5 Beautiful Urban Parks in Unlikely Places

high line park manhattan

Like people, beautiful parks come in all shapes and sizes. Here are five urban parks that enhance their surroundings by sprouting up where you’d least expect them.

Cities are constantly changing. Businesses open and close. New buildings constructed while old ones are torn down. While exciting, this dynamic often leaves ugly gaps and holes. Vacant lots. Empty storefronts. Abandoned train tracks.

For many, these less-than-beautiful cityscapes are just the price of progress. For others, they represent unique opportunities to reintroduce the healing power of nature into the otherwise gray reality of city life. Now, more than ever, designers and architects are working to reclaim these abandoned areas, infusing them with life, both literally and figuratively.

If you’ve ever thought that moving to the big city meant giving up access to real grass, flowers, and fruit trees, here are five stunning urban parks that prove you can have both.

High Line Park at Night

1. The High Line – NYC

Cities don’t have a lot of extra space, so creating a new park often means getting creative. The High Line is a public park built on a historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side. It is owned by the City of New York, and maintained and operated by dedicated citizens and donors. A stroll through the park allows visitors to enjoy many species of perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees. Many of the self-seeded species that originally grew on the High Line’s abandoned rail bed were incorporated into the park that their presence inspired.

Seoul Lost River Park

2. Lost River Park – Seoul

It seems crazy, but city planners in Seoul, South Korea, once opted to bury a pristine river under a highway rather than find a different way around. For 30 years, the Cheonggyecheon Stream lay forgotten under a multi-lane freeway. Then, in 2003, officials decided to tear down the highway and restore the stream to its rightful place in the sun. In what has become Seoul’s “Lost River Park” visitors can now enjoy the more than twenty beautiful bridges that cross the stream. And according to Inhabitat, “over 75% of the material torn down from the old highway was reused to construct the urban park and rehabilitate the stream.”

Paddington Reservoir Gardens

3. Paddington Reservoir Gardens – Sydney

Australia is mostly desert, so water was very important to early settlers. A reservoir built on Sydney’s east side was a vital source of water for the rapidly growing city during the 19th century. It stopped supplying water in 1899, and went through a bit of an identity crisis–including stints as a gas station and a garage. In 2009, it reopened as the Paddington Reservoir Gardens, a unique urban park that some have called “a blend of the ancient Baths of Caracalla in Rome and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.” Original brick, timber and iron fixtures were included in the upcycled design. Visitors can also check out a sunken garden on the roof, and vibrant graffiti art in the eastern chamber.

governors island eco park

4. Eco-Park – Governor’s Island

Once a defunct military base, Governor’s Island is in the process of an eco-friendly transformation. An investment of more than $250 million from the Bloomberg Administration will turn this previously ignored island into an urban explorer’s paradise. New features will include Liggett Terrace: a sunny, six acre plaza that features moveable seating, public art, water features and seasonal plantings; Hammock Grove: 10 acres with 1,500 new trees and hammocks (sounds ama-zing); and complimentary wooden bicycles with which visitors can cruise the winding paths of the park. And that’s only a fraction of the new amenities.

edmonton overpass

5. Rail Overpass Public Garden & Orchard – Edmonton

It doesn’t look like much in the image above, but that dirty little overpass is about to become one of the city’s newest urban parks. Left over from a time when Edmonton was one of the busiest rail hubs in Canada, the “old overpass connecting 97th Street to Edmonton’s downtown rail yards has morphed into a poorly finished, unattractive concrete pedestrian walkway and bicycle path” reports ArchPaper.com. Now, three local female artists, with the help of a volunteer crew, will upgrade the bridge into an open public garden complete with edible crops from which visitors can actually pick fruit.

Images: HighLine.orgIwan Baan, Inhabitat, newtown_grafitti, Governor’s Island Park, Google Maps