The OED defines park,
3. a. A large public garden or area of land used for recreation.
c. orig. U.S. An extensive area of land set apart as public property, to be kept in its natural state for the benefit of the public and the preservation of wildlife; = NATIONAL PARK n.
As cities and need for public space have changed in the modern era, so have parks.
In his 1866 “Preliminary Report to the Commissioners for Laying Out a Park in Brooklyn, New York”, Olmsted describes parks as providing “a sense of enlarged freedom” (83) … “convenient accommodation of numbers of people, desirous of moving for recreation among scenes that should be gratifying to their taste or imagination.” (86)
Parks are a site of recuperation and escape from city and work and need to simultaneously allow escape and accommodate large numbers of people.
Desired qualities in a park site:
Variety of surfaces (diverse topography)
Local and distant prospect
Olmsted writes in his 1881 essay, “Boston: Parks and Parkways: a Green Ribbon” that when a series of smaller neighborhood parks (rather than a single large city park) are developed, each park should offer something different and worth travelling for.
Towns planned with public space/parks have uniform geographic distribution of parkland, but population densities can shift unpredictably, causing the park sizes and locations to no longer make sense. Instead, park locations should be based on:
Topography – unbuildable sites make great parks
Public buildings should have open space around them
Circumstance – natural feature or site history
Olmsted’s concern future changes in demographic and desire to create a park plan that will provide greater flexibility bears resemblance the role of process in urban park design advocated by Berrezbetia
CIAM’s 1933 Charter of Athens redefined the functions of a city to include “recreation” – establishing parks as functional landscapes.
Van Eesteren’s design for the Bos Park (constructed in the 1930s) in Amsterdam. Van Eesteren was the former president of CIAM, and interested in a rational, scientific approach to planning based on function, rather than formal or artistic approaches as exemplified by the work of Sitte. Van Eesteren’s plan and approach to found conditions is analogous to qualities of Schwitters’ collage work, utilizing overlays of figures and scales. Both Van Eesteren and Schwitters worked with Van Doesburg. The incorporation of low, wet areas and high areas suggests that the park design is a reaction against the standardization of the Dutch landscape through polderization.
The Bos Park plan incorporates areas for organized sports, reflecting parks’ emerging role as a space for active recreation (rather than just strolling).
In her article “The Amsterdam Bos: The Modern Public Park and the Construction of Collective Experience”, Berrizbetia describes the Urban park as “traditionally understood as the place that mitigates the debilitating effects of congested urban life” by creating a rural or natural environment. (187) The Bos Park plan breaks with that tradition: the park and city are no longer treated as antithetical.
In addition to providing the function of recreation, as described by Meyer, the landscape is also productive. The park was planted in a forestry model based on succession, with a gridded “provisional” forest of pioneer species and “permanent” forest of ash, maple, oak, and beech.
Berrezbetia writes that Eesteren and Mulder considered picturesque and volkspark precedents in developing the park plan, and suggests that the equal distribution of forest, lawn, and water creates a mosaic without hierarchy, recalling the spatial qualities of Des Stijl.
The Royal Institute of British Architects article “The Amsterdam Bosch Plan” provides a contemporary account of the park’s innovations. The article points out that while most parks are on land that is already scenic (old estates, hunting grounds, etc) and the landscape design needs only to make the most of existing features, Bos Park is located on non-descript, flat polder land that required substantial modification in order to create make a range of spaces.
The park’s development responds to the tripling of Amsterdam’s population, and was “the largest and probably the most ambitious scheme ever proposed by a municipality to provide fully equipped recreational facilities for all types and classes of its citizens” (23)
Another new innovation made this park different from others that had come before it: cycling was a serious consideration in the development of the park.
The desired qualities in a park site set forth by Olmsted in 1866 describe a site similar to that RIBA describes as a traditional park site. The development of the Amsterdam Bos Park represents a shift, where landscape architects began to work with less desirable land to create public spaces farther removed from the center of the city.
Cranz and Boland, in their 2004 essay “Defining the Sustainable Park: A Fifth Model for Urban Parks” provide a means of better understanding the history and future of parks. The authors describe how the development of the concept of a sustainability has changed the function of parks: parks are shifting from a primarily social roles to a primarily ecological one.
“Historically, urban parks responded to social problems and expressed various ideas about nature, but they showed little concern for actual ecological fitness. Today, in contrast, ecological problems may be counted among our most social problems. Because ecological and social problems are now conflated, a new urban park type that focuses on solutions to ecological problems and expresses new ideas about nature can build upon the traditional social genesis of urban parks in the United States to help improve the quality of life in American cities.” (102)
Borrowing from an earlier publication by Cranz, the authors describe five types of urban park, each associated with a different era: Pleasure ground (1850-1900), Reform park (1900-1930), Recreation Facility (1930-1965), Open Space System (1965-?), and the Sustainable park.
Saint Louis’ major parks could be classified along these lines:
Tower Grove Park and Missouri Botanical Garden – Pleasure Ground
Forest Grove Park – Reform Park
Jefferson National Expansion Memorial – Open Space Park