Research Rest-Stop │ Urban Parks

What makes a good urban park?

Peter Katz of the New Urban Network recently revived an article he first wrote in 1995 for the magazine, Land and People, about public spaces to show how the basics he discussed then still apply today.

For Katz, parks are important places in a city. Today, he argues, most urban parks do not have the upkeep and attention needed to make them inviting places to which people will travel and visit.

Katz argues that many parks today are “quasi-public spaces” represented by concrete plazas. These spaces were typically built by private developers so that they could build higher buildings. In this development, however, a sense of place was lost. Katz provides several recommendations on how to reclaim these public urban spaces:

  1. “A park should be ‘nearby’ for everyone.” Open space accessible to all should be easy to reach. Public transportation can further support access to these areas for residents and visitors.
  2. “A public park should look and feel truly public.” A park should not be bounded by private buildings; rather, it is important to have an open space that invites public use.
  3. “Parks should be simple and not overdesigned.” Most of the time, parks just need the basics – trees, grass, walkways, and benches. An organic place usually results.
  4. “A park should retain or enhance the natural contours of the land.” This will support a stronger connection to the land and to nature.
  5. “A good park should allow you to both see and walk through it.” It should provide access to vistas and simplicity in its walkways.

Today, parks are at the forefront of city agendas and plans across the nation, including in Philadelphia. The City of Philadelphia is actively developing ways to infuse “green” in innovative ways. An August 2011 MOTU blog post discussed how the City has established parklets, removable wooden platforms that typically occupy a few parking spaces in order to provide a place for people to stop, sit, and relax. These parklets represent a new type of urban space, one that has big potential for the future.


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