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Here Now, Some of the World's Most Innovative Public Parks

It wouldn't be right to examine the fine art of the public park without mentioning the very first modern park in the West, La Alameda de Hércules in Seville, Spain. Constructed in 1574 and named after the rows of poplar trees, the park had two original Roman columns placed near its center. From the 19th Century through to the commencing of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, La Alameda was one of the centers of upper-class social life. With the social strife that accompanied the Civil War, the park fell into disrepair and the neighborhood became one of the city's poorest. By 1989, the immediate vicinity was home to more than 35 brothels. City-led development over the past decade has brought about a resurgence in the park's popularity, and it's become a nightlife epicenter without the red lights.

Photos: PPS

? Also in Spain, the Parc Guell in Barcelona was designed by legendary whimsical architect Antoni Gaudi. The tiled structures and lush plantings took 14 years to complete, from 1900 to 1914, but that's pretty efficient by Gaudi standards, as his Sagrada Família cathedral, begun in 1882, remains under construction. The park was declared a World Heritage Site in 1984.

? New York City's Bryant Park, like La Alameda, also required a significant revamp to make it more hospitable. Built in its current form atop the partially-subterranean stacks of the adjacent New York Public Library in 1934, the park was intended to be an elevated urban sanctuary, but instead, thanks to obscured views from the street, it became a crime-ridden backwater by the 1970s. In 1979, 150 robberies occurred in Bryant Park, since a 1981 renovation that removed high hedges and added commercial outlets to the park, there has been just one.

? The famed High Line, the frequently imitated new addition to NYC's West Chelsea neighborhood, takes an entirely different form from Bryant Park's traditional city square, but has a similar role as an urban sanctuary. Built atop the remnants of an old elevated rail line, the park wends its way through old industrial buildings and the neighborhoods new starchitecture, offering strollers a unique view of the city, past and present.

First photo: Ermanec/Panoramio; All others: PPS

? Millennium Park, in Chicago, might take less of a novel approach to the layout of the park, but no expense has been spared in integrating some of the finest public art and architecture into an urban environment. An amphitheater by Frank Gehry and the now-famous chrome "Bean" by Anish Kapoor—actually titled "Cloud Gate"—headline the impressive installations, while fountains and acres of grass provide relief from Chicago's summer swelter.

· Parc Guell [PPS]
· Bryant Park [PPS]
· The High Line [PPS]
· Millennium Park [PPS]