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Hampstead Mall (or Square) in Charleston, South Carolina, housed a tent village sheltering people after the earthquake of August 31, 1886. The earthquake, with an estimated magnitude of 7.0, caused many aftershocks and extensive damage to the city's buildings. Courtesy of The Charleston Museum, Charleston, South Carolina via South Carolina Digital Library.

Successful urban and regional parks create identity for the communities around them—as evidenced by the many neighborhoods that share the name of the park at their core, like the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago.

From the late 1800s through today, parks have been a point of pride for a city. Emerging towns in frontier America would boast of their parks in promotional materials designed to lure investors and settlers from the East. The wide array of early postcards depicting local parks is additional evidence of communities' pride in them.

Urban parks are typically open, public places that can hold many people at once. These features have led them to be put to use as formal and informal gathering spaces, for civic or community events, and for planned or spontaneous events. Parks have even been put to unexpected dramatic use in times of crisis as as a place for people to gather and for authorities to provide services to those in need.

Much as early promoters touted many social and economic benefits of parks, advocates today cite impacts like the following:

  • Parks attract non-resident visitors who put new dollars into local economies.

  • Proximity to parks and open space enhances the value of residential properties and produces increased tax revenues for communities.

  • Open space captures precipitation, reduces stormwater management costs, and protects underground water sources that often provide drinking water.

  • Trees and shrubs reduce air pollution control costs.

  • Parks provide habitat for wildlife.