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Urban Parks

An urban park, also known as a municipal park (North America) or a public park, public open space or municipal gardens (United Kingdom), is a park in cities and other incorporated places to offer recreation and green space to residents of, and visitors to, the municipality. The design, operation and maintenance is usually done by government, typically on the local level, but may occasionally be contracted out to a private sector company.

Common features of municipal parks include playgrounds, gardens, hiking, running and fitness trails or paths, bridle paths, sports field and courts, public restrooms, boat ramps and/or picnic facilities, depending on the budget and natural features available.

History

A park is an area of open space provided for recreational use, usually owned and maintained by a local government. Parks commonly resemble savannas or open woodlands, the types of landscape that human beings find most relaxing.

Grass is typically kept short to discourage insect pests and to allow for the enjoyment of picnics and sporting activities. Trees are chosen for their beauty and to provide shade.

The earliest purpose built public park, although financed privately, was Princes Park in the Liverpool suburb of Toxteth. This was laid out to the designs of Joseph Paxton from 1842 and opened in 1843. The land on which the park was built was purchased by Richard Vaughan Yates, an iron merchant and philanthropist, in 1841 for £50,000. The creation of Princes Park showed great foresight and introduced a number of highly influential ideas. First and foremost was the provision of open space for the benefit of townspeople and local residents within an area that was being rapidly built up. Secondly it took the concept of the designed landscape as a setting for the suburban domicile, an idea pioneered by John Nash at Regent’s Park, and re-fashioned it for the provincial town in a most original way. Nash’s remodeling of St James’s Park from 1827 and the sequence of processional routes he created to link The Mall with Regent’s Park completely transformed the appearance of London’s West End. With the establishment of Princes Park in 1842, Joseph Paxton did something similar for the benefit of a provincial town, albeit one of international stature by virtue of its flourishing mercantile contingent. Liverpool had a burgeoning presence on the scene of global maritime trade before 1800 and during the Victorian era its wealth rivalled that of London itself.

The form and layout of Paxton’s ornamental grounds, structured about an informal lake within the confines of a serpentine carriageway, put in place the essential elements of his much imitated design for Birkenhead Park. The latter was commenced in 1843 with the help of public finance and deployed the ideas he pioneered at Princes Park on a more expansive scale. Frederick Law Olmstead visited Birkenhead Park in 1850 and praised its qualities. Indeed Paxton is widely credited as having been one of the principal influences on Olmstead and Calvert’s design for New York’s Central Park of 1857.

Another early public park is the Peel Park, Salford, England opened on 22 August 1846.

Uses

Parks can be divided into active and passive recreation areas. Active recreation is that which has an urban character and requires intensive development. It often involves cooperative or team activity, including playgrounds, ball fields, and swimming pools, gymnasiums, and skate parks. Active recreation such as team sports, due to the need to provide substantial space to congregate, typically involves intensive management, maintenance, and high costs. Passive recreation, also called “low intensity recreation” is that which emphasizes the open-space aspect of a park and allows for the preservation of natural habitat. It usually involves a low level of development, such as rustic picnic areas, benches and trails. Passive recreation typically requires little management and can be provided at very low costs. Some open space managers provide nothing other than trails for physical activity in the form of walking, running, horse riding, mountain biking, snow shoeing, or cross-country skiing; or sedentary activity such as observing nature, bird watching, painting, photography, or picnicking. Limiting park or open space use to passive recreation over all or a portion of the park’s area eliminates or reduces the burden of managing active recreation facilities and developed infrastructure. Many ski resorts combine active recreation facilities (ski lifts, gondolas, terrain parks, downhill runs, and lodges) with passive recreation facilities (cross-country ski trails).

Many smaller neighborhood parks are receiving increased attention and valuation as significant community assets and places of refuge in heavily populated urban areas. Neighborhood groups around the world are joining to support local parks that have suffered from urban decay and government neglect.

A linear park is a park that has a much greater length than width. A typical example of a linear park is a section of a former railway that has been converted into a park called a rail trail or greenway (i.e. the tracks removed, vegetation allowed to grow back). Parks are sometimes made out of oddly shaped areas of land, much like the vacant lots that often become city neighborhood parks. Linked parks may form a greenbelt.

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