Modern Urban Park Proposals

Not since the City Beautiful movement of the late 19th century and its most prominent advocates (including landscape designer Frederick Law Olmstead, designer of New York's Central Park) have designers, policy-makers and the public embraced ambitious landscape designs for public spaces. Today, as the world's foremost designers are joining efforts for the task of creating new urban green spaces, a few challenges arise: How to incorporate hardscape with landscape? How to design attractive drought-tolerant landscaping? What are the best practices in outdoor lighting? And with those challenges come solutions that each of us can apply to our own private green spaces. 

The following six projects represent the vanguard of thinking in outdoor design. The first three are already completed; the second three may never break ground, but represent visionary thinking nonetheless in the greening of public space.

High Line Park in NYC

The Elevated Park - High Line Park, New York City

Manhattan's famous High Line park (above) opened in 2009. It occupies more than one mile of a former elevated rail line. 

Modern landscape designs

The Pocket Park - Materials & Applications, Los Angeles

This small green space in Los Angeles (above) is technically private property, open in the daytime to the public. With a rotating schedule of outdoor design exhibitions, M&A serves as a park space for neighbors and an innovative hardscape studio for designers and architects. Made from a series of interlocking plates, this sunscreen by Benjamin Ball & Gaston Nogues shares its inspiration with modern ceiling lighting designs.

Modern close to ceiling lightCassini Collection Bronze 16 1/2" Wide Ceiling Light Fixture

Chicago City Hall Green Roof

The Rooftop Park - City Hall, Chicago

Chicago was a leader of urban design 100 years ago with the advent of the skyscraper and it leads again today with rooftop parks popping up across the city. Among them, the Chicago Cultural Center, the Chicago Center for Green Technology and Millennium Park. Perhaps the most prominent sign of Chicago's all-in commitment to forward-thinking urbanization is the rooftop garden atop City Hall (above). 

Vertical park designs

The Vertical Park - SkyFarm, Toronto

The SkyFarm (above) by designer Gordon Graff is a proposal to erect a 58 floor "agri-tower" in Toronto's Theatre District, intended to provide fresh, organic produce to the surrounding city with minimal carbon footprint. 

Despite boasting some of the world's largest parks located within metropolitan boundaries, the City of Los Angeles ranks far behind other major U.S. cities in parkland per capita... Which leaves designers and developers (as well as this blogger) dreaming of expansive park projects in the horizontal city. 

visionary urban park designs

The Flyover park - Park 101, Los Angeles

A joint project between several different design firms, Park 101 (above) proposes to cover a section of the 101 freeway in downtown Los Angeles with a green lid, uniting the city's civic, cultural, transportation and historic centers with vital green space.

modern urban parks

The Reclaimed Park - The Piggy Back Yard, Los Angeles

The Los Angeles River (yes, there's a river) has long been a target of reclamation projects intent on returning the notorious concrete viaduct to its natural state. The Piggy Back Yard (above) proposal transforms abandoned rail yards near downtown Los Angeles into a drought tolerant park and river flood basin.

As important as the landscape design is, it's only one step in a functioning outdoor space. Hardscape design and outdoor lighting is key to increasing access and safety. In the July/August 2011 issue of Monocle magazine, Christine Loh, CEO of the Hong Kong based think tank Civic Exchange, explained the need for reasonable lighting in city parks and streets: "Street lighting can obviously make people feel safer but it doesn't have to be bright, bright, bright."  To minimize light pollution, both amateur and pro landscape designers are increasingly turning to dark sky outdoor lighting. The examples below are attractive but unobtrusive by day, and bright but not too bright by night.

Modern dark sky lighting

Hinkley Luna Dark Sky 16" High Bronze Outdoor Wall Light

dark sky craftsman outdoor light

Hubbardton Forge Lightfall 13 1/2" High CFL Dark Sky Light

Not everyone is landscaping acres of reclaimed land or rooftops. Despite plot size, home garden or city park, the same general design principles will always apply... Use native and climate-specific flora when possible, let hardscape enhance the space without overpowering it and use lighting modestly for best results day and night.   

Images: The Architect's NewspaperAether Journal, Archinect, Growing a Greener World, Torontoist,  LAist