Great City Parks and Landscape Design

Urban Design Includes City Parks and Landscaped Spaces

As cities grow, a landscape design plan to set aside green space becomes ever more important. Urban dwellers should be able to enjoy trees, flowers, lakes and rivers, and wildlife wherever they live and work. Landscape architects work with urban planners to design city parks that integrate nature into an overall urban plan. Some city parks have zoos and planetariums. Some encompass many acres of forested land. Other city parks resemble town plazas with formal gardens and fountains.  Listed here are some landmark examples of how public space can be configured, from San Diego to Boston, Dublin to Barcelona, and Montreal to Paris.

01
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Central Park in New York City

Great lawn in Central Park, New York City
Great lawn in Central Park, New York City. Photo by Tetra Images/Brand X Pictures Collection/Getty Images

Central Park in New York City was officially born on July 21, 1853, when the New York State legislature authorized the City to buy more than 800 acres. The enormous park was designed by America's most famous landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted.

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Parque Güell in Barcelona, Spain

Unwinding on the Mosaic Benches in Park Guell
The Mosaic Benches in Park Guell, Barcelona, Spain. Photo by Andrew Castellano/Getty Images (cropped)

Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí designed Parque Güell (pronounced par kay gwel) as part of a residential garden community. The entire park is made of stone, ceramic, and natural elements. Today Parque Güell is a public park and a World Heritage monument.

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Hyde Park in London, United Kingdom

Aerial View of Hyde Park in the Center of London, England
Aerial View of Hyde Park in the Center of London, England. Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images (cropped)

Once a deer park for King Henry VIII's hunting adventures, central London's popular Hyde Park is one of eight Royal Parks. At 350 acres, it is less than half the size of New York's Central Park. The man-made Serpentine Lake provides a safer, urban replacement for Royal deer hunting.

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Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California

Victorian Era Conservatory of Flowers at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California
Victorian Era Conservatory of Flowers at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California. Photo by Kim Kulish/Corbis via Getty Images

Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California is a vast 1,013-acre urban park—larger than Central Park in New York City, but similarly rectangular in design—with extensive gardens, museums, and memorials. Once covered with sand dunes, Golden Gate Park was designed by William Hammond Hall and his successor, John McLaren.

One of the newest structures in the park is the 2008 California Academy of Sciences re-designed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop. From planetarium and rain forest, natural history exploration comes alive in the new building, with its green, living roof in stark contrast with the oldest building in the park shown here.

The Conservatory of Flowers, the oldest building in Golden Gate Park, was built off-site, prefabricated with wood, glass, and iron, and shipped in crates to James Lick, the wealthiest man in San Francisco. Lick donated the unbuilt "greenhouse" to the park, and since opening in 1879 the iconic Victorian architecture has been a landmark. Historic urban parks from this era, both in the US and in Europe, often had botanical gardens and conservatories of a similar architecture. Few remain standing.

Lush, Bucolic Phoenix Park in Dublin, Ireland
Lush, Bucolic Phoenix Park in Dublin, Ireland. Photo by Alain Le Garsmeur/Getty Images

Since 1662, Phoenix Park in Dublin has been the natural habitat for Ireland's flora and fauna—as well as the backdrop for Irish storytellers and fiction writers the likes of Irish author James Joyce. Originally a Royal deer park used by nobility, today it remains one of the largest urban parks in Europe and one of the largest urban parks in the world. Phoenix Park encompasses 1752 acres, making the park five times the size of London's Hyde Park and double the size of New York's Central Park. More »

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Balboa Park in San Diego, California

California Tower, 1915, at Balboa Park in San Diego, California
California Tower, 1915, at Balboa Park in San Diego, California. Photo by Daniel Knighton/Getty Images

Balboa Park in southern California's sunny San Diego, is sometimes called the "Smithsonian of the West" for the concentration of cultural institutions. Once called "City Park" back in 1868, the park today   encompasses 8 gardens, 15 museums, a theater, and the San Diego Zoo. The 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition held there became the starting point for much of the iconic architecture it has today. The Spanish-looking California Tower shown here was designed by Bertram Goodhue for the grand exposition honoring the opening of the Panama Canal. Although it may have been modeled after a Spanish Baroque church steeple, it has always been used as an exhibition building.

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Bryant Park in New York City

Aerial View of Bryant Park Surrounded by the New York Public Library and Skyscrapers in New York City
Aerial View of Bryant Park Surrounded by the New York Public Library and Skyscrapers in New York City. Photo by Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images

Bryant Park in New York City is modeled after small urban parks in France. Located behind the New York Public Library, the small green space is located in mid-town Manhattan, surrounded by skyscrapers and tourist hotels. It is a landscaped space of order, peace, and fun surrounded by the hectic antics of a high-powered city. Seen here from above are hundreds of people aligned on yoga mats for Project:OM, the world's largest yoga class.

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Jardin des Tuileries in Paris, France

Jardin des Tuileries in Paris, France Near the Louvre Museum
Jardin des Tuileries in Paris, France Near the Louvre Museum. Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images

Tuileries Gardens gets its name from the tile factories that once inhabited the area. During the Renaissance, Queen Catherine de Medici built a royal palace on the site, but Palais des Tuileries, like the tile factories before it, nas long since been demolished. So, too, were the Italian-styled gardens—landscape architect André Lenôtre redid the gardens to their present French look for King Louis XIV. Today, the Jardins des Tuileries is said to be the largest and most-visited urban park In Paris, France. At the heart of the city, the promenade allows the eye to extend linearly toward the Arc de Triomphe, one of the great arches of triumph. From the Musée du Louvre to the Champs-Elysées, the Tuileries became a public park in 1871, providing respite for Parisians and tourists alike.

09
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Public Garden in Boston, Massachusetts

Iconic Swan Boat at the Public Gardens in Boston
Iconic Swan Boat in Boston, Massachusetts. Photo by Paul Marotta/Getty Images

Founded in 1634, Boston Common is the oldest "park" in the United States. Since colonial days—since before the US Revolution—the Massachusetts Bay Colony used grazing land as a common gathering space for community activities, from revolutionary meetings to burials and hangings. This urban landscape is promoted and protected by an active Friends of the Public Gardens. Since 1970, these Friends have ensured that the Public Garden has its iconic Swan Boats, the Mall is maintained, and the Common is the front yard for Boston's active community. Architect Arthur Gilman modeled the 19th century Mall after the great Parisian and London promenades. Although the offices and studios of Frederick Law Olmsted are located in nearby Brookline, the senior Olmsted did not design America's oldest landscape, although his sons' expertise was enlisted in the 20th century.

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Mount Royal Park in Montreal, Canada

People with dogs watching the sunset on the skyscrapers of Montreal, Canada
Belvedere Overlook in Mont Royal Park Overlooking Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Photo by George Rose/Getty Images (cropped)

Mont Réal, the hilltop named by French explorer Jacques Cartier in 1535, became the protectorate of the developing urban area below it—a little place called Montreal, Canada. Today the 500-acre Parc du Mont-Royal, from an 1876 plan by Frederick Law Olmsted, is home to trails and lakes (as well as older cemeteries and newer communication towers) that service the needs of its city dwellers.

The well-designed city park and the urban area in which it resides will have a symbiotic relationship. That is, the natural and urban worlds will have a mutually beneficial relationship. The hardness of the city landscape, the built environment, should be counteracted with the softness of natural, organic things. When urban areas are truly planned, the design will include areas of nature. Why? It's simple. Human beings first existed in gardens and not cities, and humans have not evolved as fast as building technologies.