Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 21, 2021
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The great outdoors

The best big-city parks in the US — and 15 conferences to get you there pronto

US city parks

The best part of a working vacation is the vacation. For post-conference R&R, there’s nothing better than these nine urban parks. They’re centrally located, free to enter (except attractions) and absolutely gorgeous. They’ve got art, fountains, gardens that are paradise-perfect and trees that are 600 years old. What more does an MD need to lose the loafers and unwind?


The Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park is defined by its elevated, Z-shaped footpath. It snakes from the museum’s glass-and-steel exhibition pavilion down to the city’s waterfront in the industrial north end and splits the 3.5-hectare park into four ecosystems native to the Northwest: an evergreen forest of fir, cedar and hemlock; a grass-and-wildflower meadow and a grove of quaking aspen with dwarf rose and Oregon iris at their feet.

The water's edge is home to shore pine, dune grass and beach strawberry. The park is peppered with 21 sculptures including Richard Serra’s Wake, curved steel towers that resemble tidal waves, Alexander Calder’s soaring red Eagle and Louise Bourgeois’ disembodied Eye Benches, on which you can sit, listen to the ripples of Puget Sound and soak in the views of Mount Rainer and the Olympic Mountains.

Coming soon: 18th International Symposium on Hepatitis C Virus and Related Viruses, September 8 to 12. (503) 244-4294;

San Diego

In May, two 20-somethings spent 26 days eating, sleeping and sightseeing in Balboa Park. They blogged, Facebooked and Tweeted about the Museum Marathon every day. The goal: to introduce the world to the park’s humbler offerings like its model train museum and puppet theatre.

The 475-hectare park is home to 15 museums, nine performance venues, gardens that are mini oases and a 4000-animal zoo; attractions that don’t have marketing resources get swallowed up. Then there’s the architecture. The Spanish-Renaissance-inspired buildings are so beautiful that wandering the El Prado walkway is an activity in itself. Balboa dates to 1868, but it was the 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition that gave the park its elaborate, signature style and it’s most photographed structure, the Botanical Building. A centennial extravaganza is planned for 2015.

Coming soon: New Advances in Inflammatory Bowel Disease, September 10 to 11; 22nd Annual Coronary Interventions, September 21 to 23; 6th Annual Clinical Update on Heart Failure and Arrhythmias, October 22 to 23. (858) 652-5400;

St. Louis

Riverines and the Mississippi River were the design inspirations for Citygarden, and brilliantly so. At 167-metres long, its sand-coloured Arc Wall made of Missouri limestone evokes the bluffs of nearby rivers, while the curves of its 335-metre-long, granite-topped Meandering Wall create informal nooks for conversation and lunch (at 60 centimetres tall, it’s more like a meandering “bench”).

The park has three fountains: a split-level basin along the Arc Wall; one that’s a tilted granite disk and one that’s best described as a spray plaza. Its grid of 102 jets on its non-slip bluestone surface blasts water two metres in the air. It drives kids nuts. The park also features 24 eye-popping sculptures by international artists like France’s Aristide Maillol and Fernand Léger, Poland’s Igor Mitoraj and the US’ Jim Dine.

Coming soon: 2011 Fall Pediatric Update for the Primary Care Provider, September 16 and 17. (800) 678-4357;

New York City

What do you do with elevated, 1930s rail tracks that haven’t been used since the '80s? You convert them into an innovative park nine metres above the ground. The 2.5-kilometre High Line, that’ll eventually stretch from the Meatpacking District to West Chelsea to Clinton/Hell’s Kitchen, is precisely that and it’s wonderful. Section one from Gansevoort Street to West 20th opened in 2009. It’s home to 210 plant species, from grasses to perennials to shrubs, that bloom in rotation from January until November.

Many of the original rail tracks have been integrated into the plantings and chic, Ipe-wood benches and chaise lounges have been added so you can comfortably drink in the skyline and Hudson-River views. The park’s second section, from West 20th to 30th, just opened in June.

Coming soon: Perspectives in Melanoma XV, September 16 to 17. (678) 242-0906; Internal Medicine for Primary Care Physicians, October 14 to 16. (303) 798-9682;


Washington Park’s claim to fame is its couldn’t-be-more-perfect Japanese Garden. Considered the most authentic outside of Japan, it consists of five distinct landscapes, each as exquisite as the next. There’s a Sand and Stone Garden for contemplation, a Strolling Pond Garden with waterfall and a Tea Garden too. Its Japanese-made tea house, Kashintei (literally flower-heart room), was constructed by master craftsmen using wooden pegs instead of nails. It hosts a tea ceremony every third Saturday from April to October at 1 and 2PM. If you can tear yourself away from this little piece of paradise, there’s an International Rose Test Garden next door. Conceived of in 1915 as place to protect hybrid roses during WWI, it indeed tests new hybrids as well as miniature roses. Its Gold Medal Garden is a must see.

Coming soon: 7th World Congress on Developmental Origins of Health and Disease, September 18 to 21.


Millennium Park’s original budget was US$150 million. It was expected to open in 2000. The calculations were a little off. The 10-hectare park rang in at US$475 million. It opened in 2004. Numbers are not the park planners’ forte, but creating innovative green spaces is. The Frank Gehry-designed outdoor concert venue anchors the park. Its stage is wrapped in brushed-stainless-steel ribbons and an overhead trellis of steel pipes with 104 speakers crisscrosses above the 4000 fixed seats.

Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate is just west. The elliptical, highly-polished stainless steel sculpture looks like a blob of liquid mercury and reflects the city's skyline and the real one above. Then there’s Jaume Plensa’s Crown Fountain. It consists of two glass-block towers that project the faces of 1000 locals in rotation. Water pours from their mouths. Worth every penny? Check out a conference below and judge for yourself.

Coming soon: Pediatric Days 2011, September 19 to 20; Challenges in Clinical Cardiology, September 30 to October 2. (507) 284-2509;

San Francisco

Throw a dart at a map of downtown’s Golden Gate Park and it’ll hit an attraction or garden that’ll wow you. Its 412 hectares stretch 50 blocks, enough space for the 13 million who visit every year. The 2008 Academy of Sciences is certified LEED platinum, making it the greenest museum in the world. It has a living roof of 1.7 million plants and 68 percent of its insulation is recycled blue jeans. Try aiming your dart at it.

The Japanese Tea Garden and the Conservatory of flowers are other bull’s eyes. The former dates to 1894, while the latter is the oldest wood-and-glass Victorian greenhouse in the Western Hemisphere. Its interior is as remarkable: 1700 species of plants, 700 of the 1000 known species of high-altitude orchids and a gallery that’ll sweep you away to a cloud forest on a tropical mountaintop.

Coming soon: Primary Care Medicine: Principles and Practice, October 26 to 28; Obstetrics and Gynecology Update: What Does the Evidence Tell Us?, October 26 to 28; Controversies in IBD 2011, November 12 to 13. (415) 476-4251;


It’s called Discovery Green and, yes, it’s “greener” than most parks. Certified gold by the LEED Green Building Rating System, the five-hectare park, adjacent to the city’s convention centre, is constructed mostly of Ipe wood from sustainably-harvested forests. It’s powered by renewable sources; eight percent comes from 256 solar panels. It recycles groundwater to fill its man-made Kinder Lake and a dozen mature trees, including four large live oaks, were relocated to its naturally-shaded promenade from sites threatened by development.

There are over a dozen gardens in the park, including one for lilies, one for roses and one for tropicals. Butterflies and hummingbirds love the one near Grace Lawn. Dogs love the crushed-gravel runs, kids the arching jets of Gateway Fountain and the 80-nozzle Mist Tree.

Coming soon: 9th International Conference on Ovarian Cancer, December 2 to 3. (713) 792-2223;

New Orleans

Forget the fountains, sculptures and whatchamacallits; City Park is all about the trees. The 525-hectare park is home to 14,000 of them, including Bald Cypresses, Magnolias and Oaks. There are 3000 gorgeous live oaks in the park — more than anywhere in the world — including some that are over 600 years old.

Live oaks are almost like evergreens in that they keep their foliage through winter and drop their leaves weeks before new ones sprout in spring. They have a distinctive low spread and it’s common to see long, lateral limbs twice the trees’ height near the ground. They’re a climber’s dream — except that climbing them is prohibited. Hurricane Katrina killed 2000 trees in 2005. As of February, 4000 new ones have been planted. The park is also home to the New Orleans Botanical Garden and Museum of Art.

Coming soon: 17th Annual Maternal and Child Health Epidemiology Conference, December 14 to 16. (800) 232-4636;

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