Go Outside and Play at an Urban Park for All Ages

From the U.S. north and midwest, here are 5 of the best examples of what an urban park can be.

Every summer, a transformation takes place in cities across the country. Leveraging space in underused areas to help revitalize cities, government entities and nonprofits has begun creating recreational places as amenities for locals while providing a new venue for musicians, artists and performers to share their work. Combining activities that kids love — think water, swings and games — with entertainment and accommodations that adults expect, like comfortable seating, artisanal food and craft brews, every urban park here is designed to appeal to all ages.

Tree house Governors Island urban ParkImage courtesy of Governor’s Island.

1.  Governors Island (New York, NY)

Imagine 172 acres strategically located between Brooklyn and Manhattan with something for everyone, such as bike rentals, grills, picnic areas, tree houses, climbing structures and mini golf. Then add a big dose of the talent that makes New York truly unique by inviting artists, designers, musicians and performers to create public art projects, free hands-on art activities and performances, and you have Governors Island.

Old Timey Music Urban ParksImage courtesy of Governors Island.

With festivals nearly every weekend that range from family festivals to historic-costumed events like the Jazz Age Lawn Party, to celebrations of creativity with interactive art events like FIGMENT and the Poetry Festival, there’s almost always something going on. And even when there’s not a festival happening at this urban park, there are lots of activities, exhibitions and performances to take in. Challenge your perceptions with holograms, optical projections and experimental visual media at the Holocenter Summer Museum or do something you’ve been yearning to do since childhood: paint, draw or write on the walls of a house with Writing on It All. A new landscape feature of the urban park, The Hills, will open on July 19, 2016, with spectacular views, permanent sculpture and four slides, including the longest slide in New York City.

Governor’s Island opened to the public May 28, 2016.

Slide HillImage courtesy of Governor’s Island.

2. Lawn on D (Boston, MA)

Lawn on DImage courtesy of the Boston Magazine website.

This limited-time interactive outdoor space returns with expanded food options, games and programming from day and evening concerts, festivals, movies and more. The Lunch Break on D series at this urban park has students from the renowned Berklee College of Music playing a variety of genres. Maybe you will see the next Melissa Etheridge, John Mayer or Imagine Dragon (all Berklee alumni). An audience favorite returns with Swing Time, sculptural swings with solar-powered LED lights inside. Swing, then swing higher or faster and the colors change at this urban park. Designed by Eric Howeler and J. Meejin Yoon, Swing Time has Bostonians hooked on dramatic nighttime selfies.

3. Delaware River Waterfront (Philadelphia, PA)

DenverImage courtesy of the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation website.

Along the Delaware River, a string of recreational spaces has become a destination, from Spruce Street Harbor Park, to the Great Plaza at Penn’s Landing and the Blue Cross RiverRink Summerfest.

At the Spruce Street Harbor Park, colorful hammocks are hung between the towering trees, water fountains offer a quick splash, and games including bocce, ping pong, shuffleboard, and giant-sized chess, Connect Four and Jenga (because oversized game pieces are infinitely more fun than normal-size games). Shipping containers along the boardwalk house classic arcade favorites like Skee Ball and Ms. Pacman, and floating gardens serve not only to transport visitors to a lusher, more beautiful locale but actually help clean the river too.

The Great Plaza at Penn’s Landing has a staggering array of live events including free concerts like Smooth Jazz Summer Nights and the Philadelphia Orchestra, festivals and movie screenings. Blue Cross RiverRink Summerfest continues the hugely popular winter urban park skating rink into the summer with a roller skating rink and miniature golf course designed by local artists.

4. Public Square (Cleveland, OH)

Cleveland Urban ParkImage courtesy of the Cleveland City Planning Commission website.

Opening this June, the revitalized Public Square in downtown Cleveland unites four square blocks into one unified recreational space with pedestrian pathways, green spaces for concerts and events, areas to sit and lounge, a pond where children can play and a café. Designed by James Corner, the landscape architect behind the innovative High Line in Manhattan, Public Square hasn’t yet announced its program schedule, but opening July 18, 2016, the inaugural art installation will be an invasion of 376 large-scale creatures by the Cracking Art Group. Snails, swallows, wolves, meerkats and frogs plus a bright red elephant, in a nod to the Republican convention that will be held there, will populate the Public Square and surrounding areas, the Mall, the Cleveland Public Library and Eastman Reading Garden. Made of brightly colored recycled plastic, some of the creatures at this urban park will be portable for children (and adults) to play with, others will be weighted, but all will provide pops of colorful fun.

Cracking Urban ParkImage courtesy of the Cracking Art Group via the LAND Studio website.

5. MOMA PS1’s Young Architect Program (New York, NY)

MOMAPS Urban ParkRendering of Escobedo Solíz Studio’s Weaving the Courtyard. Image courtesy of Escobedo Solíz Studio via MOMA PS1.

In its 17th edition, MOMA PS1’s Young Architect Program created the idea of urban recreation with its competition for young architects to create a site-specific architectural intervention of the courtyard of MOMA PS1, a contemporary art space.

This year, Mexico City’s Escobedo Solíz Studio is the architect, with its design, Weaving the Courtyard, a woven “cloud” canopy, landscaped seating and a reflecting pool for cooling off. The architects describe the design as “neither an object nor a sculpture standing in the courtyard, but a series of simple, powerful actions that generate new and different atmospheres.” Warm Up 2016, a series with live music and DJs from around the world, activates the courtyard Saturdays from June 11 through August 27, 2016. Check out the lineup here.

What’s your favorite urban park in your area? Tell us about it in the comments. end


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