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FEATURE: Women Leaders and the Queen City

As we discuss in the New York Times’ The Little-Known Women Behind Some Well-Known Landscapes, women have shaped Charlotte’s public spaces in extraordinary and underreported ways. From the reinvisioning of Thomas Polk Park in the crossroads of Charlotte’s Uptown, to the renovation of the city’s first public park, Independence Park, and the public engagement of Meck Playbook, Mecklenburg County’s Park and Recreation Comprehensive Plan, we’ve seen women take the lead, both in those historical landscapes and the present day.

The Cultural Landscape Foundation’s (TCLF) Women Take the Lead series features Angela Danadjieva, a landscape architect and fountain designer of underrecognized significance, who designed Polk Park’s iconic fountain feature. Since 2019, Agency has been working on a conceptual design for this 1/3 acre plaza in Charlotte’s Uptown, at the crossroads of Trade and Tryon Streets.

Of Danadjieva’s influence on Polk Park, Gina says, “It’s very rare to see landscapes in the U.S., especially in urban spaces, urban places that are attributed to women designers. We know that women are huge parts of these teams. We know oftentimes they play really significant roles, but it’s rare to see them actually credited as the lead designer.”

Women designers of the past, including Danadjieva and Helen Hodge, one of the first licensed landscape architects in the South, and the designer of Independence Park’s water feature, are rarely celebrated. Few historical records remain of Hodge, but we know she played a significant part in Independence Park’s history. She designed the (now demolished) Sunnyside Rose Garden and the Lillian Arhelger Memorial (pictured below), a compelling memorial to a Charlotte teacher who tragically died while rescuing a student. 

Like Hodge, Danadjieva’s influence on Polk Park and Charlotte’s Uptown is underrecognized. Our ongoing work on Polk Park and TCLF’s investigation have uncovered Danadjieva’s story. Now we need to tell Hodge’s and Danadjieva’s stories through the redesigns of both Independence and Polk Parks. 

Agency is also leading a system-wide parks and recreation plan for Mecklenburg County dubbed the Meck Playbook. One of the plan’s four guiding principles is the idea of “Telling More Stories”. It stresses the notion that Mecklenburg County has a unique history, created by generations of overlapping traditions, cultures, and heritages. The physical land has been an active participant and impetus in this narrative. This driving principle advocates that the story of the land and its people should be told. 

One such largely invisible narrative is that of the former Latta Plantation, now the Latta Nature Center and Preserve. The Playbook visualizes a scene in the park – one that tells more fully the narrative of the site’s history of slavery. 

In the present day, our clients – Cheryl Myers + Maria Floren (Polk Park), Karen Weston-Chien + Becky Miller (Independence Park), and Katie Lloyd (Meck Playbook) – are also taking the lead in shaping Charlotte’s public spaces. We are grateful to work alongside them to elevate women’s stories and create contemporary public spaces that are equitable and loved. 

From left to right, top to bottom: Helen Hodge, Maria Floren, Karen Weston-Chien, Cheryl Myers, Angela Danadjieva, Lillian Argelger Memorial in Independence Park, Thomas Polk Park, Becky Miller, Katie Lloyd.