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From graveyards to Central Park: the role of urban parks as public space

Central Park, New York City

In the United States, Boston Common (in Boston,Massachusetts) is regularly considered to be the first public park. Dating to 1634, this plot of land in what is now central Boston was held "in common" for use by the public, primarily for cattle grazing and occasionally for militia exercises. By the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution in the early 19th century (in New England), rural garden cemeteries—such as Mount Auburn Cemetery outside of Boston (1831) were designed to provide crucial space for the increasing number of burials in growing urban areas and to provide passive recreation grounds for those who resided in these cities. By the mid-19th century, however, a very forward looking man—Frederick Law Olmsted—realized that cities needed open "natural" spaces specifically designed to provide city residents with the benefits of a stroll through nature.

When parks were radical

By Nathaniel Rich

The Atlantic

September 2016 Issue

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