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Creative Thinking Busts 5 Myths About Public Parks

by Bruce Goldstone on April 14, 2014

A park caravan, illustrating how creative thinking can redefine public parks. (Image © Kevin Van Braak)

This portable park can park almost anywhere.
© Kevin van Braak

Redefining Parks and Other Public Spaces

Sunny day in central park, illustrating a model for public parks that creative thinking is expanding. (Image © Songquan Deng/Shutterstock)

A picture perfect park,
but not all parks have to look like this
© Songquan Deng/Shutterstock

After a long winter, public parks are once again greening up. On the first nice day, they beckon city dwellers to gather, relax, and play.

The model city park offers a grassy lawn, cozy benches, ballfields, and meandering paths.

But creative thinking is redefining what city parks can and will be. And the innovative projects that result have shattered these five common myths about what makes a park a park.

Myth #1: Parks Have to Be on the Ground

For years, we all pretty much assumed that parks had to be on the ground. After all, parks need soil, and that’s where soil is found.

But then parks began to reach for higher ground.

High Line in New York City, illustrating how creative thinking has redefined public parks. (Image © pio3/Shutterstock)

Looking for the park? Look up!
© pio3/Shutterstock

The High Line in New York City has transformed about 1.5 miles of abandoned elevated freight rails into an aerial greenway.

The High Line in New York City, illustrating how creative thinking is redefining public parks. (Image © duckeesue/Shutterstock)

The High Line gardens highlight plants that self-seeded the rails
when they were abandoned.
© duckeesue/Shutterstock

Once considered an unsightly neighborhood blight, this long, narrow strip of park has changed how visitors think about parks.

The High Line is hugely popular with both locals and visitors, offering unique city views. Even the bustling traffic below looks good when viewed from above.

Similar projects have reclaimed railways and routes around the world, including the Bloomingdale Line in Chicago, the Promenade Plantée in Paris, and the Parkland Walk in London.

But up isn’t the only direction parks can go. What about down?

An abandoned trolley terminal that might become a public park, illustrating how creative thinking is redefining public parks. (Image © TheLowline)

Will this abandoned trolley terminal in Brooklyn . . .
© TheLowline

Proposed design for The Lowline, illustrating how creative thinking is redefining public parks. (Image © TheLowline)

. . . become the world’s first underground park?
© TheLowline

Supporters of the Lowline hope to use solar technology to transform an empty terminal into an underground oasis.

Myth # 2: Parks Don’t Move

Once you build a park, it generally stays put. But some clever artists have developed mobile parks.

Designs like Kevin van Braak’s caravans put parks on the go. He thought outside the box by putting a park inside a box.

A mobile green caravan, illustrating how creative thinking can redefine public parks. (Image © Kevin van Braak.)

A portable park on wheels
© Kevin van Braak

Each traditional-looking camper is packed with surprises: artificial grass and flowers, trees, stuffed animals, and audio of bird sounds (see top picture). A barbecue makes this pocket park perfect for impromptu social gatherings wherever it stops.

Moving parks come in many sizes, too. This green-cycle, spotted on the streets of Chicago and photographed by artist Noah Scalin, brings a little bit of park with it wherever it goes.

A combination bike and lawn, illustrating how creative thinking can redefine public parks.

A pedal-powered park
© Noah Scalin

Myth #3: Parks Are Permanent

A park should be a forever thing, right? Not necessarily.

On Park(ing) Day each year, creative thinkers transform mundane parking spaces into temporary public parks. These mini-parks are designed to last for just a single day.

Park(ing) Day gardens, illustrating how creative thinking can redefine public parks. (Image © Rebar)

These parking spaces are for people, not cars.
© Rebar

Make your own plans now for this year’s event, which will take place on Friday, September 19th, 2014.

Myth #4: Green Spaces Have to Be Green

The grassy lawns and leafy trees of our mind’s-eye park may not make sense in every climate or situation.

Last fall, Container Park opened in downtown Las Vegas. Inspired by industrial shipping containers, the multi-purpose environment offers a combination of commerce and relaxation, including a huge 33-foot spiral slide for kids and their adults.

Container Park in downtown Las Vegas, illustrating how creative thinking can redefine public parks. (Image © Bruce Goldstone)

Extravagantly playful, Las Vegas’s newest park captures the city’s spirit.
© Bruce Goldstone

The park may lack greenery, but it does have green, in the form of a 55-foot metal praying mantis that shoots flames.  Designed by Kirk Jellum and Kristen Ulmer, this impressive insect first appeared at Burning Man, before it found a permanent home here.

Watch enthusiastic drummers bring the mantis to life at dusk.

If the video doesn’t display, watch it here.

Myth #5: Parks Are for Daytime

Speaking of parks and bugs, check out the giant spider by Louise Bourgeois lurking in a Tokyo park.

A Louise Bourgeois spider sculpture in a Tokyo park, illustrating how creative thinking can redefine public parks. (Image © Vincent St. Thomas/Shutterstock)

Curious beasts may seem to come alive in this Tokyo park at night.
© Vincent St. Thomas/Shutterstock

The spooky spider proves that sunlight isn’t an essential part of enjoying parks. In fact, many parks, like the Reserva Ecológica in Buenos Aires, host nighttime tours when the moon is full.

Nocturnal visits offer plenty of “Oh, I see” moments, though a lot of them don’t involve your eyes. As darkness takes away your vistas, it can also sharpen your attention to an astonishing variety of smells, sounds, and textures.

Putting Park Myths Out to Pasture

Nifty new notions have challenged stick-in-the-mud views of parks. If you Google “what is a park?” you’ll find this definition: “a large green area in town, used for recreation.”

Sounds great, Google, but kind of restrictive, isn’t it?

Because creative thinking has shown us that public parks don’t have to be large, or green, or stuck in the same spot of town all the time. Parks are really only limited by the vision and imagination of the people who think them up.

You can get involved, too! The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, dedicated to transforming former rail lines into trailways for people, is one example of a group putting these innovative ideas into action. Sustainable Cities Collective is a great resource for news and information on green building and improving urban environments.

Comment on this post below, or inspire insight with your own OIC Moment here.


One thought on “Creative Thinking Busts 5 Myths About Public Parks

  1. Pingback: Kreativnost i političari | Igor Pureta

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