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Urban Park blog title

New York City’s High Line park offers lessons for public space design in Montgomery County’s urban centers

More than half of the world’s population now lives in urban areas. Cities and urban-style environments will house two-thirds of humanity by 2050. Montgomery County is in sync with this trend as many of its communities, including Bethesda and Silver Spring, transform into urban places with higher densities.

As our planet urbanizes, interest in studying the effects of nature on the human mind and body is increasing. Growing evidence suggests that daily exposure to nature boosts our health, productivity and creativity. Children in particular benefit greatly from regular intervals of time spent in natural environments.

These positive results underscore the importance of urban parks, oases within the built environment where humans can get out into nature and reap its benefits. Within Montgomery County, there has been a push to ensure new developments offer the benefits of gracious public spaces where nature can continue to enrich our daily lives.

We are not alone in our efforts. Leading the movement to enhance exposure to nature within urban environments is New York City, one of the densest places in the nation. On the west side of Manhattan, the elevated, linear park called the High Line achieves this goal through creative reuse of industrial infrastructure. This 1.45-mile greenway, built on an abandoned railroad spur, also offers many lessons for any community building urban parks:


Provide human-scaled rooms for pause and contemplation


Allow people to walk freely through the space to local destinations


Cater to all ages, especially children


Engage the park with surrounding buildings


Include places to see the city and be seen


Incorporate temporary and permanent public art


Hold events to sustain interest and attract new people.


Retain the memory of the original place


Drawings by Atul Sharma

One Response to “Eight Ways to Build a Better Urban Park”

  1. Paul

    Great piece! I think it is very important for us as planners and leaders in our community to understand that what is perceived as an abundance of open space today in our county, will not last forever. We are expanding and will continue to densify, particularly at our urban, suburban and even rural centers. As we continue to do so, we must keep or even expand the number of great spaces at those centers. These open spaces will be the “living rooms” within our communities and neighborhoods, and will provide the release that all people need from the hustle and bustle of life in a more dense setting. Although these small spaces are most important to our communities, I hope we don’t forget about making sure we also have the central squares and parks where people can run around and look out from that make, New York so fantastic to experience and visit!