City planners have long understood the benefit of having large expanses of urban greenspace scattered throughout an urban population. While how that greenspace is used has changed somewhat over the years, a city’s largest parks and outdoor recreation areas are consistently the places where people gather for fun, relaxation, and sometimes meaning.
[one_half padding=”4px 8px 0 2px”]I still remember the first time I set foot in New York’s famed Central Park. I was there for hours and still barely covered a third of the space the park occupies. Coming from rural Oklahoma, I had braced myself for all the concrete and steel of the metropolis, and it wasn’t like I didn’t know Central Park existed. What caught me by surprise was the reality of just how large it is and all the varied ways New Yorkers take advantage of the greenspace, both for good and, sometimes, not.
Central Park was the first such landscaped space in the United States, having reached its current size by 1863. While acquiring that much land in an already immense and densely populated city wasn’t easy, and fraught with political tension, there was little argument that the park was something the city wanted. The greater argument was over who would control it, the city or the state. By 1870, the city won that fight and from there it has possibly become the most famous park in the world, a shining example followed by other burgeoning cities all across the country.
Environmentally, urban greenspace is like gold to a city. The more people that are gathered putting off carbon dioxide, the more we need trees and vegetation to absorb what we produce and provide us with the necessary oxygen to sustain life. While no park totally makes up for the accumulation of millions of people, even small space with a handful of trees has a huge impact. Parks help with flood control, pollution control, stop soil erosion, and help keep down urban temperatures in addition to providing a balanced home for urban wildlife.[/one_half]
[one_half_last padding=”4px 2px 0 8px”]Beyond the ecological benefits, though, urban greenspace provides people with a place to be, a place to relax, to sit under a shade tree and read, to have a picnic with family or friends, to fly a kite, walk a dog, chase a ball, learn to ride a bike, go for a jog, or just enjoy a bit of fresh (more or less) air. While urban living can be exciting and fun, the fact is we miss nature and long deeply to have it around us and to be part of the natural earth. We don’t like being cooped up all day, surrounded by four walls, looking longingly out elevated windows. We need space to get out and roam and explore and stretch.
Many cities have experimented with variations on the greenspace over the years. Some have put in large ponds, streams, or other water attractions. Others have put in playgrounds for children, though most were later removed due to rising insurance costs. Still others provide tennis courts, basketball courts, and little league and softball fields for organized recreation. As soccer has become increasingly popular we’ve seen space reserved for youth and adult league games. Portions of large parks have been converted to major music venues, offering concerts of all varieties in an atmosphere where one doesn’t necessarily need a ticket to listen and enjoy the music.
Benefits of urban greenspace are endless and for photographers especially they provide countless opportunities to capture seasonal natural beauty while also providing a dynamic backdrop for portraits. So, we end this week’s look at the urban outdoors celebrating the great parks around the country. Let’s go now and enjoy![/one_half_last]