Theses (Historic Preservation)

Document Type

Thesis or dissertation

Date of this Version



Suggested Citation:

Allen, Courtney Elizabeth (2012). Building a Green Community: The Woodlands as an Experiment in Urban Landscape Interpretation. (Masters Thesis). University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA.


From its origins as an eighteenth-century pleasure ground, to its conversion into a rural cemetery, to its modern day potential as parkland, The Woodlands has raised questions and debates about land use in West Philadelphia. Now consisting of fifty acres of William Hamilton’s 600-acre estate, The Woodlands is the largest and most significant green space in the University City neighborhood. The Woodlands, a National Historic Landmark, Landscape, and District, is managed by The Woodlands Trust for Historic Preservation. The mission of the Trust is “to preserve, enhance and interpret its nationally significant cultural landscape, historic buildings, and cemetery, and to make them available to the public as vital educational, environmental, and civic resources.” I posit that The Woodlands is not fulfilling its educational mission to the greatest extent. Factors contributing to this limitation are lack of attention to user values and community collaboration, and absence of a cohesive interpretive plan to provoke visitors and convey the palimpsest of narratives present at the site. Furthermore, I claim that evolving experiment of urban landscape interpretation comprises the heart of The Woodlands, and contains untapped potential to strengthen a community dedicated to the site’s sustainability.

To solve this problem, this thesis creates the framework and recommendations for an interpretive plan for The Woodlands, through a prospectus emphasizing a resource-and-objective-based planning approach. I map efforts that inform and encourage local regular users, strengthen the professional network with fellow organizations, integrate natural and cultural resources, and attract attention of travelers visiting other Philadelphia sites.


collection, property ownership, semi-public space, university city, development



Date Posted: 24 February 2014