A park is an area of open space provided for recreational use. It can be in its natural or semi-natural state, or planted, and is set aside for human enjoyment or for the protection of wildlife or natural habitats. It may consist of rocks, soil, water, flora and fauna and grass areas, but may also contain buildings and other artefacts such as play grounds. Many natural parks are legally protected by law.
The first parks were 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 in and people out.
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 spoilt by uncontrolled development.
Government-owned or -operated parks
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 IUCN category II. The largest national park in the world is the Northeast Greenland National Park, which was established in 1974.
In the United States the concept of preserving landscapes for the pleasure of the people was established on June 30, 1864, when President Abraham Lincoln signed the bill creating the Yosemite Grant. A policy of preservation, rather than co-usage as in the National Forests, where grazing, farming and logging are licensed, was implemented four decades later during the presidential administration of Teddy Roosevelt, and Yosemite became a national park. Tourism and, later, recreation were the intended purposes of the lands Roosevelt set aside in the system. John Muir was instrumental in this effort.
These parks were termed national parks and today are looked after by the U.S. National Park Service. There are also national parks in many other countries.
In Federal systems, many parks are managed by the local levels of government, rather than by the central government. In the United States these include state parks and in Canada provincial or territorial parks, except in Quebec where they are known as National Parks (see Quebec nationalism).
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 centre 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 remodelling 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 Olmstead visited Birkenhead Park in 1850 and praised its qualities. Indeed Paxton is widely credited as having been one of the principal influences on Olmstead and Calvert's design for New York's Central Park of 1857.
Another early public park is the Peel Park, Salford, England opened on 22 August 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. 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).
Many smaller neighbourhood parks are receiving increased attention and valuation as significant community assets and places of refuge in heavily populated urban areas. Neighbourhood groups around the world are joining together to support local parks that have suffered from urban decay and government neglect.
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 neighbourhood 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.
The term park is also used in reference to industrial areas, often termed industrial parks. Some technology research areas are also called research parks. Small environmental areas, often part of urban renewal plans, are called pocket parks. The word park may also be used in community names, such as Oak Park or College Park. Sometimes the active recreational aspect may be expressed in the extreme of naming an amusement park, usually privately owned. A car park is an area of land or a building in which cars are parked.
An amusement park, or theme park is a generic term for a collection of rides and other entertainment attractions assembled for the purpose of entertainment.