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Amidst the automobile infested concrete space of most modern cities (and if, like me, you’re in Chicago, the uncivil pigeon population) are spaces which allow for community to really happen. I’m talking about parks. Parks are awesome! With access to open space, parks not only provide an outlet from our fast-paced society; they serve our neighborhoods through design, providing a natural habitat, serene experiences, and opportunities for community engagement.
There are many benefits from investing in green space; much of which can only happen through creating and maintaining parks in cities. Parks generate economic, physical and social benefits, creating stronger community ties and transforming cities by awakening vital senses of city dwellers. Many cities, in efforts to revitalize themselves, incorporate a park as part of that revitalization. This is because community leaders, city planners and architects understand the positive effects that parks and open green space have on people.
Parks are often located on historic sites where the land is protected by the city. Washington Park, in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine district, was at the forefront of recent revitalization efforts in the city, supported by mayor Mark Malory. Re-opening after being closed for almost two years (pictured above), Washington Park has added new elements to the city’s built environment and history. A well-designed park can show that recreating historic space doesn’t have to mean ‘destroy and rebuild’, instead revitalizing an asset that was already there in some form.
When working to build communities, it is essential to acknowledge that community already exists there. The best Planners must acquire the skill of seeing community from the future backwards, a skill I am learning as a student of Architecture. This means reawakening those in the community and reconnecting them with their humane nature. Parks and green space can be a tool to allow that to happen.
Parks also invite the community to take part in healthy, active lifestyles if bikeways and trails are included in their design. Nearly 50% of visitors to Portland’s Forest Park use the park for exercise and fitness. By granting the freedom to interact with nature and space, parks present the opportunity of physical fitness and influence basic physical activity.
Beyond physical activity, parks invite the community to… well, be a community. Having access to healthy open space can encourage community to form and form naturally. And if it doesn’t happen so naturally, events and activities hosted at parks can encourage a sense of community and usage of the park. A visit to the St. Louis Art Museum, which is at a journey’s end of the city’s Forest Park (pictured above), gave me a sense of community in a place I wasn’t even from thanks to the one community under Hitchcock event, where the museum used its parkfront to host an outdoor film series. Parks help reiterate that cities are ours and we can take the initiative of creating experiences in these spaces.
An often forgotten benefit of parks is climate management that parks are also credited, making them not only a service to man and wild but to the overall environment as well.
Cities tend to imbue a drive for capital and status and generate a sense of individuality rather than reminding us that city dwellers make up an urban community. In the open green space of a park, where no one owns anything and the space is collectively ours, a genuine sense of community, shared space, and shared life can be developed. A well-designed urban park has the potential to transform individuals, making them more conscious of community, encouraging them to practice sustenance of that community with a sense of pride.
Ucce Agada is an independent Urban Researcher and Project Developer in Chicago, Illinois.