The Best New Urban Parks in the U.S.

September 9, 2010 29 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

With the futures of Metropolitan Park, the Shipyards and the Duval County Courthouse greenspace in question, Metro Jacksonville highlights five of America's best recently completed urban parks. These cities have been hard at work designing and implementing spectacular urban parks.

1. Chicago's Millennium Park

At a cost of $475 million, Chicago’s Millennium Park is likely one of the most expensive gardens ever built — not surprising since it was constructed on top of an active railroad. When it opened in 2004, it was four years late and hundreds of millions of dollars over budget, some of which were covered by private donations.

Yet the 24.5-acre park has rapidly established itself as one of this city’s most memorable places because of its amazing contemporary architecture, most dramatically expressed in Frank Gehry’s Jay Pritzker Pavilion.

In addition, the park includes a number of conveniences for those who use it, including a bike station, an underground performing arts center, an ice rink, and a restaurant. It’s almost a city to itself.

2. Houston's Discovery Green

Squeezed between the downtown business district and a new convention center, Houston’s 12 acre Discovery Green is meant to be the central civic space for this huge Texas city. Opened just two years ago, the Green sits atop a large parking garage, so it fulfills a function both for cars and pedestrians.

In addition to a number of tree-lined promenades, the park has a series of dog runs and natural gardens. Even better, to one side is a big lake in which kids can float model boats to be rented at the nearby boathouse.

The lawn at Discovery Green, shown here, is the ideal space for holding major public events like concerts and theater — possible almost year-round because of Houston’s warm weather. The location of the Green directly adjacent to the the Toyota Center basketball arena and the Minute Maid Park baseball stadium means that it’s easy to get from one downtown venue to another.

Inside the park are several restaurants open to people during most of the day. There’s even a rooftop bar!

Discovery Green images provided by Paul Duron at

3. St. Louis Citygarden

In 1907, landscape architect George Kessler designed for St. Louis the 19-block-long pedestrian-oriented Gateway Mall between the waterfront and the busy Union Station. The park served as the central spine of one of America’s biggest cities.

As St. Louis deindustrialized, however, the Mall lost some of its appeal and parts became decrepit. Beginning in 1999, a non-profit group called Downtown Now worked to redevelop the center city, and wanted to include a sculpture park in their plans between Eighth and Tenth Streets along the Mall.

In 2006, they got what they wanted, and the city began to assemble financing for what would become the Citygarden. The park, which opened last year, may serve as the template for the redevelopment of the entire Mall.

Citygarden is exciting to walk through because of its inclusion of a number of prominent sculptures, including a giant head and other large fantastical works designed by more than 20 artists. Surrounding the art is a collection of plants native to Missouri specifically selected to work well in an urban environment. A cafe on site has a green roof.

Perhaps the most relaxing section of the park is the fountain area, through which kids can run to escape the summer heat.

4. Dallas Arts District

Dallas, an entrepreneurial city if there ever were one, is building a 19-block neighborhood northeast of downtown called the Arts District. The area is already replete with cultural institutions like the Dallas Museum of Art, the Nasher Sculpture Center, and the Morton Meyerson Symphony Center. But not until a few months back when the Winspear Opera House and Wyly Theatre opened did the district come to full form.

It was then that Sammons Park opened in the midst of the cultural facilities as the largest green space in downtown Dallas. The highlight of the 10-acre park is a reflecting pool in front of the opera house (shown here from above), but it also includes several small gardens and a number of lawns perfect for sunny summer days. Several sculptures are scattered about.

The Arts District has yet to be completed. In addition to a number of office and residential buildings that will be added in the coming years, a brand new green space will be constructed just north of the existing opera house. "The Park" will connect two currently separated sections of downtown via a deck built on top of the Woodall Rodgers Freeway.

The $80 million, 5-acre garden was designed by James Burnett and is currently in construction. The Park will include a restaurant, a promenade, and several fountains, all of which will expand the reach of both the Arts District and downtown Dallas in general.

"The Park" renderings provided by

5. New York's Brooklyn Bridge Park

With a rapidly growing population and high densities already, New York City has virtually nowhere to put new parkland — except for on its riverfront. Over the past decade, the city has been replacing broken-down piers and abandoned industrial zones with green spaces on the Hudson and East Rivers, hoping to give New Yorkers a respite from the grayness of the urban grid.

Brooklyn is no exception to the rule, and locals have been pushing for years to have its waterfront transformed. Last week, we saw a major step in that direction with the opening of the first segment of the Brooklyn Bridge Park. The park sits under the world-famous bridge, on land used for freight shipping until the early 1980s.

The first section of the park, a 9.5-acre expanse called Pier 1, is mostly grass. But it also includes a playground and a series of steps leading towards the river called the "Granite Prospect."

Image provided by Jim Henderson at

The Brooklyn Bridge Park is far from done — with several piers yet to be renovated, only about 2/3rds of the space will be complete by 2013. The completed park will be the largest in Brooklyn since the opening of Prospect Park in 1867.

The other piers will include a variety of entertainment and recreational opportunities, including a boating area that will be available for people using non-motorized canoes and kayaks. There will also be several recreation fields.

The Park is being funded through an innovative scheme that allows developers to build a hotel and several commercial and residential structures on site. Two restaurants and concession facilities are already located on or near the site.

Renderings provided by

6. Cincinnati's Riverfront Park (coming soon)

Though its downtown is just a few hundred feet from the Ohio River, Cincinnati has turned its back on this potentially beautiful resource over the years, having constructed freeways and railyards on its borders.

Hoping to remedy those mistakes, however, the city has undertaken a 2.8-million square feet redevelopment called The Banks with plans to connect the city to the river once again with new residential and commercial buildings. On each side already stands a huge civic facility: to the east, the Great American Ballpark, and to the west, Paul Brown Stadium.

In the center will be the 45-acre Riverfront Park, designed by Sasaki Associates. The first phase of the project is expected to be complete in April next year.

The park will be a full-featured attraction with playgrounds, water fountains, and restaurants. People living and working in the buildings being erected in the surrounding area will have the opportunity for easy recreation at their fingertips.

For those living a bit further away, Cincinnati is planning a streetcar line that will extend from the University of Cincinnati to the Banks, through the heart of downtown. Sounds like a nice combination!

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Photos by Ennis Davis and Daniel Herbin