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The Park and the City: Notable Public Parks around the World
This overview provides information on twelve urban public parks from around the world, and provides maps that show the location of each park within the context of an eighteen-km2 area of the city in which the park is located.
It is noticed that a number of themes apply to these various parks. Some of them started as royal compounds or otherwise restricted spaces, and later were converted into public spaces. A number of them have become heritage sites because of the important and integral physical, cultural, and social roles they have taken on in the cities in which they are located. All of them underwent a long process of evolution that made them what they are today, and that included expansions, additions, modifications, and transformations. The creation of all these parks is commendable in that it has included setting aside very expensive real-estate to develop places for leisure, as well as for recreational and cultural activities that serve the general public.
Area: 0.3 km2
Designed by Sites International
Opened to the public in 2005
Al-Azhar Park was created by the Historic Cities Support Program (HCSP) of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) as a gift from Aga Khan IV to the city of Cairo.
The project included the development of the park and also the conservation of a number of historical monuments located in the vicinity of the site of the park.
The site had been used as a dumping ground for the city of Cairo for centuries. Accordingly, more than 765,000 m3 of garbage and debris had to be removed in order to realize this park, and 160,000 m3of soil was brought into the site to support planting.
Traditional architectural and landscaping features from various traditions in the Islamic world were integrated in the design of the park, including bustan-like orchard spaces, Fatimid archways, Persian and Timurid elements that are apparent in the park’s water channels and fountains, and multi-colored stonework inspired by Mamluk prototypes.
Al-Azhar Park is managed through a joint venture between the Aga Khan Development Network and the City of Cairo. Visitors pay a small entrance fee that is used to support the park’s maintenance and upkeep.
The park features 89 varieties of trees including many local ones. It also features a variety of roses and a wide variety of medicinal and culinary herb plants.
Area: 1.1 km2
Designed by Joseph Laforcade
Opened to the public in 1910
The Belvedere Park is the largest in the city of Tunis. It includes both roads and pedestrian paths. Construction work on it started in 1892, but planting activities were not completed until 1897, after which the park remained inaccessible to the public for over a decade (until 1910) in order to allow for its flora to fully grow. The trees planted in the park include pine, palm, ficus, eucalyptus, and olive trees.
In 1910, a casino was opened at the edge of the park, and was recently converted into a club for military officers. A zoo also was developed in the park, and was opened in 1969.
Before Tunisian president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was forced out of office in 2011, the Tunis city council was scheduled to approve a plan that proposed dividing the park into lots that would respectively feature a hotel, a set of cottages, and the headquarters of the Belvedere Friends Association, in addition to what is left of the park. The commercial components of this arrangement were to benefit the family of Leila Ben Ali, the deposed president’s wife, but the project was terminated with his overthrow.
The park has been closed to the public since 2017 for maintenance work.
New York City, United States
Area: 3.41 km2
Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux
Opened to the public in 1858
Located between New York City’s Upper West Side and Upper East Side, Central Park is the fifth largest urban park in the United States. It addressed the need for large-scale open public spaces in the densely-populated and rapidly-growing city. A 3-km2area was set for the creation of the park in 1853. A design for the park by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux was selected through an open competition. Among other things, the plan proposed separate circulation networks for pedestrians, horseback riders, and carriages. Construction commenced on the park in 1858, and its first area was opened to the public later that year. The area of the park was gradually expanded to reach its current 3.41 km2 in 1873. By then, more than ten million cartloads of material were removed from the site of the park, and more than four million trees, shrubs, and plants were planted in it.
Central Park, which was designated a National Historic landmark in 1963, has been a model for other urban public spaces in various locations, such as Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, Stanley Park in Vancouver, and Ueno Park in Tokyo. Central Park has its own police department, and an all-volunteer medical unit. In 2005, its real estate value was estimated at $528.8 billion.
The park has been completely closed to public vehicular traffic since 2018.
Chicago, United States
Area: 1.29 km2
Designed by Edward Bennett
Opened to the public in 1844
According to the original plans for Chicago, the eastern shore of Michigan Avenue was kept vacant. Later on, in 1839, this land was marked as public grounds that would be left without any buildings. In 1844, the city allocated the land as a public park under the name of “Lake Park.”
In 1852, the Illinois Central Railroad was permitted to lay tracks along the lakefront on a causeway that was built offshore from the park. The resulting lagoon, however, became stagnant, and was largely filled in 1871, thus increasing the area of the park.
A number of civic buildings were constructed in the park during the second half of the nineteenth century. These include a post office, an exposition center, and the Art Institute of Chicago, which was built in 1892. In 1901, the park was renamed Grant Park, honoring President Ulysses S. Grant (r. 1869 – 77).
In 1904, a plan by the Olmsted Brothers recommended placing the Field Museum in the park, an idea that was integrated into Daniel Burnham and Edward H. Bennett’s 1909 Plan of Chicago.
The park was further extended into Lake Michigan during the early part of the twentieth century through landfills. The Adler Planetarium, the Field Museum of Natural History, and the Shedd Aquarium, which together form the Museum Campus, were placed in this extended area of the park.
The park’s centerpiece is the 1927 Buckingham Fountain, which is among the world’s largest.
Grant Park is well known for hosting diverse events such as the Grant Park Music Festival, the Chicago Jazz Festival, and the Chicago Blues Festival.
Hong Kong Park
Area: 0.08 km2
Designed by: Wong Tung and Partners, Gavin Coates, and others
Opened to the public in 1991
Opened in 1991, this small park of 0.08 km2offers a green refuge in the congested dense center of Hong Kong. The site of the park had previously included barracks and, later on, a school.
The park today houses a number of historical buildings including the 1846 Flagstaff House Museum, which is devoted to tea-ware. The park also includes a few buildings from the early twentieth century that are part of the former barracks that occupied the site. These have been renovated to house a visual arts center, a marriage registry, an educational center, and the park’s offices.In addition to its open green areas, the park houses a greenhouse and a sports center.
Total area of 0.3 km2
Al-Hursh Park used to be a natural pine forest taking up an area of around 1.25 km2, but had lost much of its trees as a result of logging over the centuries. It particularly suffered during the twentieth century. The Ottoman Casino was built in it in 1917, and so was a horse course in 1921. The state carried out urban developments in the forest during the 1950s, and a cemetery was installed in it in 1958.
During the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, it was bombed by Israeli jet fighters. Following the invasion, much of the park was turned into a Palestinian refugee camp. By the late 1980s, only a 0.3 km2triangular area located at the southern border of the city had remained of the preexisting forest.
After the end of the Lebanese Civil War, the park was closed to the public. Visitors had to go through an application process to be granted access to the park. The park, however, was opened to the public in 2015 as a result of multiple protests and petitions against limiting access to it.
London, United Kingdom
Area: 1.41 km2
Opened to the public in 1637
Established in 1536 by King Henry VIII (r. 1509 – 47) as a hunting ground, Hyde Park is the largest of four royal parks located between Kensington Palace and Buckingham Palace. Prior to that, the land used to belong to Westminster Abbey.
In 1665, during the Great Plague, Londoners sought Hyde Park as a refuge. In the eighteenth century, the park hosted duels between members of the nobility. It underwent major renovations during the 1730s that resulted in the creation of the Serpentine Lake in it.
In 1851, Hyde Park hosted The Great Exhibition, and was known during the nineteenth century as a hub for free speech and demonstrations. A number of rock music concerts took place in Hyde Park over the last few decades featuring Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, and Queen, among others.
The Park has very diverse flora, including London plane, ash, birch, elm, lime, and maple trees. It also features greenhouses and a rose garden.
The park is also known for its memorials and statues, including the Cavalry Memorial, the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial, and the Holocaust Memorial.
São Paolo, Brazil
Area: 1.58 km2
Designed by Oscar Niemeyer and Otávio Augusto Teixeira Mendes
Opened to the public in 1954
Ibirapuera Park was opened to the public in 1954 to celebrate São Paulo’s 400thanniversary.
The park features buildings by the late famed Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer and landscaping by agronomist Otávio Augusto Teixeira Mendes.
In the 1990s, the open green spaces of the park were heritage-listed by the city, and in 2016, the buildings by Niemeyer were also registered as national landmarks.
In addition to offering a refuge in the city, the park is home to a diverse cultural scene with its museums and a music hall. It also hosts events such as the São Paolo Fashion Week.
Mount Royal Park
Area: 2.55 km2
Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted
Opened to the public in 1876
Mount Royal is a volcanic hill that gives the name to its city, Montreal. The mountain features several parts including the Mount Royal Park, cemeteries, other smaller parks, and the Université de Montréal. The Canadian Northern Railway dug the Mount Royal Tunnel under the mountain between 1914 – 1918.
A large part of the mountain forms the Mount Royal Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed Central Park in New York. The park remains the city’s largest open green space since its opening.
The park consists of two belvederes, and features an artificial lake, a toboggan run, skiing trails, a sculpture garden. Its wooded areas suffered from an intrusive cutting of trees during the 1950s, and later on from the ice storm of 1998, but has been recovering since then.
The park, cemeteries, and several other parks and institutions located on the site were combined in 2005 into the Mount Royal Natural and Historic District to ensure their protection.
Parque del Buen Retiro
Area: 1.40 km2
Designed by Cosimo Lotti
Opened to the public in 1868
Located at the edge of Madrid’s center, the Buen Retiro Park is one of the largest in the city. The park was a royal garden until 1767, when it became accessible to the public. Its ownership was officially transferred from the royal family to the public in 1868.
The park hosted the Exposición Nacional de Minería in 1883. The monument of King Alfonso XII (r. 1874 – 85) was erected in the park at the beginning of the twentieth century. Following that, a number of gardens, monuments, statues, ponds and fountains such as the Fountain of the Fallen Angel and the Rose Garden were gradually added to the park. It is now considered an open-air sculpture museum.
The park had also hosted a number of international exhibitions for which a number of buildings and pavilions were erected. A few of these are still standing, such as the Mining Building, the Crystal Palace, and the Campo Grande.
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Area: 0.47 km2
Designed by Jan David Zocher and Louis Paul Zocher
Opened to the public in 1867
This park was established in 1864 by a group of individuals that formed the Association for the Construction of a Park for Riding and Strolling. The original part of the park was designed by Jan David Zocher, and was opened in 1865 for members of the Association and others for a fee.
In 1867, a statue of the seventeenth-century writer and playwright Joost van den Vondel was placed in the park, which gave it its current name. A bandstand was added to the park in 1873.
Between 1875 and 1877, the park was expanded to its current area of 0.47 km2. An English garden was also added to it then. The expanded part of the park was designed by Louis Paul Zocher.
A rose garden was added to the park in 1936, and the Blue Tearoom building was constructed in it in 1937. The Association donated the park to the city of Amsterdam in 1953, which consequently carried out significant renovation works in it.
Children’s playgrounds were added to the park in the 1960s. An open-air theater was built in it during the 1980s. The theater hosts music and dance performances between June and August.
The park was declared a state monument in 1996. It is visited by around ten million people every year.
Area: 0.54 km2
Parts of the park were designed by Kenzo Tange
Opened to the public in 1967
Yoyogi Park is located on the site where the first successful powered aircraft flight took place in Japan, in 1910. The site was also home for the U.S. military barracks during the Allied Occupation of Japan following the Second World War.
The area of the park was where the Olympic Village of the 1964 Olympic Games was located. It includes a building designed by the late famed Japanese architect Kenzo Tange that hosted swimming competitions. The building also has an annex where basketball games took place.
The park is a popular Tokyo destination. It is especially busy on Sundays when it becomes a gathering place for rock music fans, jugglers, comedians, martial arts clubs, and various hobby groups. Thousands of people visit the park in the spring to view the blossoming of cherry trees. The park features picnic areas, bike paths, and public sport courts.