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A herd of sheep in Boston's Franklin Park, 1916. Frederick Law Olmsted, designer of this park, expressed a distinct preference for using sheep to keep the turf shorn instead of mowers. The presence of sheep also helped achieve the pastoral ambience he strove for in his naturalistic "rural park" design. Courtesy of the Boston Public Library via Digital Commonwealth.

A specific park design makes assumptions about the use and purpose of the park. The designer tries to meet certain perceived needs and create spaces to be used in certain ways.

Park design and use changed over time, particularly in relation to two design elements:

  • Naturalistic versus natural. A naturalistic landscape imitates nature, perhaps recreating an idealized form, rather than preserving the existing, natural, environment.

  • Passive versus active use of parks. Passive recreation often makes use of the open space and scenic aspects of a park in relatively quiet and low intensity ways and might require amenities like paths, benches, and rustic picnic tables. Active recreation often involves cooperative or team activity, might be somewhat noisy and might require facilities like playgrounds, ball fields, swimming pools, or the like.

Attitudes around these elements shifted through time, and their implementation in any particular design was affected by factors like type, size, or location of a park. Parks themselves evolved as needs and preferences changed.