rodrigo would be aware of its beauty, as he was blind by the age of three. That which is considered beautiful in Australia cannot be cultivated; her unique sights and sounds are di fficult to tame or temper. Even a genius such as Rodrigo would struggle to evoke the sound of the kookaburra, and Victor Hugo may not have imagined Cossette and Marius Pontmercy falling in love had they first met in Belair National Park. But our suburbs, and the architecture and streetscapes that render them unique, are the products of our imagination and desire to cultivate spaces that inspire healthier and happier lives. Nature may be the gift of the gods but cities, gardens and public spaces are not created by themselves. They are the product of a conscious commitment to beauty. In a modern society, we could do worse than create public spaces that raise the spirits and imagination. In these times of economic hardship, experienced in diverse ways at different levels of society, we should invest in beautiful spaces in the suburbs that need them most. @AndrewHunter__

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