America's Coolest City Parks
Flying trapeze lessons, hot-air balloon races, swing-dance
parties: Get your kicks at America’s coolest city parks.
Sure, New York’s Central Park has a
lot to offer, but when it comes to cool, the park just can’t compete with the
thrill of swinging yourself off a 23-foot-high trapeze platform on Governors
Island. Adding to the island’s cool factor is an expanding lineup of art installations,
food-truck festivals, and rock concerts on a sandy beach—all this with skyline
Cities well beyond New York are investing in parks, either opening
new ones or getting creative with traditional favorites like Denver’s City
Park, where the Electric Prismatic Fountain puts on cutting-edge light shows. A
2010 study by the Trust for Public Land found that the most populated cities in
the country spent about $5.8 billion on parks and recreation in 2008, up by a
third since 2004.
Parks play a big role in making a city
desirable for both locals and visitors. It’s easy to see why at San Diego’s Balboa Park. You
can explore the open-air San Diego Zoo, where 4,000 animals such as giant
pandas and koalas roam in natural habitats, catch a show at the Tony
Award-winning Old Globe Theater, or take a breather on a garden bench
overlooking the Pacific. Balboa Park is the single greatest tourist attraction
in San Diego, where total park-derived tourist spending came to $114.3 million,
according to the Trust.
Discovery Green in downtown Houston has hosted more than
800 events, including performances by Kings of Leon and Kenny Chesney and foam
parties for kids, and attracted three million visitors since its 2008
opening—impressive considering the city’s population of just under 2.1 million.
“It’s a place where people can kick back and relax,” says Guy
Hagstette, the founding president of Discovery Green, who recalls seeing a
group of women coming from the nearby convention center dancing—“convention
badges, tote bags, and all”—at one of the earliest park concerts. The park’s appeal is
so strong that it has attracted over $500 million in development to revitalize
downtown, adds Hagstette.
Whether the draw is a big-name concert or a genteel garden party
serving mint juleps, America’s coolest city parks are proving they’re worth a
trip across town—and even across the country.