On a recent Saturday afternoon, the usually quiet lawn at Barnsdall Art Park in Los Angeles resembled a bustling town square.
Couples reclined on the grass. Dogs wove through crowds. A group of friends had pizza delivered directly to the East Hollywood park. Another brought a folding table, set out appetizers and hosted a cocktail party.
Over the past year and a half, parks have become a lifeline, places to maintain some normalcy even when, like now, cases of the coronavirus are surging. More than ever, parks are where we go on dates, jog laps, watch stand-up and take our kids to meet up with their classmates.
This isn’t the first time parks have shone in a public health crisis, Sara Jensen Carr, an architecture professor at Northeastern University, told me: The initial popularization of public parks in the United States was a response to devastating epidemics.
With the growth of cities during the Industrial Revolution came outbreaks of yellow fever and cholera, largely due to mosquitoes and contaminated water sources. Yet many believed that these diseases spread through dirty air, Carr said.
That prompted a push for dedicated green space that would provide a refuge from overcrowded cities and offer clean air to breathe, she said.
“The planners and the designers were very much sort of using the language of public health to build parks,” said Carr, who recently wrote a book on how disease outbreaks influenced the design of American cities. “The really important thing too were the fact that the parks would bring mental respite to people who were very busy and working in the city.”