Park Research

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The History of Parks

By Sophie Chen

Parks are commonly known as specific places for people to bring their children to play, walk their dogs, and participate in athletic games. But what is less commonly known is the reason for their existence in urban settings and cities. Here we will explore: the purpose of parks in urban settings, how parks have changed over time, parks as a method of social reform, park’s relationship to immigrants today.

The Purpose of Parks

During the nineteenth century, empty spaces were created into parks because there was a demand to balance the stress and vices that came with industrialization, urbanization, and commercialization. Park advocates have linked the accommodations and needs for parks with the attempt to solve and/or ameliorate urban problems. These vices/urban problems that were considered to be increasingly problematic in cities at the time include: “alcoholism, prostitution, psychological degeneration due to lack of exercise, disease, delinquency, and the absence of shared civic order”. (Women in Urban Parks [1]

How Have Parks Changed?

1. Pleasure Ground (1850-1900) was described as “an antidote to the ills of rapidly industrialized city, visually and programmatically its antithesis, with a curving, picturesque landscape and emphasis on mental refreshment”. During this time reformers/park advocates wanted a respectable setting where a man could appear in public with his wife and children. This setting would allow the man to recognize his role in the family as the head of the household. According to Charles Eliot, park advocate and president of Harvard University (at the time this article was written in 1980), parks were supposed to promote and encourage “a high standard of family life” because as he reasoned, “the pleasures men share with their wives and children are apt to be safer pleasures than those they take by themselves.” So men who would frequent parks with their families would be less encouraged and tempted to indulge into the very vices that come from the stress of a nine to five job in the city, especially at a time when industrialization and commercialization was booming. Because urban settings are of a different pace and lifestyle than suburban and rural settings, reformers/park advocates wanted to include a place devoted to nature to offset the unnatural vices of urbanization.

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Example of Pleasure Ground

2. Reform Park (1900-1930) made parks accessible to the working class. In the previous model, the pleasure ground was only made accessible to middle-class families (who at the time attended parks frequently). Working class families wanted a place for their children to enjoy as well, but because parks were located at a costly distance they were originally excluded from these "wholesome recreational opportunities". Park advocates at this time also promoted playgrounds in parks because physical exercise in safe setting (rather than street) was crucial. Also it may be noted that in the previous model, parks did not have playgrounds because park advocates at the time assumed that children would be entertained by their mothers.

3. Recreation Facility (1930-1965) is a period when parks are recognized as a functioning part of cities, along with schools, post offices, hospitals, and etc…During this time park advocates reverted back to the motivation of promoting family togetherness. The idea was that “Mom, Pop and the kids must do things as a group”. So programs and facilities were created with the family in mind. This is also when athletic leagues were being organized in parks, which included sports such as: softball, tennis, table tennis, basketball, and golf. Recreational activities included: folk dancing, field days, picnics, and festivals.

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Playgrounds for Children

4. Open-Space System (1965-Present) is when there is a new attitude towards the perception of the usefulness of open space, that it was valuable wherever found. The central goal during this time was to help revitalize the inner city: visually, economically, and socially. Park planners went against previous traditional standards of size, shape, topography, and location of parks. During the 1960s there was stress placed on riot control, which meant that park advocates/reformers were targeting their youth population. Therefore parks began to implement cultural programs which included, concerts, dances, celebrations, and etc…Park advocates also wanted to appeal to the middle-class where their design was focused on providing a “safe and attractive” environment for “the businessmen and women on their lunch breaks from downtown offices-and the upper-middle-class suburban shoppers”.

Social Reform

There are four virtues to which parks wanted to promote in society, which include: public health and prosperity, normative concerns for social coherence and democratic equality. (Adapted from Modern Urban Parks [2]

  1. Health-Providing a safe and respectable place for people to engage in athletics.
  2. Prosperity-Parks provide a safe environment for children and youth, which trickle down to reduce costs for the police and justice systems. And because parks were promoting the development of “responsible and involved citizen[s]”, they are contributing to society by fostering these attitudes.
  3. Social Coherence-Providing a place for youth to play and grow amongst their peers deters juvenile crime because they are exposed to social experiences early. Since the implementation of playgrounds allows children to play amongst children of all ages and races, they also learn to cooperate with one another at an earlier age.
  4. Democratic Equality-Parks provide a place for a diverse group of people to cooperate and compete athletically with one another locally.

Parks and Immigrants in New York City

History shows that parks are constantly being changed or expanded to accommodate changes in society’s taste and needs. Park planners are now concerned with a new group of people in urban settings who are frequent park users, immigrants. In New York City parks especially, it is no surprise to see the many faces of people from all over the world in one place, enjoying each other’s company, whether in athletics or simple conversation. Parks are also a place to implement immigrant children into social groups because that is one of the very crucial places where they learn from children who are like and unlike them, which also prepares them for cooperation with peers in schools. Immigrant parents also have an outlet for them to relax after a strenuous and stressful day/week at work. Currently the main accommodation necessary for immigrants is to provide recreational programs available and accessible to them in languages other than English. As we have seen with the parks we are concerned with in our wiki, some accommodations have been made according to the tastes of the immigrants. For example, the cricket fields in Kissena Park. With the rising popularity of cricket, it is no surprise to see more cricket fields in New York City. In Columbus Park, there are tables specific for Asian men to play Chinese Chess and Asian women to play cards. These accommodations are necessary because parks provide a place for immigrants to mingle with people who are like them and who are unlike them-which ultimately eases their transition from life back home in the old country to life here in New York City.


Young, Terence. "Modern Urban Parks." American Geographical Society of New York (1996): 535-49. Web.

Cranz, Galen. "Women in Urban Parks." Journal of Women in Culture and Society (1980): 80-95. Web.

For All New Yorkers: Immigrants, Culture and Parks

By Patty Ajdukiewicz

In recent years the issue of immigrants and public parks in NYC became more and more complicated. Government and non-for-profit agencies have begun to realize that immigrants are a crucial group of users of NYC public parks. This can be a problematic issue for many of the parks are not ready to accommodate the needs and language barrier of this crowd. Many of the immigrants when they come to this country do not know how to speak English, nor how to play some very American sports, not many of the parks seam to concentrate on. In this case they cannot fully take advantage of what is offered to them. An organization, called New Yorkers for Park, issued a report titled Parks for All New Yorkers: Immigrants, Culture and NYC that proposes various improvements and changes to they way NYC parks are run. The 3 major issues that they believe ought to be addressed are

  • Overcoming the language barrier
  • Improving permitting process for sports and special events
  • Increasing the diversity of food available in parks

According to their research 1 out of 3 New Yorkers was born outside this country, and when they come here they prefer to rest within the same cultural groups, rather than connect with larger community or government. Being surrounded by immigrants from their home country prevents new immigrants form mingling with different cultures and learning the local language. They usually go to work in a place that doesn’t require them to learn English, where they spend long hours everyday. To many of them neighborhood parks provide them with an opportunity to spend time whit their close ones. For others it is also a question of overcrowded habitation; with parks providing them an open space needed to relax. Unfortunately, to conduct any research on the topic is a very malevolent process; the demographics of New York City neighborhoods changes so rapidly. Additionally each immigrant group needs different allocations that may vary from one place to another. We cannot assume that Latinos living in the Bronx will act, or need what Hispanics in Brooklyn do; therefore each neighborhood needs to be evaluated separately. But what happens if there is more than one ethnic niche using the same park? Is it physically possible to accommodate both South Asians, who enjoy playing cricket and Argentinians, who would die for a soccer field? I believe that the City launched itself on a mission impossible. The report is based on a research done in solemnly two parks: Queensbridge Park and Seward Park. To conduct the survey amongst the visitors a team had to be placed on every entranced to the park throughout the day, count flux of people coming in and out of the parks, and ask them necessary questions. To conduct similar search in other parks around the City it would require tremendous amount of resources and time. Additionally some parks, for example the Central Park, have lots and lots of entrances, and for the date to be accurate each would have to be covered. Impossible! Parallelly there is also a phenomenon of cultural shifting; a sport that might have been popular 5 yeas ago can be detested right now. Also immigrant groups might move from one neighborhood to a different one. In this case the accommodations previously made for them would have to be moved to whatever location they decide to go. How can NYC afford this constant changes? We ought to also mention problems caused by the language barrier. If there is over 2 million immigrants in NYC there is probably over 100 different languages spoken on daily basis around the City. Even if the government would dedicate themselves to translating signs, it would be impossible to reach every single immigrant group in NYC “In 2008 the mayor signed an executive order requiring agencies who administer “direct services” to develop a “language access plan”.” Under this law the Parks Department will expand signage in foreign languages, translate necessary documents needed to obtain permits, and provide bilingual staff, based on local population. However no additional money has been allocated to sponsor this project. How can this report be revised every single year, hoping to implement all the changes necessary if there is no additional founding? Also if there was a decision made to pay for this project, where would the money come from? We shouldn’t forget about the issue of cultural differences. The research team behind Parks for All New Yorkers: Immigrants, Culture and NYC, suggest that those signs should be translated to ease immigrants’ participation in local communities. Nevertheless for many of newcomer it is unusual to do so. In their mother country they might have not believe in strong communities, or cleaning days. For many a park might be simply a place where they go to relax, not a place where they volunteer or give their time to. In this case would the action undertaken by the City be redundant? To combat the issues mentioned earlier the organizations recommends:

  • Overcoming Language Barriers
    • To ensure timely implementations of the Language Access Plan
    • Provide translation services for all public meetings related to park projects
  • Navigating the System: Reserving Park Space for Sports and Events
    • Increase the transparency of the permitting application process by creating a time-line that clearly states due date and notification date
    • Explore opportunities to lessen or remove the insurance burden for small, volunteer-based groups
    • Offer translated permit applications on Park's website
    • Formally declare the grandfathering rule for athletic fields
    • Allow new leagues and teams access to high-demand fields, by limiting the number of years that a single group can continuously hold a permit
    • Accommodate the work schedule of new immigrants and expand permitted hours of play
  • Diversity in the Park Experience: Concession
    • Encourage local economic development, welcome diverse cultural groups, and improve concession revenues by seeking out culturally relevant food vendors for parks