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Old Posted Apr 14, 2011, 7:49 PM
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America's Coolest City Parks

Discovery Green Park, Houston
Concrete parking lots were torn up to make way for this 12-acre downtown paradise of lawns, a man-made lake, and cool features like 14-foot-high arcing water jets. Dog jumping and other wacky competitions, free classes, and fine dining at James Beard award–winning chef Robert Del Grande’s restaurants have helped lure some three million visitors since the opening in 2008. It’s a transformation that would make singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell proud.

Coolest Time to Visit: During Houston’s annual Restaurant Week (actually a month, August 1–31, 2011), whose participants include Del Grande’s park restaurant, The Grove. Its elegant, glass-walled dining room overlooks century-old live oak trees.

Grant Park, Chicago
The northwest corner, dubbed Millennium Park, made headlines when it opened in 2004 with the Frank Gehry–designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion and Anish Kapoor’s stainless-steel Cloud Gate—the shiny, reflective bean-shaped sculpture that’s become an instant city icon and popular photo-op. Compare the outdoor installations to the collections within the park’s Art Institute of Chicago, famous for Grant Wood’s American Gothic.

Coolest Time to Visit: Summer, when the lakefront park hosts two major events: Taste of Chicago, the world’s largest outdoor food festival, with treats from 70-plus local restaurants, and Lollapalooza, which celebrates its 20th anniversary in August 2011.

Patterson Park, Baltimore
A 27-foot-long platypus and 25-foot-long caterpillar are just some of the outrageous people-powered creatures that have participated in Baltimore’s annual Kinetic Sculpture Race. The park also encourages dress-up for its Great Halloween Lantern Parade and for BARCStoberfest, with contests for best pet costume and pet trick. Dogs (and their owners) like to loll about on a gently sloping hill near the restored 1890 Pagoda.

Coolest Time to Visit: May, when you can catch both the wacky Kinetic Sculpture Race and the annual Bike Jam, a daylong cycling festival for watching races and participating in public rides, including a 12-mile waterfront route.


Papago Park, Phoenix/Tempe
Orange-red sandstone geological rock formations like Hole-in-the-Rock have been a fixture of this 1,200-acre park for millennia. The Desert Botanical Garden, a more recent addition, nurtures cacti, succulents, and other desert plants—amid a rotating collection of modern art that has ranged from steel sculptures by Ludvic to a 17-piece glass installation by Dale Chihuly. The park is also home to the Phoenix Zoo, which opened a new exhibit for its orangutan family in April 2011.

Coolest Time to Visit: Sunset, when the sandstone buttes take on a deeper, more fantastic color. Arrive before 7 p.m., when entrances close (trails remain open until 11 p.m.). While the city skyline is visible from Hole-in-the-Rock, the most sweeping views are from South Mountain. Don’t forget your camera!

Governors Island, New York City
Instead of lazing in Central Park’s Sheep Meadow or Great Lawn, you now have the option to head south for eclectic art, food events, and even a sandy beach at this former military base off the tip of lower Manhattan. For circus geeks, there are flying trapeze lessons on the weekends; others rock out to awesome waterfront concerts from the likes of M.I.A. and Passion Pit. Getting to Governors Island has its own appeal: the free ferry ride from Manhattan’s Battery Maritime Building or Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 6 offers panoramic views of the skyline and the Statue of Liberty.

Coolest Time to Visit: Fridays from late May through early October, when hour-long bike rentals are free (normally $15 for adults). The island has a car-free policy, so cyclists rule the roads.

City Park, New Orleans
One of the first things park visitors notice is that these are no ordinary trees. This is the world’s largest collection of mature live oaks—majestic, sculptural-looking marvels, the oldest of which have branches that spread out twice as wide as their height (up to 75 feet). Live bands that gather at the finish line of the annual Rock ’n’ Roll Mardi Gras Marathon course lend an only-in-New-Orleans vibe.

Coolest Time to Visit: Thursday evenings (March–October), when the Botanical Garden throws genteel parties with mint juleps and performances by ensembles like the New Orleans Ragtime Orchestra.

Schenley Park, Pittsburgh
There’s a sport for everyone. Choose among 13 tennis courts, a soccer field, a running track, a high-jump area, and golf courses: an 18-hole Frisbee golf course and a traditional 4,600-yard course on rolling terrain with an indoor practice facility. Of course, you can also take it slow. Stroll by rare miniature orchids and primitive tree ferns at Phipps Conservatory or plop with a blanket on Flagstaff Hill, where movies are screened on summer evenings.

Coolest Time to Visit: During the free Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix (July 15–24, 2011). Some 200,000 visitors cheer on 150 sports cars—including prewar and MG T Series vehicles—as they navigate 23 turns (not to mention hay bales) around the park’s Paddock Drive.

Golden Gate Park, San Francisco
This iconic park—where the Summer of Love kicked off in 1967 and dreadlocked drummers still gather in circles—has gotten at least some updates. The de Young Museum reopened with a Herzog & de Meuron–designed building in 2005 that mounts blockbuster exhibits like a collection of 100-plus Picasso works on loan from Paris. The California Academy of Sciences, whose eco-friendly Renzo Piano structure debuted in 2008, has a 1.7 million plant “living” roof and restaurants by star chefs Charles Phan and Loretta Keller.

Coolest Time to Visit: Sundays, when John F. Kennedy Drive is closed to cars and the outdoor swing-dance party, Lindy in the Park, takes place (11 a.m.–2 p.m., with free beginner lessons at noon).

Forest Park, St. Louis
A one-stop destination for many of St. Louis’s finest cultural institutions: the McDonnell Planetarium; the Cass Gilbert–designed Saint Louis Art Museum, with paintings by mid-20th-century masters like Andy Warhol and a 56-foot-tall steel tree by contemporary artist Roxy Paine; and the Muny, the country’s oldest outdoor musical theater. With 500 more acres than Central Park, it has plenty of room left for picnic areas, including covered pavilions with barbecue pits.

Coolest Time to Visit: September, when dozens of colorful hot-air balloons take to the sky, originating from Central Field, for the annual Great Forest Park Balloon Race.

City Park, Denver
More than 125 years ago, locals first gathered around the park’s bandstand on Ferril Lake to listen to live concerts. The City Park Jazz Summer Concert Series continues that tradition, attracting tens of thousands of concertgoers annually with 10 free jazz, blues, and salsa shows including the 18-piece Metropolitan Jazz Orchestra and local salsa band La Candela. Another updated relic: Ferril Lake’s Electric Prismatic Fountain, whose water patterns change every five minutes, was completed in 2008 to replace the 1909 original.

Coolest Time to Visit: Summer evenings. The jazz concert series takes place on Sundays at 6 p.m., while the Electric Prismatic Fountains’s spectacular lighted shows—employing 116 colored LED fixtures—start each day at dusk.

Balboa Park, San Diego
The sprawling 1,200-acre Balboa Park packs in more than two dozen cultural institutions, including the Tony Award–winning Old Globe theater, the San Diego Museum of Art, and the famed San Diego Zoo, one of the world’s few zoos with resident giant pandas. The park overlooks a seriously beautiful backdrop (the Pacific Ocean) and has buildings so stunning that some exteriors were filmed by Orson Welles to represent the grand fictional estate Xanadu in Citizen Kane.

Coolest Time to Visit: Spring, when the zoo animals are more active and the park’s magnificent gardens bloom.

Piedmont Park, Atlanta
The concert lineup here has included Sir Paul McCartney, the Eagles, and the Dave Matthews Band—and those are just the rock legends. Jazz takes over for the annual May festival, and music also plays a part in the Atlanta Dogwood Festival, which celebrates its 75th anniversary in 2011 with more than 70 sets (from a Native American flute performer to a Turkish folk dance group). Groundbreaking on a 53-acre extension started in 2008 and has already produced a bocce court, an aquatic center with lap lanes, and a children’s splashing area.

Coolest Time to Visit: Memorial Day Weekend is the high point of the annual Atlanta Jazz Festival, which has seen legends like Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie perform.

http://www.travelandleisure.com/arti...est-city-parks
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  #2  
Old Posted Apr 14, 2011, 7:54 PM
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Would have been more effective as a discussion if there were actually pictures in addition to text.
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Old Posted Apr 14, 2011, 7:54 PM
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No Central Park or Boston Common? And that Houston park is 12 acres... that's like a pocket park. Whatev.
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Old Posted Apr 14, 2011, 7:58 PM
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No Central Park or Boston Common? And that Houston park is 12 acres... that's like a pocket park. Whatev.
Exactly, where's Griffith Park? With over 4,000 acres, including the LA Zoo, Griffith Observatory, and Greek Theatre.
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Old Posted Apr 14, 2011, 7:59 PM
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The Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs gets my vote.
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Old Posted Apr 14, 2011, 8:01 PM
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How could they not mention the Zoo, the Science Center, the History Museum and the Boat House in Forest Park, St. Louis?

And the absence of Central Park and Boston Common is quite strange.
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Old Posted Apr 14, 2011, 8:08 PM
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Originally Posted by STLgasm View Post
How could they not mention the Zoo, the Science Center, the History Museum and the Boat House in Forest Park, St. Louis?

And the absence of Central Park and Boston Common is quite strange.

Boston Common is having too much fun to care:



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Old Posted Apr 14, 2011, 8:18 PM
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Griffith Park is definitely one of the best urban parks in the country as it is one that offers still an authentic sense of "wilderness" but yet you are only minutes from the city.





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Old Posted Apr 14, 2011, 8:40 PM
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August might have the most activities in Discovery Green in Houston (and guys, it IS a very cool park!), but my god, it's the WORST time to be there in terms of the weather! A typical Houston August is around 95 degrees, 70% humidity all day, MAYBE getting down to 85 degrees at night with nearly 100% humidity!

I break out into a sweat just thinking of that weather!

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Old Posted Apr 14, 2011, 8:48 PM
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There are obviously some notable absences when Central Park and Boston Common are missing.

Though I really enjoy it and think it is a nice park, Schenley Park in Pittsburgh should not make this list, in my opinion. There are some decent sports facilities as was noted (though all of the 13 tennis courts are cracked), and some jogging/walking paths through the wooded ravines, to go with the other attractions (Phipps Conservatory mainly)... however, the park still needs A LOT of work.

The Panther Hollow "lake" (really a large concrete-lined pond) is a lifeless, aquatic dead zone full of muck and cannot be used by the public. The Westinghouse Fountain and Pond is dry and completely overgrown with weeds. the Christopher Columbus Fountain is completely dry. Panther Hollow park area is nearly inaccessible and not well maintained, and neither are the trail areas within the ravine. Additionally, the roads which cut through the park basically serve as high speed highways and are quite dangerous to bike on.

It could be really cool park, and improvements are underway, but it's going to take some time. Schenley Plaza is actually the coolest part of the park (the new restaurant U/C right now on the lawn on the right side of the top photo will make it an even more appealing urban gem), though it is technically not really part of Schenley Park proper.

Schenley Plaza:




Especially considering that it used to be this until just a few years ago:



photo credits: pittsburghparks.org
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Old Posted Apr 14, 2011, 8:56 PM
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maybe semantics, but when they say "city parks" I think "urban parks" and I don't consider Griffith or Balboa to be "urban parks". They are surrounded by the city perhaps, but not easily accessible in an urban way (ie walking). Central Park, Boston Common, Grant, Prospect, ... these are true city parks, not just parks in a city.
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Old Posted Apr 14, 2011, 9:31 PM
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maybe semantics, but when they say "city parks" I think "urban parks" and I don't consider Griffith or Balboa to be "urban parks". They are surrounded by the city perhaps, but not easily accessible in an urban way (ie walking). Central Park, Boston Common, Grant, Prospect, ... these are true city parks, not just parks in a city.

That makes sense, but I wonder how many ppl here have never heard of Griffith Park until I posted those pictures?
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Old Posted Apr 14, 2011, 9:45 PM
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That makes sense, but I wonder how many ppl here have never heard of Griffith Park until I posted those pictures?
I think the population of SSP is generally familiar with Griffith Park. But I'm with brickell, it's not really an "urban park". It's a park within a city, but when I think of "urban parks" I think of something with a highrise streetwall at its edge.

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Old Posted Apr 14, 2011, 9:49 PM
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Quote:
when they say "city parks" I think "urban parks" and I don't consider Griffith or Balboa to be "urban parks". They are surrounded by the city perhaps, but not easily accessible in an urban way (ie walking). Central Park, Boston Common, Grant, Prospect, ... these are true city parks, not just parks in a city.
Agreed. Also why I'm not a great fan of my own city's Rock Creek Park... although it's hard to leave the National Mall off a list like this (I suppose it's a national park as opposed to a city park though).
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Old Posted Apr 14, 2011, 10:04 PM
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Agreed as well. Balboa Park is amazing, but it's not an "urban" or "city" park. Same for Griffith. When it comes to these kinds of parks, places like Discovery Green in Houston actually do compare quite nicely with places like Grant in Chicago or Boston Common. They serve the same purpose (green space in the middle of town, a mixed-use green space at that!), and they're all very well taken-care of. Of course Boston Common is very historic, as opposed to Grant or Discovery Green (which is very, very new, only being finished literally a year or so ago!), but they all serve the same general purpose.

I think the Mountain Parks in Phoenix more or less belong in the same group as Griffith, Balboa, or a host of other large city-owned parks that really aren't in the middle of the city itself. They're amazing places, but they're not designed for the same purposes as the true urban parks in the middle of town.

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Old Posted Apr 14, 2011, 10:11 PM
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I also agree actually.

I think MacArthur Park in LA's central core may see a brighter future as the area gets cleaned up (it's still sorta gang infested right now as I saw on National Geographic with Lisa Ling). However, the setting is urban and walkable (next to the Purple/Red Lines) and is actually quite nice.



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Old Posted Apr 14, 2011, 10:12 PM
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Agreed. Also why I'm not a great fan of my own city's Rock Creek Park... although it's hard to leave the National Mall off a list like this (I suppose it's a national park as opposed to a city park though).
Yeah, but the mall isn't... really a park at all. It's a a long rectangular lawn with several allees of trees on either side. What makes it significant are the buildings around it, and obviously its significance as a national-scale town common. The only part that I would consider to be park-like is Constitution Gardens... but this is far from residential areas or rail stations, so my experience is that it's typically filled with tourists and visitors to the Vietnam/Lincoln memorials.
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Old Posted Apr 14, 2011, 10:12 PM
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Discovery Green is very nice. And I also have always thought that Hermann Park in Houston is a pretty cool urban park too.





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Old Posted Apr 14, 2011, 10:18 PM
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Hermann Park is definitely the most truly special of Houston's parks, in my opinion. And being right in between the midtown/museum district and the gigantic Texas Medical Center, it definitely qualifies as an urban park!

Discovery Green is a pretty special place as well, it's just a completely different animal than Hermann Park.

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Old Posted Apr 14, 2011, 10:46 PM
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Cincinnati's Eden Park is another one of those "Not quite urban because you have to drive there but still cool nonetheless" per Brickell's parameters.
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