More than half the world’s population now lives in an urban area.

Increasing urbanisation puts enormous pressure on food and water supply, transportation and mobility, and housing and employment. In the west, it puts pressure on other things we value, such as access to high quality parks and people places. With land in our cities under increasing pressure, where will our future city parks come from?

Responding to contemporary complexities and contradictions of creating inclusive, accessible, resilient, urban places surely demands richly varied ways of making parks.  Many recent proposals and projects coalesce around four broad themes: linkages, obsolescence, co-locations and installations, that seem to be at least partial attempts to respond to four contemporary paradoxes.

Globalisation is the first contemporary paradox.  Maligned by some, embraced by others, globalisation encourages reaching out and retreating in equal measure.  With everyone nominally participating in the same global marketplace, competition rises between different countries and different cities, but also between cities and states, states and regions, cities and suburbs and so on.

Globalisation challenges borders, and recent parks have responded by exploring ways to create Linkages. Linkage park-making creates continuous parkland systems at a city-wide, regional, national or even international scale.  Parks may be the driver for the initiative, or one of the outcomes.

Urbanisation is the second contemporary paradox. More than half the world’s population now lives in its cities, a percentage that is expected to rise.  More people also live on our home planet than ever before.  Cities throughout the world are struggling to deal with the constant influx of new residents.

The counterpoint to rising population and urbanisation is shrinkage and many places are exploring ways in which parks can form part of a response to urban Obsolescence. A hallmark of urban obsolescence and shrinkage is vacant land.  Reconsidering the role of parks and landscape is one way shrinking cities can respond to their surplus buildings, land and infrastructure.

The third contemporary paradox concerns segregation, safety, silos and space. Many cities are now finding that separating functions, land uses and governmental departments into ever-increasing silos is hindering rather than helping cities progress–it takes longer, is more expensive and more difficult to get things done.

Recent parks have explored responses of sharing, through Co-location. Co-location parks are the result of creating new parks in conjunction with other land use functions.

The fourth and final contemporary paradox is global financial crisis in an economy of consumption. Whilst many wait confidently for things to ‘bounce back to normal’, a growing minority questions whether or not we are seeing instead the birth of a ‘new normal’.

Parks have expressed both ends of the continuum, and have responded to impermanence and uncertainty with Installations. Installation parks explore and demonstrate alternative typologies by creating seasonal or temporary parks.

Proof comes in the varied ways people are already thinking about and making parks: it shows just how much latitude there is in the idea of what a park can be.

Consider, for example, the people in New Haven who can take their afternoon walk on top of a water treatment plant or the blokes in London meeting their mates to walk their dogs at a cemetery.

How about the people in San Francisco reading the paper and enjoying the sun in the middle of a trolley car turnaround because the footpaths are too crowded? Or Ljubljana’s parkland route that follows the line of a World War II military enclosure?

These and many more projects achieved what they did and simply came into existence because a group of people was prepared to challenge previously held ideas about what a park can, or should be.  Given questions, impossible challenges and rules, they reframed them from “We can’t do that because…” to “What if we did this…”.

There are numerous examples of the ways that cities, councils and communities have used innovative thinking about what parks can be to respond to the challenge of providing high quality parks and people places. As current urban challenges continue, and new ones emerge, I’m curious and excited to see what they’ll come up with next.

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