Besides infrastructure and built urban form, one of the most important aspects for cities is its physical green space. Nature can be aesthetic or functional, but it always serves the same purpose: to remind us that cities are living places bound to the laws of nature. While built space represents the structured evolution of our lives, we are able to find refuge from the intensive rhythm of life in these areas preserved by natural beauty.
So what makes city parks so attractive? They give us safe and elegant places to walk, like New York’s recent High Line project. In other places like Milan, citywide urban planning has been crucial in designing a networked system of parks that ensures accessibility to all residents. There are also the environmental and sustainable aspects, such as trees and plants that help sequester carbon, absorb rainwater, and even help mitigate urban heat island effects.
On a more subconscious level, they remind us that despite our human interventions on the land, we are ultimately responsible to the much more powerful and physical processes around us. This idea is inspired by Michael Dear’s 1998 article titled Postmodern Urbanism, in which he examines contemporary trends in Southern California to form a new model of urban planning. The relevant point here is his “politics of nature,” in which we “hold a grudging respect for nature” and are forced to deal with environmental issues in the context of urbanity.
For these and innumerable other reasons, utilizable parks and urban green areas will continue to be at a premium in towns that value each square foot of space in terms of development opportunity. These places are most effective when they function as a network, and ideally provide a green “skeleton” that affords continuous access to recreation and nature.
What initiatives or areas of opportunity do you see in your city, and how can they enhance experiences?
Credits: Photographs by Maxwell Vidaver. Data linked to sources.