The State Park Movement in America: A Crictical Review

By Ney C. Landrum | Go to book overview

2
The Nature of Parks

Parks: The Search for Meaning

America’s public park movement was firmly established in the nineteenth century, but the impressive accomplishments of that time could not even hint at the explosive growth that would take place in the century that followed. Over the past five decades, especially, the numbers and forms of spaces that have taken on either the name or the identity of “parks” have increased dramatically in this country, at every level of government. This very proliferation, though, while no doubt producing much public benefit, also generated more than a little confusion about the fundamental purpose being served. Indeed, with so many projects undertaken with such widely variant objectives, one might reasonably wonder just what a park is, and what it is really supposed to do.

Ask a dozen people to describe a “park,” and you’ll likely get twelve different answers. But even if individual perceptions vary, there will surely be almost unanimous agreement that parks are “good.” They conjure up pleasant images of peaceful surroundings, of happy children at play, of spectacular natural scenery, of contented seniors relaxing on a bench, of vast open spaces, of welcome patches of green amidst the city concrete, of serious nature lovers plying their various avocations, of stately formal gardens—the variations on the theme are endless.

Through all of this variety, though, where is the common thread? Why are there so many different kinds of parks, and so many programs to provide them? All of them are manifestly popular with the people, so they obviously require no further justification from the user’s standpoint. On the other side of the coin, though, the numerous providers of parks, public and private, seem always to be seeking a

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