A large urban park may be an oasis where the city feels distant, but to succeed, a good large urban park also ties in well with neighborhoods at its borders. New York’s Central Park does this well, as does Patterson Park in Baltimore. Druid Hill Park, to its northwest, does not.
The wide roads at the edges of Druid Hill Park break the park into fragments and are a barrier to the adjacent neighborhoods. Images from Google Street View.
The borders of Central Park are clearly defined. Pedestrians easily cross into it and there is food available on three corners.
Druid Hill Park was built around the same time as New York’s Central Park. Its beautiful 750 acres offer urban forest, fields, a zoo, a reservoir, and recreation. However, at its edge, traffic engineers designed a tangle of speedy arterial roads with grassy medians not unlike route 175 that links Columbia, MD with Interstate 95. Unlike sprawling suburban Columbia, Druid Hill Park is surrounded by dense historic neighborhoods filled with row houses and apartments.
Big roads with fast moving traffic separate Druid Hill park from adjacent neighborhoods. Image from Google Maps.
In Patterson Park, the activities in the park are easily viewed from bedroom windows, traffic is slow, and the roads are easily crossable. Photo by the author.
Design is psychology
Happy City author Charles Montgomery writes, “Cities that care about livability have got to start paying attention to the psychological effect that traffic has on the experience of public space.” He explains that humans get anxious when speeds increase, because we know our bones cannot withstand a crash at more than 20 mph. This makes places like the swift roads dividing Druid Hill Park with the neighborhoods of Reservoir Hill, Parkview, Liberty Square, and Park Circle unhappy places. It may also help explain why these neighborhoods’ park-front real estate is so weak. In 2010, Gerald Neily, writing in the Baltimore Brew, made some of the arguments made in this post. Since that time, very little has changed. Cities and neighborhoods always have to evolve to prosper. The southern, western, and northern edge of Druid Hill Park are not working. The evidence is as clear as the vacant buildings and lots on the park’s edge. New York’s Central Park and Baltimore’s Patterson Park can give direction on how to design the edge of a park in an urban setting. Druid Hill Park has unrealized potential to be a much better urban park. Retrofitting its suburban design will help.