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Environment and History

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Environment and History

Urban Parks in the Twentieth Century

Alan Tate

Environment and History 24 (2018): 81-101. doi: 10.3197/096734018X15137949591855

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This paper summarises the history of urban parks, primarily in the United States and in western Europe, throughout the twentieth century and in the early twenty-first century. In terms of park design this shows a transition from early pastoral models, via form-driven Beaux-Arts and City Beautiful models, to function-driven modernist approaches to park design and, latterly, ecologically-driven approaches that treat parks as elements of urban green infrastructure. These transitions demonstrate the influence of the zeitgeist in the two-way transfer of approaches to park design between the two continents. These approaches to the design of urban parks reflect changes in the social and political purposes for which they were intended, evolving from being seen as escapes from infernal cities, then as places for active physical recreation (including the preparation of young men for war) and latterly as principal components of urban open space systems. Equally, the importance attached to these evolving purposes has been reflected in the public funds made available for their creation and maintenance, with post World War II suburbanisation leading to severe decline in the condition and facilities in parks in both continents. Latterly urban densification has prompted higher levels of private and central government funding, while local government funding has fallen as a result of priority being given to statutory services.

KEYWORDS: Beaux-Arts, City Beautiful, city marketing, modernism, pastoral parks, suburbanisation

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