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San Juan: The Walkable City

Credit: Municipality of San Juan

 San Juan, Puerto Rico recently released a new plan to make the city more liveable and walkable. Titled The Walkable City, the plan calls for a redesign of the Isleta district, an island which is home to Old San Juan, the oldest planned city in the Americas. Isleta is separated from mainland Puerto Rico by a series of bridges and a ferry.  

The plan focuses on 10 strategic actions. Most significant is the introduction of the “Tren Satour”, a 5.3 mile light rail system to connect the historic center with the mainland. An integrated public transit system would also include buses and shuttles, water taxis, commuter ferries, and extensive park and ride facilities on the mainland. Other interesting features of the plan include mixed-use development, a waterfront loop for pedestrians, cyclists and joggers, and creating green corridors to connect the north and south waterfronts.  

The idea of including better public transportation options and connectivity to parks in urban design plans is nothing new. Many U.S. cities, including Houston, St. Louis, and Phoenix have recently been adding light rail or bus stops in parks as part of redevelopment plans. San Juan’s The Walkable City uses many U.S. as well as international cities as example success stories. View the full plan here.

Elevated and Decked: Sydney’s Paddington Reservoir Gardens

Credit: City of Sydney

 A recent article in the World Architecture News showcases Sydney’s newest urban park, Paddington Reservoir Gardens. Originally completed in 1878, the reservoir operated until 1899 when it then became a workshop/garage. The site officially closed in 1990 after a roof collapsed. The former reservoir was slated to be capped and decked with parkland, until architects decided to transform the historic, underground ruins into a publicly accessible viewing area. The original 1930’s grassy area above the water chambers was redesigned and the park also now includes a “sunken garden” in the western chamber. As a sustainable twist, all of the materials used to reconstruct the new park were retained from the historic structure. 

This unique urban park takes the idea of decking over reservoirs up a step, (or down a step rather), allowing for the possibility to use space underneath reservoirs as parkland. For some U.S. cities who have had success with reservoir parks, see an earlier post. Padding Reservoir Gardens also reminds us of elevating parks, another unique way of creating parkland in cities. 

View additional photos of this new reservoir park here.

Some news from around…

  • Denver’s cemeteries grow into the role of public parks with free concerts, art displays and elegant gardens (Denver Post).
  • ASLA’s The Dirt provides a detailed summary of Peter Harnik’s Wednesday presentation of his new book, which discusses ways to incorporate parks into built-out cities (and guidance on how to plan for them).
  • Earth Policy Institute’s Lester Brown writes that cities need more parks and fewer parking lots to show that cities are for people, not cars (Grist).
  • Plans for the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, DC are stalled by Greece’s economic woes (Washington Post).
  • The New York Times profiles the many ways in which public space is used for physical activity in Los Angeles. The city should pay heed, tailoring its streets, medians and parks to meet this demand — Harnik’s book mentioned above might provide some ideas.
  • The Orange County Register covered the grassroots push for more parkland in park-starved Santa Ana.
  • Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital city, is rapidly losing its legacy of parks to new construction (Polis).

Enslischer Garten: Munich’s Back Yard


The Chinese Tower, Englischer Garten, Munich, http://www.wikipedia.org

Englischer Garten is probably the most well-known large municipal park in Munich, and perhaps the city’s most visited. Its landscape, features and pleasant gardens offer both respite from the city to relax or space to play (or “spielen” in German).

Along one of its ponds, the park’s beautiful outdoor beer garden is one of the most popular places for families and friends to gather in the city. Shown in the picture is the beer garden and the Chinese Tower, a 25-meter high wooden structure that was first constructed in 1790. (On July 13 1944, the original tower burned down after heavy bombing; but it a new tower, identical to the original was constructed 1952.) The tower and beer garden are a wonderful example of using public food and beverage amenities within a park, and an example of this European tradition that is less common in the United States.

Some more basics on the park: 914 acres/370 hectares; created in 1789, originally planned as a “military garden” that was open to the public and created from former hunting grounds of the local rulers.

Features: Japanese garden and teahouse, the open “Schönfeld meadow,” the Monopteros temple, the Chinese Tower, a 25 metre high wooden structure, 8.75 km of streams, over 100 bridges and several lakes, monuments and gardens.

Wikipedia contains a more lengthy description of the park and its history.

Beijing’s Olympic Park, Post Olympics

Beijing’s new Olympic Forest Park, constructed for the 2008 summer Olympics was just profiled in the Bangkok Post (in English). The city’s largest park, at 680 hectres (about 1,680 acres) is proving to be a popular place with residents after the games left town. From the news story:

As the park was to be used as a civilian space and public park after the games, the Beijing government earmarked 2.2 billion Chinese yuan, or 11.6 billion baht for the project. Such an amount of money for a public park seems staggering. But Beijing – the ancient city with breathtaking gardens like the Summer Palace or Beihai Park near the Forbidden City – has a soft spot for parks and gardens.

Chinese people, said Hu Jie, also a native of Beijing, have a special love affair with public spaces. “Beijing residents love to hang out, socialise or exercise in public parks.”

For instance, at Ho Hai – a famous tourist spot around the lake and a green area, Chinese women practice aerobic dance until late at night. During the day, many people bring reclining chairs and tea pots are ubiquitous.

The above-linked article goes into the design and layout of the park.