polis: a collective blog about cities worldwide

Parks That Embrace the City

by Anna Fogel

Gazing out onto the city. Source: SpecialKRB

Many parks are designed to provide a sense of escape from the city, through separation from the bustle of street life. On the other hand, parks like the High Line engage creatively, offering new ways of seeing and interacting with the urban landscape. The city becomes a feature instead of something to escape, and the park contributes in exciting ways to city living.

A community garden by Green
Guerillas and local residents. Source:
Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space
Of the parks that engage most actively with their urban surroundings, more and more are located on reclaimed space. The community gardens movement in New York City helped pioneer this approach. Since the 1970s, Green Guerillas has been using “community gardening as a tool to reclaim urban land, stabilize city blocks, and get people working side by side to solve problems." They use vacant lots throughout the city to grow food, flowers and other greenery, developing cherished places that are active year-round. Hudson River Park occupies 8.2-acres on a formerly abandoned waterfront area along Manhattan’s southern tip, designed with input from nearby residents: "Park Trust staff and the architects, landscape architects and engineers selected to design each park met with local community members over a several month period to establish the specific program for the piers and upland areas in each community."

Parks that embrace the city often include diverse land uses, involving housing, transit and local employment. The Beltline in Atlanta is the result of a major city investment in the redevelopment of abandoned industrial land. It is expected to include thousands of housing units, transit links and 30,000 permanent jobs, as well as 48,000 temporary construction jobs. The "Parks and the Urban Fabric" track at the upcoming International Urban Parks Conference will “re-imagine parks in a new context of regional ecosystems, green infrastructure and landscape design, community health needs, public-private partnerships, economic growth, sustainable development, neighborhood equity, quality of place, and changing demographics.”

Rendering of the Beltline in Atlanta. Source: Smart Cities

Parks can offer more than a green oasis in urban settings. They are also crucial means of reclaiming abandoned lots, stimulating the local economy and fostering creative engagement with the city.

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