Public Parks


Landscape architects began designing public parks as an extension of their historic role in the design of private parks and gardens – an art made famous by André Le Nôtre, in France, and Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, in England. A public park is area of open space designed for recreation and owned by the public. Some parks are natural or semi-natural state. Others are highly designed, as a man-made composition of landform, water, planting, buildings and paving.

Examples of public parks

Avenham Park by Edward Hutchison

Potters Fields by Gross Max


The public park, as a recreational greenspace in public ownership, was a nineteenth century invention. The aim was to provide a public facility for people who could not afford a private facility, as it was with public libraries and bathhouses. Typically, suburban parks  were places to rest after a week of hard physical work. Even today, many of us venture out to a park to simply sit on a bench and enjoy the sunshine. Of course, you can always put a beautiful bench in your own garden like ones found at Charming Bench Company but the public park still has it charms. City centre parks had a different role. They were places for high society to ‘take the air’, often in a carriage or on horseback.

Cities continue to need greenspace but the social role of parks is changing and the design of public parks needs to be re-considered.

  • Some parks should be conserved as ‘classic Victorian parks’.
  • Other parks should be conserved as examples of garden and park design styles from other periods.
  • Gardening has become a very popular hobby and, as the proportion of people living in flats continues to rise, opportunities can be created for people to enjoy gardening in parks
  • Observing wildlife has become increasingly popular, creating a need for more wildlife friendly management
  • Eating and drinking attract many visitors to parks. Hot drinks and snacks are becoming available but, in the UK, the sale of alcohol in parks continues to be over-restricted.
  • Some parks are now used more for exercise than rest, because we lead sedentary lives. Facilities for organised sport were provided in the twentieth century, often detracting from parks’ garden character.
  • Individual sports, like jogging, cycling, skateboarding and personal training have become more popular, as have small-group sports, like frisbee throwing
  • Parks can make substantial contributions to sustainability objectives, including (1) surface water management by detention and infiltration (2) food production (3) biofuels

Landscape architects and managers have an important role in managing change in public parks. They can be very good park managers but, in the UK, are most often involved when when the local authority applies for a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. This often results in good survey and design work. The problem is that ‘heritage’ is not always the primary role of a public park. Parks exist to serve local residents and need their involvement.
Manor House Gardens is a case in point. It was a private garden until acquired by the London County Council and opened as a public park in 1901. By 1993, when a Park User Group was formed, it was under-funded and under-used. John Hopkins, a landscape architect who subsequently played a leading role in the 2012 Olympic Park, lived nearby and offered his professional help with the design and in seeking funds from the Heritage National Lottery. The bid was successful and the Gardens have become a very much nicer place than formerly. The park users continue to work with Lewisham Council.