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What Is a Park System?

The U.S. National Park System comprises nearly 60 properties.
The USS Arizona memorial at Pearl Harbor is operated by the National Park Servcie.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 07 July 2014
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The term “park system” is used in several different senses. All of these meanings involve the dedication of natural spaces to recreational use. Parks have been established by numerous human societies throughout history for recreation, entertainment, and religious uses. They vary from small, formal gardens maintained in cities for the benefit of members of the public to vast tracts of wild public land in the American West.

Park system can refer to a network of interconnected green spaces in an urban area. These park systems involve individual parks of varying sizes that are linked with paths, bridges, and other modes of access. Theoretically, people should be able to walk through the entire park system without needing to drive or take public transit from one point to another, thanks to the pathways that connect the parks. These types of park systems evolved in many cities, as some cities grew around parks, and in other cities, they were deliberately laid out by city planners who liked the idea of creating green spaces for the public to enjoy.

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A park system can also be a greenway or greenbelt. These parks are continuous tracts of land that people can use for recreation on foot, bicycles, and horses. In the case of a greenway, rather than connecting individual parks, a city dedicates a long and narrow open space that also provides trails people can use to commute between various points in the city. Greenways can be integrated into city planning, or they can be developed after the fact by taking over unused land.

Another type of park system is a system of public parks maintained by a government agency. These parks are not physically connected, but they are all overseen by the government agency in question. An example is the National Park System in the United States, a network that includes 58 National Parks. Each park has its own local staff, but is funded by the government and is protected under law.

The type of park system is usually clear from the context. Many regions have made the creation and preservation of parks an important aspect of planning and development to ensure that people will have access to green spaces in their communities. Research by a number of universities has suggested that being able to go to a park regularly has mental health benefits, and parks also benefit the ecology in the regions where they are located. Cities with extensive park systems tend to have more stable overall temperatures, cleaner air, and experience less flooding and other environmental problems because their parks provide a heat sink, drainage, and air scrubbing.

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