From botanical gardens to ice skating rinks, from jogging paths to bison paddocks, a great city park can contain multitudes. But beyond their physical features, the best urban oases may well be defined by a feeling.
"Your whole sense of place changes when you go into a successful city park," says Alan Tate, author of Great City Parks. "They give you a feeling of going away without leaving town."
Tate explains how Frederick Law Olmsted, the founding father of American parks, talked about the need for "long spaces that you could dream away in"--one of the prominent features, in fact, of the Long Meadow in Brooklyn's Prospect Park, which Olmstead designed with Calverty Bowyer Vaux shortly after the Civil War.
Olmstead's work, says Tate, "was very much based on the whole idea of the mental health effects of going into green space."
But if a great city park has a transporting effect, it must also be deeply connected to its urban surroundings.