Urban Parks

Until the mid 1600s urban parks were private; the exclusive domain of wealthy families and royalty. By the mid 1800s urban parks were starting to be seen as a way to serve the public and latter as a remedy to social ills caused by the Industrial Revolution and overcrowding in lower income neighbourhoods. Parks in the Romantic Period (1850 – 1890) were typically large green spaces located at the edge of a city that offered the ideal of the pastoral landscape. These “Pleasure Grounds” allowed for both active and passive – or contemplative—recreation and became playgrounds of the rich given they were too far away for the working class.

Today urban parks are increasingly being created from reclaimed lands in and around cities. Viewed as essential to the well-being of residents and as an effective way promote economic development, they represent a new imaginative era of experimentation.

This photographic narrative offers a timeline of urban parks beginning in 1660, when St. James’s Park in London was made available to the public, up to the present day. It illustrates the evolving nature of urban parks over time and the philosophies behind them, reflecting the cultural history and social values of their origin.

The project was initiated as a commission for National Geographic Magazine in 2015 and was published in the April 2016 issue, viewable online here.


Contact sheet of photographic plates (pdf)

National Geographic Magazine article (pdf)

Interview, 2017 Pictet Report (pdf)