City and Cultural Parks

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Perhaps the world's most famous urban park, New York's Central Park, covers 843 acres and was the first major landscaped public park in the US.  Courtesy of The New York Public Library.

Somewhat ironically, parks we now think of as central or city parks were often originally called "rural" or "country" parks. Originally established on the edges of urban areas in the late 1800s or early 1900s, these were large regional parks or pleasure grounds generally built on what were then the outer reaches of town, where extensive swaths of undeveloped land were still available and reasonably affordable.

Responding to concerns about urbanization and industrialization, park designers often strove to replicate a rural setting to provide an opportunity for park users living far away from the country to have a restorative retreat from the city. Thus groves of trees, rolling meadows, lakes and meandering paths were common features.

As the cities grew to encompass the parks that had once been somewhat remote, and as park users made their interests and preferences known, social and cultural attractions were often added. Zoos, formal gardens, music pavilions, museums, and theatrical venues were all features of what became known as cultural parks.

New York's Central Park was the seminal example of a city park and was admired and emulated by other cities around the nation.