Central Park is not on this list. To include Central Park on a list of best urban parks is like putting Harry Potter on a list of best boy wizards: pretty friggin’ obvious. Central Park is arguably the standard against which we measure all others: a tidy rectangle smack dab in the middle of the Manhattan grid, 843 lush acres teeming with life -- gardens and meadows and forests, fountains and lakes, bridges and boulders for climbing, sculptures for also climbing, horse-drawn carriages, hotdog vendors, the pigeon lady from Home Alone, a zoo, a boat house, and a castle.
Back in the day, when big city folks wanted a quiet place to sit outside and just be, they’d head to the nearest cemetery. So next time you’re sprawled out on your picnic blanket in the sunshine, sipping rosé out of a thermos and watching doggos run amok, pour one out for Frederick Law Olmsted -- designer of Central Park, Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, Boston’s Emerald Necklace, among so many others -- for having the radical notion that a pleasant, public green space should not in any way involve dead people.
There are whole courses and careers devoted to the planning of parks -- they’re kind of a big deal, providing a literal breath of fresh air from the gridlock traffic and monotonous sprawl of America’s cities. For so many communities they are an essential gathering space and great equalizer, bringing people from all walks of life together to rest, mingle, and play. Here are 18 of our favorites.