National Geographic : 2016 Apr
There is magic here, the delight in being not quite lost and not quite found. By Ken Otterbourg Photographs by Simon Roberts the power of parks a yearlong exploration 90 A former auto repair yard is now a marsh created by beavers damming an old canal. And on the site of an arena that was once home to the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team, there is a broad field that’s ideal for watching hawks. The built and natural worlds are in proximity, layered and competing for attention from the bikers and hikers and joggers making their ways up and down the old canal towpath. This is the urban park of today. Unlike the neatly drawn public spaces of an earlier age, these parks are reclaimed from the discarded parcels of our cities: Stranded patches of woods, abandoned military bases and airports, storm-water systems, rail lines and bridges, places where scraps of land are pieced together like quilts or strung together like beads. The experimentation is global. Rail parks, many inspired by the success of New York City’s High Line, are now beguiling fixtures in Sydney, Helsinki, and other cities. Singapore is building an artificial rain forest inside Changi Airport. At the edge of Mexico City, an immense park I am off trail, following an unnamed stream in northeast Ohio, scrambling over downed trees through a ravine of crumbling shale, the water milky with silt as it cascades over tiny falls. The sun dances with the stream and the hardwoods. When I take off my boots and splash in the small pools, I feel the cool of the mud between my toes. In the distance, just over the rise, the sound of the city comes and goes. Civilization is so close and seems so far, and in that toggle is the wonder of an urban park. The place is an offshoot of Cuyahoga Valley National Park, which stretches like a skinny ink- blot between the gridded sprawl of Cleveland and Akron. The park’s centerpiece is the resil- ient Cuyahoga River, once a punch line about environmental ruin after an oil-slicked pile of debris on the water caught fire. The park came five years later, in 1974, first mostly in name, and then slowly assembled from land across the compact valley. The grandeur is varied and comes in small doses. Sandstone cliffs are hidden in the woods.