This collection of projects from around the world shows that parks can be something more than city oases and recreation arenas


Rising sustainability concerns over the last decade have brought about a fascinating new tendency in landscape concepts for development and renewal of urban and even industrial areas. Nature is coming back to cities and that's a wonderful opportunity for us to get back to it too.

Think about recreation. Recreation areas basically mean parks and public spaces to relax, walk through, and enjoy lunch breaks. Holidays are practically the same concept stretched over a week: a retreat to more or less cultivated scenery of gardens, pathways, and beaches to recover and recharge before city life sucks us back again in its ever-circulating flow.

Story continues after the gallery.

Beyond the cliché romantics of these pictures lies a deeply preconceived opposition of city and nature, which grew only in the 19th century when industrialization along with economic prosperity and mass production brought also the need for adequate infrastructure and optimal organization of space and time. Understandably, cities, which became the main centers of production, had to form clusters where public, private, and industrial spaces were components in the same network serving emerging industries. And that was the seed of a lot of the problematic phenomena we observe today: urbanization, globalization, the accompanying traffic and population overload of cities, and, of course, the environmental crisis. As things get tougher, there is a stronger social, ecological and -- yes, architectural -- impetus for change which can roughly be summarized as "going back to nature."

The Green Report

Ironically, our predominant understanding of nature shares the same 19th-century roots with the majority of problems we're facing today. This model, which draws a thick line between city and nature, public and private, production and recreation, has been exhausted for a while now, but only in the last few decades have architects, urban and landscape planners started to question the outdated dichotomy of city-nature and to conceive them as components in a wider system along with sociological, cultural, and environmental processes which constitute the reality of a place. Of course, surveying, representing, and actually making use of those factors in planning requires the active involvement of many other disciplines in the design process and, apart from all the hardships of cooperation and developing new approaches, it also requires rethinking some of the basic paradigms that define what makes a space a park, a square, a house, etc.

This collection of projects shows that parks of the future can be something more than city oases and recreation arenas: some of them are powerful environmental vessels that can influence the natural qualities of their environments and develop not in spite of, but along with, the city and its inhabitants. Others serve to regenerate a territory which over the course of time has been exhausted and become dysfunctional, lending it new meaning in the urban fabric. And there are those trying to imbue the landscape with memories and the cultural and historical heritage of spaces, which all contribute to what we perceive as "the spirit of a place" and what actually make us remember it, love it, go back to it -- and thus, keep it alive.

View the complete OpenBuildings collection: Urban Nature.

Image: The High Line Blog.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to