Nat Geo Urban Parks

How Urban Parks Are Bringing Nature Close to Home

National Geographic
April 2016

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“We have got to bring the natural world back to the people, rather than have them live in an environment where everything is paved over with concrete.”

…This is the urban park of today. Unlike the neatly drawn public spaces of an earlier age, these parks are reclaimed from the discarded parcels of our cities: Stranded patches of woods, abandoned military bases and airports, storm-water systems, rail lines and bridges, places where scraps of land are pieced together like quilts or strung together like beads.

The experimentation is global. Rail parks, many inspired by the success of New York City’s High Line, are now beguiling fixtures in Sydney, Helsinki, and other cities. Singapore is building an artificial rain forest inside Changi Airport. At the edge of Mexico City, an immense park is planned on what remains of Lake Texcoco.
I am captivated by the breadth of innovation and energized by the passion people bring to these spaces. As I explored them, what became clear is that urban parks aren’t a substitute for the enormous and often remote parks that protect our most majestic forests and mountains and canyons. They serve a different purpose; the truth is, we need both….

…The iconic urban parks with their straight borders and square shoulders aren’t going away. They are treasured in cities around the world. But the orderly layout they require is harder to find in places that are already built-up. So our newer urban parks, in the United States and beyond, reflect the challenges of acquiring and developing land. There’s now more review from the public as well as more oversight by regulators, said Adrian Benepe, the director of city park development for the Trust for Public Land and former New York City parks commissioner. Compounding the problem is the hunt for money to transform the bits and pieces of postindustrial landscape into parklands. “There is a struggle because the cities are also paying for health care and education,” Benepe said. “Often the parks are the last priority.” What’s emerging, he said, is a model more reliant on working with the private sector, both for building parks and for operating them. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, for example, a foundation created from oil and banking wealth has donated $200 million toward a $350 million community park on the Arkansas River. In Newark, New Jersey, Benepe’s group worked with government and business leaders to bring a park to once contaminated property along the Passaic River….

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