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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The evolution of urban public park design in Europe and America : Vancouver adaption to 1913 Hinds, Diane Beverley


The 19th Century Victorian writer, John Ruskin, made the observation, "The measure of any great civilization is its cities; and the measure of a city's greatness is to be found in the quality of its public spaces — its parkland and squares". The objective of this thesis is to trace the ideas, the development, and the evolution of the design of the public park from the eve of the movement for public parks in Victorian England, to the Vancouver park landscape in 1913. The identification and interpretation of historic design trends, social attitudes and regional influences on urban parks was based on: in the case of Europe and North America, an initial literature review of the history of the urban park — starting in the 18th Century; and in the case of Vancouver, on archival material from the Vancouver City Archives, contemporary literature and social histories of the City, and contemporary photographs of Vancouver's early parks. The first public parks in England that were originally designed for public use, were largely the result of the negative effects of the industrial revolution. The already established natural landscape design traditions for the private estates, together with the desire to improve the city living conditions, resulted in the naturalistic park, which was designed to enable people to "escape" back to nature. The historical study, showed that the first public parks were developed in the industrial North of England, where local philanthropists donated their money, and more importantly, their time toward creating a better living environment for the community. In the City of London where the effects of the industrial revolution were not as evident on. the landscape, the existing royal parks were redesigned to provide passive recreation and aesthetic pleasure for the citizens of Western London. New parks were also created, particularly in the East End of London, where accessibility to the royal parks was limited. In the early 19th century, Georges Haussmann completely redesigned the central urban structure of Paris. He and Alphand used the English Natural Landscape park as a model for the Bois de Boulogne and the Bois de Vincennes, former royal hunting parks. Although these larger urban parks reflected the English influence, Alphand created numerous smaller parks and squares throughout the city which displayed very formal characteristics and which distinguished them from the British open space system. The Englishman's traditional love of the rural countryside was transferred across the Atlantic where Fredrick Law Olmsted and his followers became the major exponents of this philosophy in the many park landscapes that they designed in North America. The Americans' most significant contribution to the park movement was the development of park systems, which involved the integration of green space into the city structure. The French sense of civic pride and flair for formality surfaced in the United States at the end of the 19th century in the Beaux Arts inspired City Beautiful Movement. While the naturalistic design of public parks in the U.S. did not change, the movement influenced the design of the entrance to: many parks and the manner in which parks were presented as an important component of the urban fabric. In Canada, many cities inherited parklands from the federal government, which were former defence posts or training grounds for the military. Canadians did not hire expert landscape architects to design these parks and consequently, the development of urban public parks was usually incremental. The study of Vancouver indicated that the acquisition of Stanley Park, Vancouver's first and most important park, was not the result of a committed park policy, but the result of the availability of the Coal Peninsula military reserve. Similarly, the acquisition of Hastings Park in 1888 was a grant from the Provincial Government, and Clark's Park was a gift to the City from a Toronto realtor in 1890. The desire to simply acquire land for park purposes was an attitude that was to become prevalent in Vancouver for many years. Between 1886 and 1913, the development of the Vancouver park landscape was largely influenced by three things: the attitudes held by the people living in Vancouver at that time; the ideas and influences of other places, primarily from Britain and the American West Coast; and the social and political make up of the community manifesting itself in various civic associations and ratepayers groups who asserted themselves in the decision making process. The basic design features of Stanley Park were developed in the initial years between 1886 and 1900. These characteristics included: the park drive running around the periphery of the park; the walking trails through the heart of the park; the Brockton Point Athletic fields; the relatively formal entrance to the park with the nearby zoo; and the Second Beach bathing area. During the very prosperous years of 1900 to 1913, these features were further developed in the style that was reflective of the current attitudes held by the influential citizens of Vancouver at that time. These years also saw the first major park expansion in Vancouver as the citizens supported the Park Board's desire to acquire land for park purposes. The acquisition and development of the neighbourhood parks were usually the result of lobbying by the ward ratepayers. Similarly, the creation of supervised children's playgrounds in the 1920's and the development of Second, English Bay, and Kitsilano Beaches in the early 1900's, happened only after particular groups provided the impetus for these facilities. In 1913, Vancouver had an expanding and pleasing park system — but a system that had luckily experienced positive incremental development. Although the Park Board lacked a development policy for Vancouver's parks, the citizens' instinctive desire for naturalistic parks guided the park system through the initial years of development and managed to overcome a major threat to the natural integrity of Stanley Park.

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