Urban parks are meant to be peaceful retreats where people may relax and have fun together. They first appeared in Europe and the United States in the 19th century, supported by the so-called hygienist movement. Many city dwellers experienced a low quality of life, unhealthy living conditions, and very limited, if not no access to green spaces during the height of the Industrial Revolution, when the population of big cities had soared.
Birkenhead Park in Liverpool, UK, was created by architect Joseph Paxton in 1843 and is regarded as the first public urban park in history.
Today’s urban parks are mostly the result of government efforts to open up gardens that belonged to the aristocracy, royalty, or military to the general public.
Metropolitan parks, regardless of whether they’re old or new, are one of the most sustainable ways to tackle the issue of pollution and heat by not only providing oxygen but also contributing to the regulation of temperature and humidity. They also form a sanctuary for both plants and animals, which reduces noise from industry and traffic as well as ultraviolet light.
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Here are a few urban parks from all around the world that one must know about.
Central Park, New York, USA
Located in the Upper West and Upper East sides of Manhattan, Central Park is an urban park in New York City. Spanning over 843 acres of land, it is the fifth largest park in the city with an estimated footfall of about 42 million visitors annually as of 2016.
Approved as a proposal for a large park in Manhattan during the 1840s, the project was undertaken by landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux in 1857. The park’s first areas were opened to the public in late 1858.
Landscapes like the Ramble and Lake, Hallett Nature Sanctuary, the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, and Sheep Meadow, amusements like the Wollman Rink, the Central Park Carousel, formal areas like the Central Park Mall and Bethesda Terrace, and theatres like the Delacorte are just a few of the main attractions.
Public transportation runs over the network of roads and walkways that crisscross Central Park. It serves as a model for urban parks around the world due to its size and cultural prominence. Due to its impact, Central Park was recognised as a New York City aesthetic landmark in 1974 and a National Historic Landmark in 1963.
The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir divides Central Park into three sections: the “North End,” above it; the “Mid-Park,” between it and the Lake and Conservatory Water, to the south; and the “South End,” below it. The Charles A. Dana Discovery Center, Belvedere Castle, Chess & Checkers House, the Dairy, and Columbus Circle are the park’s five visitor centres.
With natural landforms created during the initial stages of its construction, the park has eight lakes and ponds, created artificially later by damming natural seeps. Other prominent landscaping features here include wooded sections, lawns, grassy areas and meadows.
Park Güell, Barcelona, Spain
Park Güell is located in La Salut, a neighbourhood in the Gràcia district of Barcelona on Carmel Hill, Catalonia, Spain. Due to its barren terrain, the area that is now Park Güell was formerly known as the Muntanya Pelada, or “Bare Mountain”. Designed by Anotni Gaudi under Eusebi Güell’s commission, it was first opened to the public in 1926 and declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985.
During the first decade of the 20th century, Gaudi underwent a naturalist phase, drawing inspiration from organic forms and implementing structural solutions based on geometrical analysis. His works, which originated with roots in baroque, developed distinct structural forms devoid of the typical classical forms and rigidity of structures. His designs were heavily ornamented and decorative in nature.
The basis of the design of Park Güell was strongly influenced by this particular style along with Catalan features. Güell and Gaudi imagined a community heavily influenced by symbolism because, in the park’s common elements, they were attempting to combine many of the architect’s political and religious ideals, and hence, political Catalan concepts are evident in its design such as the the entrance stairway, where the Catalan nations are represented.
Count Eusebi Güell, after whom the park is named, had the idea for a commercial housing development that included the park, incorporating the concept of an urban park. but which ended up to be an unsuccessful undertaking. The English garden city movement served as inspiration for it since it had served as a land of vineyards, olive groves, and fruit orchards for a long time. Since then, it has been turned into a municipal garden accessible through underground trains, city bus, or commercial tourist buses.
Hangang Park, Seoul, Korea
A part of the government of South Korea’s Hangang River Development Project, this park was built from 1982 to 1986. Stretching across 41.5 km long and 39.9 km2 large, the name of this park is derived from the Hangang river running along its length. The objective of building this park was to create an environmentally friendly urban abode for citizens of Seoul and tourists alike.
The Hangang Park is actually made of 12 parks, namely: Gwangnaru Park, Jamsil Park, Ttukseom Park, Jamwon Park, Ichon Park, Banpo Park, Mangwon Park, Yeouido Park, Nanji Park, Gangseo Park, Yanghwa Park, and Seonyudo Park. of these, the Yeouido Park (located in Yeouido district of Seoul) is famous for being a tourist attraction and holding the annual Hangang Spring Flower Festival, the Seoul International Fireworks Festival, various performances, and marathon events. The Banpo Park, stretching over 7.2 km in length, was the first result of the Han River Renaissance Project, one of the major policies of Oh Se-hoon, the mayor of Seoul.
Famous tourist attractions here include the Sebitseom, also known as Sebit islets, that are artificial islands in the Han River consisting of 3 islands. The Banpo Bridge, a riverbed facility on the Han River, was built as one of the measures to promote urban development in the Gangnam district.
For the preservation of the Hangang River, parts of the Hangang Renaissance Project namely Ecological Landscape Conservation Area, Ecological Park, and Fish Road were taken into consideration. Numerous wetlands and creeks make up the Ecological Landscape Conservation Area, where fishes, amphibians, and other aquatic life can flourish along with the formation and preservation of natural reefs and among other things, to assist the expansion of ecological diversity and the preservation of the ecosystem.
Shinjuku Gyoen Park, Tokyo, Japan
The origin of this park can be traced back to the Edo period (1603-1868), built as a residence of the Naitō family. Transferred to the Imperial Family in 1903, it was converted to a botanical garden to serve the purpose of recreational activities and entertaining guests. During World War II, the park was almost destroyed but thereafter, rebuilt and opened as a public park in 1949.
Shinjuku Gyoen consists of a Japanese landscape garden, a French garden and an English garden. The traditional Japanese garden with large ponds, small islands and bridges, shrubs and trees surrounding the water, several pavilions, and the Kyu Goryo Tei, also known as the Taiwan Pavilion, was built for the Showa Emperor’s wedding. The French and English gardens have wide, open lawns surrounded by flowering cherry trees and other structures like an art gallery, information centre and a restaurant.
With over 20,000 trees,and particularly famous for the sakura season, translating to cherry-blossom season, this park is popular from late March to early April due to the cherry blossom trees it houses in its English garden. The Japanese garden in turn is prominent during the autumn season when trees change their colours.
Hyde Park, London, United Kingdom
One of the biggest of the four Regal Parks that structure a chain from Kensington to Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park is a significant park in Westminster, London.
Established by Henry VIII in 1536 who used it as a hunting ground, the park was initially a part of the land owned by Westminster Abbey. In 1637, it was made open to the public, and it quickly gained popularity, especially for May Day parades. In the year 1665, which also happened to be the year of the Great Plague, many people in London fled the City and set up camp in Hyde Park in the hope of escaping the disease. Under Queen Caroline’s direction, significant advancements were made at the beginning of the 18th century. Hyde Park turned into a setting for public festivals, for example the commemoration of the end of the Napoleonic Wars saw displays of fireworks in 1814 and 1851. The park was also used to host the Great Exhibition in 1851, for which the Crystal Palace was also built by Joseph Paxton.
The park was initially accessible to the city’s upper classes but in 1637, Charles the First made the park open to the public. The park changed from a military camp to a fortification site over time. The park’s initial landscaping began in 1726, under King George I’s order.
The Serpentine Lake divides Hyde Park in half. A rose garden with memorials, fountains, and the massive Wellington Arch dominates the south-east corner of the park. The Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, the size of a football field, is one of the park’s newest structures. The well-known Speakers’ Corner, a symbol of public free speech today, can also be found in the park’s north-eastern corner.
Centennial Park, Sydney, Australia
While it was originally just a swamp, Centennial Park was reconstructed as a public park open to the public in 1888. Under Sir Henry Parkes’ vision of it being a ‘People’s Park’, the main aim of this space was to be away from the main town centre of Sydney and be an environmentally friendly area.
Centennial Park was officially opened on Australia Day, January 26, 1888, as part of a week-long celebration marking the centennial of European settlement in Australia. The first trees were planted during the ceremony in the area that is now known as Cannons Triangle. During the ceremony, 13 trees were planted all together. Joseph Maiden who took over the administration of Centennial was particularly influenced by facilities like pavilions, kiosks, and the provision of children’s playgrounds in the Berlin Tiergarten, which was designed by Lenné in the 1830s. Maiden was also the first to experiment with and use native Australian plants, giving the park a more “tropical” feel by planting palm trees.
Maiden advocated for public activities, military reviews, and events to take place in the Parklands which went on to host the Queen Victoria’s Jubilee celebrations in 1897. A bandstand was built in 1900 to encourage musical events, and recitals began being held there from 1901 onward.
In order to find suitable drought-resistant grasses to plant in Centennial Park, experimental plantings were carried out. The trees planted along Grand Drive were altered by removing elms, poplars, and pines and replacing them with a complex arrangement of Port Jackson Figs, Holm Oak, and Norfolk Island Pine from 1897 onward. In keeping with the Victorian Gardenesque style, the landscape has a strong character thanks to the rhythmic pattern created by the diagonal planting. The ornamental ponds with islands that are currently in place were created by converting the stormwater and drainage systems that feed into and pass through Centennial Park.
Nehru park, New Delhi, India
Spanning over 80 acres of green area, Nehru Park is located in the Chanakyapuri Diplomatic Enclave of New Delhi, India. Named after India’s first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, it was established in 1969, with the primary goal of turning a large portion of Delhi into a green space, which the city needed as its infrastructure, both socially and economically, was expanding at a rapid rate.
The park is surrounded by well maintained lush green lawns, gently sloping landscapes, beds of meticulously tended flowers, and tall shady green trees that give the area a calming, peaceful, and relaxing ambiance. It also has well-built pathways and various moulds and rocks with inspirational words carved into them, making it a perfect stop gap as a green area amidst an urban life.
This park is a hub for social activities ranging from musical concerts to yoga classes along with the typical features of an urban park i.e. provision of sports activities, jogging, picnics etc. It is also famous for the Bhakti Festival, organised every year for devotees at the ancient Lord Shiva Temple that lies within the premises of the park.
This park preserves its natural biodiversity with seasonal plants and trees dotting the landscape and a balance of natural softscapes and hardscapes.
Nehru Park was one of the solutions for a greener Delhi as a result of the unexpected increase in automobiles and modern equipment that continuously polluted the environment, forcing the Indian Government to build numerous green plots along the city’s periphery. This was one of the few parks in the city that had been built after Independence and covered a sizable area.
Parco Sempione, Milan, Italy
Built between 1890 and 1893, this large urban park imitates an English style park, covering an overall area of over 47 hectares. Located in the historic centre of Milan, in the region of Lombardy, Italy, it was designed by Emilio Alemagna.
This area served as the Visconti ducal park, or “Barcho,” before the creation of the Sempione Park. The Sforza expanded and enclosed these oak and chestnut forest areas, making them 3 million square metres in size.
The area was abandoned by the 18th century and partially used for farming in 1861. The troops stationed at the Sforza Castle paraded and practised on the area that is now a park. The architect Giovanni Antonio Antolini proposed creating the Foro Buonaparte or Bonaparte Forum, a sizable complex of buildings centred on the castle, during the Napoleonic era, however it was never completed and the parade ground was transformed into a large lawn for civic use, adorned on the north-eastern side by the Arena, and on the north-western side by the Arch of Peace, point of beginning of the axis of the Sempione.
After Italy’s unification, the area was no longer used for military purposes, and at the same time, the city’s population started to grow, making it necessary to implement development of new districts. This resulted in the creation of the committee charged with creating the first urban regulation plan, which was conceptualised by engineer Cesare Beruto. This concept, which at first only partially took into account the building there, was changed multiple times until the entire parade field was designated as a public garden.
Ibirapuera Park, São Paulo, Brazil
São Paulo’s Ibirapuera Park in Brazil, regarded as one of the world’s best urban parks, is also the first metropolitan park to be built here, designed like other great English landscape gardens that were built in major cities around the world in the 20th century, but inspired by modern designs by landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx.
The word ‘Ibirapuera’ meaning “decayed tree” in the Tupi-Guaraní language is the origin of the park’s name. At the beginning of the 20th century, when São Paulo was flourishing and growing at a rapid rate, the local government expressed an interest in creating a city park comparable to New York’s Central Park or London’s Hyde Park. The floodplain of Ibirapuera, which was an indigenous village in the 19th century, was the only vacant space suitable for a project of this size south of the city centre.
Due to the marshy nature of the land, the 1920s saw the project for Ibirapuera Park put on hold. Instead, the municipal government planned to drain the floodplain for a future urban park by planting hundreds of eucalyptus trees there. In 1951, in anticipation of the 400th anniversary of São Paulo, a group of modernist designers came together to finally realise this long-held ambition. The park’s architecture was handled by Oscar Niemeyer, while the park’s landscaping was handled by Roberto Burle Marx, another well-known designer.
Spanning over an area of 158 hectares, Ibirapuera Park is a man-made urban park with meticulously planned design, its architecture is of utmost significance.
Griffith Park, Los Angeles, USA
In 1896, Colonel Griffith J. Griffith and his wife Mary Agnes Christine (Tina) donated more than 3,000 acres to the City of Los Angeles, establishing Griffith Park, “to be used as a public park for purposes of recreation, health and pleasure, for the use and benefit of inhabitants of the said City of Los Angeles, forever.”
The Griffith Observatory, the Equestrian Center, the Griffith Merry-Go-Round, the Greek Theater, the Autry National Center, Pony rides, numerous hiking trails, and the Griffith Park Southern Railroad are all located in the park. In addition, a large portion of Griffith Park is wilderness area and park-wide features like retaining walls, culverts (enclosures for flowing water), and drinking fountains constructed in the so-called Park Style that was prevalent in the time’s national parks.
These elements are from federal work programs from the 1930s during the Depression, and the style was used by the City’s Department of Recreation and Parks until the 1950s. The Fern Dell, a 20-acre public fern garden that is the one of its kind in California can be found here.
The park is divided into numerous areas or “pockets” of activities because of the wild, rugged natural areas with hiking and equestrian trails. Concessions, golf courses, picnic areas, train rides, and tennis courts are among the various activities held in these areas. On the east side of Griffith Park, two baseball fields were proposed in 2014 for which 44 trees were removed and replaced with the park’s largest picnic area of over 4 acres, frequently used for large family gatherings, cultural festivals, reunions, and other special occasions.
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