Prof. Grese recognized by the American Society of Landscape Architects

Originally published: 
October, 2017

SEAS Professor Bob Grese and his colleagues were recognized by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) with an Honor Award in Communications at the 2017 ASLA National Conference in Los Angeles for their video documentary, "Jen Jensen: The Living Green." The film was based upon Grese's book, Jens Jensen: Maker of Parks and Gardens  (John Hopkins University Press, 1992). Both the book and documentary pay tribute to the work of Jens Jensen (1860-1951), a pioneer in the field of Landscape Architecture and Design. 

Professor Grese, who also serves as the Theodore Roosevelt Chair of Ecosystem Management and Director of the Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum, collaborated on the film project with Director/Co-productor Carey Lundin and Co-producer and Writer Mark Frazel. 

Lundin shares the inspiration for the film, along with 17 years of challenges the filmmakers faced in the production of "Jen Jensen: The Living Green."

Project Narrative:

In 1910 Jens Jensen said, “to make the modern city livable is the task of our times.” Today, those words could not be more prescient. We made the film to inspire audiences to use their art as activism, as Jensen did, to make our cities resilient. 

When we first embarked on making this film 17 years ago, everyone discouraged us, everyone except Professor Robert Grese, ASLA, whose book, Jens Jensen Maker of Parks and Gardens (1992) became the basis of the film. Bob sat for interviews, opened doors, and became a constant and trusted source of encouragement and information. Bob helped us find the story and connect it to present day issues and continues to today. But even though Jensen had a great story – full of drama - he wasn’t a household name, so American Experience wasn’t interested. When we applied for a NEH grant, they gave us an A+ rating for our proposal but declined to fund us because they said we wouldn’t find a national audience.

But we stuck with it, believing in his story, which inspired us, and if it inspired us, we thought, it will inspire others. The road to completion took many twists and turns with countless hours of research, writing and re-writing, three editors and five video and film formats.

We persisted, and two years into the project our work paid off. The day Mark Frazel, the writer and co-producer, and my husband, who sadly passed away last year, got a surprise call from the Milwaukee Public Library that they had indeed found some records labeled “Jens Jensen.” Before the phone could drop to the ground Mark was in a car racing to Milwaukee.  Those albums, recorded in the field and scratchy as hell, contained an astonishing interview with Jensen late in his life. Full of poetry, anger and intimacy, the audio turned our video into a real film, with the heart of Jensen saturating every frame.

We paired Jensen with interviews from his acolyte Alfred Caldwell who told the personal story of his setbacks and triumphs and wildly imaginative solutions to societies’ ills.

We spent 13 years finishing the film, and in that time Jensen’s name rose to prominence as an activist story that inspires young and old. And something else amazing happened, the film touched me, it turned me into an advocate for brining nature to our most nature-deprived neighborhoods.

Jensen’s story as an immigrant who worked his way up from the bottom to become a champion for nature has resonated with immigrant teens organizations. After screening and discussing the film with The Student Conservation Association I was able to pair them with a project by NeighborSpace and Trust for Public Lands to build a new nature play space called Jardincito. With the Chicago Park District and the National Park Service, we toured the Dunes for kids who had never been out of the city then discussed Jensen’s obstacles and creative tactics as an activist to stop the destruction of the dunes. And with university students we discussed the bigger picture, the challenges of becoming an activist and the types of projects they might develop to bring nature into the city. READ MORE