A park is an area of natural, semi-natural, or planted space set aside for human enjoyment and recreation or for the protection of wildlife or natural habitats. It may consist of grassy areas, rocks, soil, and trees, but may also contain buildings and other artifacts such as monuments, fountains or playground structures. In North America, many parks have fields for playing sports such as soccer, baseball and football, and paved areas for games such as basketball. Many parks have trails for walking, biking and other activities. Some parks are built adjacent to bodies of water or watercourses, and these parks may comprise a beach or boat dock area. Often, the smallest parks are in urban areas, where a park may take up only a city block or less. Urban parks often have benches for sitting and they may contain picnic tables and barbecue grills. Parks have differing rules regarding whether dogs can be brought into the park: some parks prohibit dogs; some parks allow them with restrictions (e.g., use of a leash); and some parks, which may be called "dog parks," permit dogs to run off-leash.
The largest parks can be vast natural areas of hundreds of thousands of square kilometres (thousands of square miles), with abundant wildlife and natural features such as mountains and rivers. In many large parks, camping in tents is allowed with a permit. Many natural parks are protected by law, and users may have to follow restrictions (e.g., rules against open fires or bringing in glass bottles). Large national and sub-national parks are typically overseen by a park ranger or a park warden. Large parks may have areas for canoeing and hiking in the warmer months and, in some northern hemisphere countries, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in colder months.
The first parks were English deer parks, land set aside for hunting by royalty and the aristocracy in medieval times. They had walls or thick hedges around them to keep game animals (e.g., stags) in and people out. It was strictly forbidden for commoners to hunt animals in these deer parks.
These game preserves evolved into landscaped parks set around mansions and country houses from the sixteenth century onwards. These may have served as hunting grounds but they also proclaimed the owner's wealth and status. An aesthetic of landscape design began in these stately home parks where the natural landscape was enhanced by landscape architects such as Capability Brown. As cities became crowded, the private hunting grounds became places for the public.
With the Industrial revolution parks took on a new meaning as areas set aside to preserve a sense of nature in the cities and towns. Sporting activity came to be a major use for these urban parks. Areas of outstanding natural beauty were also set aside as national parks to prevent their being spoiled by uncontrolled development.
In some parks or time periods with high pollen counts, parks tend to be avoided.
Park design is influenced by the intended purpose and audience, as well as by the available land features. A park intended to provide recreation for children may include a playground. A park primarily intended for adults may feature walking paths and decorative landscaping. Specific features, such as riding trails, may be included to support specific activities.
The design of a park may determine who is willing to use it. Walkers may feel unsafe on a mixed-use path that is dominated by fast-moving cyclists or horses. Different landscaping and infrastructure may even affect children's rates of use of parks according to gender. Redesigns of two parks in Vienna suggested that the creation of multiple semi-enclosed play areas in a park could encourage equal use by boys and girls.
Parks are part of the urban infrastructure: for physical activity, for families and communities to gather and socialize, or for a simple respite. Research reveals that people who exercise outdoors in green-space derive greater mental health benefits. Providing activities for all ages, abilities and income levels is important for the physical and mental well-being of the public.
Design for safety
Parks need to feel safe for people to use them. Research shows that perception of safety can be more significant in influencing human behaviour than actual crime statistics. If citizens perceive a park as unsafe, they might not make use of it at all.
There are a number of features that contribute to whether or not a park feels safe. Elements in the physical design of a park, such as an open and welcoming entry, good visibility (sight lines), and appropriate lighting and signage can all make a difference. Regular park maintenance, as well as programming and community involvement can also contribute to a feeling of safety.
Women as a measure of safety
In the United States, the standard for safety in parks is increasingly measured by whether women feel safe in that particular location. This was originally identified by the urban sociologist William H Whyte in his studies decades ago in New York. Research reveals that women have a different sense of safety compared to men, whether they are walking in their neighborhood or in a park. Dan Biederman, President of the Bryant Park Corp. stated "Women pick up on visual cues of disorder better than men do.... And if women don't see other women, they tend to leave." Whether or not a woman feels safe can determine how much physical activity she has and if it will reach the recommended level for good health and disease prevention. Park designers and planners can take several steps to increase women's safety from sexual assault or other assault, including providing sufficient lighting, having patrols by police officers or other safety officials, and providing emergency buttons for summoning assistance.
Parks owned or operated by government
A national park is a reserve of land, usually, but not always declared and owned by a national government, protected from most human development and pollution. Although this may be so, it is not likely that the government of a specific area owns it, rather the community itself. National parks are a protected area of International Union for Conservation of Nature Category II. This implies that they are wilderness areas, but unlike pure nature reserves, they are established with the expectation of a certain degree of human visitation and supporting infrastructure.
While this type of national park had been proposed previously, the United States established the first "public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people", Yellowstone National Park, in 1872, although Yellowstone was not gazetted as a national park. The first officially designated national park was Mackinac Island, gazetted in 1875. Australia's Royal National Park, established in 1879, was the world's second officially established national park.
This section requires expansion. (June 2014)
In some Federal systems, many parks are managed by the subnational levels of government. In Australia, Brazil, the United States, and some states in Mexico, these are state parks. In Canada, they are provincial or territorial parks.
A park is an area of open space provided for recreational use, usually owned and maintained by a local government. Parks commonly resemble savannas or open woodlands, the types of landscape that human beings find most relaxing. Grass is typically kept short to discourage insect pests and to allow for the enjoyment of picnics and sporting activities. Trees are chosen for their beauty and to provide shade.
Some early parks include the la Alameda de Hércules, in Seville, a promenaded public mall, urban garden and park built in 1574, within the historic center of Seville; the City Park, in Budapest, Hungary, which was property of the Batthyány family and was later made public.
The earliest purpose built public park, although financed privately, was Princes Park in the Liverpool suburb of Toxteth. This was laid out to the designs of Joseph Paxton from 1842 and opened in 1843. The land on which the park was built was purchased by Richard Vaughan Yates, an iron merchant and philanthropist, in 1841 for £50,000. The creation of Princes Park showed great foresight and introduced a number of highly influential ideas. First and foremost was the provision of open space for the benefit of townspeople and local residents within an area that was being rapidly built up. Secondly it took the concept of the designed landscape as a setting for the suburban domicile, an idea pioneered by John Nash at Regent's Park, and re-fashioned it for the provincial town in a most original way. Nash's remodeling of St James's Park from 1827 and the sequence of processional routes he created to link The Mall with Regent's Park completely transformed the appearance of London's West End. With the establishment of Princes Park in 1842, Joseph Paxton did something similar for the benefit of a provincial town, albeit one of international stature by virtue of its flourishing mercantile contingent. Liverpool had a burgeoning presence on the scene of global maritime trade before 1800 and during the Victorian era its wealth rivalled that of London itself.
The form and layout of Paxton's ornamental grounds, structured about an informal lake within the confines of a serpentine carriageway, put in place the essential elements of his much imitated design for Birkenhead Park. The latter was commenced in 1843 with the help of public finance and deployed the ideas he pioneered at Princes Park on a more expansive scale. Frederick Law Olmsted visited Birkenhead Park in 1850 and praised its qualities. Indeed, Paxton is widely credited as having been one of the principal influences on Olmsted and Calvert's design for New York's Central Park of 1857.
Another early public park is the Peel Park, Salford, England opened on August 22, 1846. Another possible claimant for status as the world's first public park is Boston Common (Boston, Massachusetts, USA), set aside in 1634, whose first recreational promenade, Tremont Mall, dates from 1728. True park status for the entire common seems to have emerged no later than 1830, when the grazing of cows was ended and renaming the Common as Washington Park was proposed (renaming the bordering Sentry Street to Park Street in 1808 already acknowledged the reality).
Parks can be divided into active and passive recreation areas. Active recreation is that which has an urban character and requires intensive development. It often involves cooperative or team activity, including playgrounds, ball fields, swimming pools, gymnasiums, and skateparks. Active recreation such as team sports, due to the need to provide substantial space to congregate, typically involves intensive management, maintenance, and high costs. Passive recreation, also called "low intensity recreation" is that which emphasizes the open-space aspect of a park and allows for the preservation of natural habitat. It usually involves a low level of development, such as rustic picnic areas, benches and trails.
Many smaller neighborhood parks are receiving increased attention and valuation as significant community assets and places of refuge in heavily populated urban areas. Neighborhood groups around the world are joining together to support local parks that have suffered from urban decay and government neglect. Passive recreation typically requires little management and can be provided at very low costs. Some open space managers provide nothing other than trails for physical activity in the form of walking, running, horse riding, mountain biking, snow shoeing, or cross-country skiing; or sedentary activity such as observing nature, bird watching, painting, photography, or picnicking. Limiting park or open space use to passive recreation over all or a portion of the park's area eliminates or reduces the burden of managing active recreation facilities and developed infrastructure. Many ski resorts combine active recreation facilities (ski lifts, gondolas, terrain parks, downhill runs, and lodges) with passive recreation facilities (cross-country ski trails).
A linear park is a park that has a much greater length than width. A typical example of a linear park is a section of a former railway that has been converted into a park called a rail trail or greenway (i.e. the tracks removed, vegetation allowed to grow back). Parks are sometimes made out of oddly shaped areas of land, much like the vacant lots that often become city neighborhood parks. Linked parks may form a greenbelt.
In some countries, especially the United Kingdom, country parks are areas designated for recreation, and managed by local authorities. They are often located near urban populations, but they provide recreational facilities typical of the countryside rather than the town.
Private parks are owned by individuals or businesses and are used at the discretion of the owner. There are a few types of private parks, and some which once were privately maintained and used have now been made open to the public.
Hunting parks were originally areas maintained as open space where residences, industry and farming were not allowed, often originally so that nobility might have a place to hunt – see medieval deer park. These were known for instance, as deer parks (deer being originally a term meaning any wild animal). Many country houses in Great Britain and Ireland still have parks of this sort, which since the 18th century have often been landscaped for aesthetic effect. They are usually a mixture of open grassland with scattered trees and sections of woodland, and are often enclosed by a high wall. The area immediately around the house is the garden. In some cases this will also feature sweeping lawns and scattered trees; the basic difference between a country house's park and its garden is that the park is grazed by animals, but they are excluded from the garden.
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