Cincinnati can boast a substantial amount of urban public park space,Â totaling over 5,000 acres and accounting for 10% of our cityâ€™s total land space. Long understood as a competitive advantage in attracting and retaining both people and businesses, the urban public park movement in Cincinnati didnâ€™t actually begin until after the Civil War. In fact, Cincinnati went borderline “park crazy” for a number of years, jumping from 470 acres in 1907 to nearly 2,000 acres less than five years later.
In 1860, Cincinnati was considered one of the most densely populated and fastest growing cities in the United States (an average of 30,000 people/square mile) and remained at a severe disadvantage without any public parks. Influenced by the ideals put forward in Romantic literature, nature was generally believed to make people happier, healthier, and more moralâ€”characteristics that make citizens more governable and socially stable. Against the backdrop of the Industrial Revolution, national expansion and massive urbanization, Americans began preserving land for public preservation and recreation, a notion unheard of (and legally not permitted in Ohio) before the 1850s. People also began to hold the government accountable for providing its citizens with exposure to the natural environment; something believed to be more important than public education or sanitation at the time.
Although Cincinnatiâ€™s first park is often cited as Piatt Park, this land, donated in 1817, was initially allocated for a public market and did not formally become a park until 1868. Cincinnati received its first “Peopleâ€™s Park” with Eden Park, which opened on July 1, 1870. It was the second park in the United States, after Central Park, which embodied the concept of a public space designed as a naturalistic landscape. Designed by renowned urban landscape designer Adolph Strauch (who is also responsible for Spring Grove Cemetery), Eden Parkâ€™s design incorporated the functional elements of the park (which also served as the cityâ€™s reservoir system), blending the architectural elements into the landscape while preserving most of the parkâ€™s original trees and dramatic hills. Strauchâ€™s objective was to design graceful drives throughout the park, which would give visitors ” an ever-changing view of the cityâ€¦a panorama of great scope and rare beauty.”
Eden Park continues to be one of the most beautiful and well-visited places in Cincinnati. It holds many of the Cityâ€™s cultural attractions including the Cincinnati Art Museum, Krohn Conservatory and Playhouse in the Park.
Side Note: Although it may seem morbid by todayâ€™s standards, prior to the late-1800s, cemeteries were thought to be the place for “contemplative recreation” and as a major U.S. city, constructing elaborate cemeteries through private funds (i.e. Spring Grove Cemetery) was often seen as a critical piece of remaining competitive as a city. Also important to note, prior to Eden Park, the citizens of Cincinnati were relying on the untreated and increasingly polluted Ohio River as their exclusive source for drinking water.
Photos by Jon Keeling, Eden Park Series http://www.keelingphoto.com/