Great cities deserve great parks, and there’re so many ways to make them happen. Often Central Park comes to mind, a monolithic green space carved in the center of Manhattan — New York City’s famed backyard. But some parks follow their own path, and in the case of linear parks, the park is itself a path.
The big distinction for a linear park is that they’re substantially longer than they are wide, often winding through cities and suburbs in surprising ways. They can be repurposed from old railroad beds, snake along shorelines, or meander beside canals. We’ve got two major linear parks in various stages of design and completion here in Miami — the Ludlam Trail and The Underline — but there are are plenty of others around the country that we can look to for inspiration.
One of the very first linear parks, work on Boston’s Emerald Necklace began all the way back in 1878. Originally it was imagined as simply a way to control the marshlands, but it’s become so much more. It begins close to Boston’s Downtown Crossing, curving into a bit of a U-shape to encompass a thriving park system featuring everything from hiking and sailing to a zoo and an arboretum. It welcomes 1 million visitors a year, connecting six unique parks as it’s stayed true to the vision of Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape architect who envisioned the Emerald Necklace’s design a century ago.
An old New York Central Railroad line was transformed into the High Line, a uniquely elevated linear park that snakes its way through Manhattan for nearly a mile and a half, starting in the Meatpacking District before traveling through Chelsea and ending on West 34th Street. It continues to pay homage to its railroad history, with remnants of the original rail tracks found throughout and a landscape design that features many of the hardy plants originally found growing on the old rail beds. Its elevated status gives visitors views of the city they won’t find anywhere else, such as the Urban Theater, which overlooks NYC’s busy streets.
A series of interconnected rails and trails, the BeltLine connects 45 neighborhoods with 33 miles of pedestrian-friendly paths. Along the way, existing and proposed parks create a network that encircles the city of Atlanta with green space. In all, the BeltLine features 1,300 acres of parks, with public art exhibits along the way. It’s already in use, offering classes ranging from aerobics, to yoga, to self-defense, as well as unpaved hiking trails extending through the woodlands for miles. And there’s still plenty more to be done, with renovations scheduled in phases for the next 15 years. When complete, new streetcars and light rail transit options will be available on the east and west sides of the BeltLine and at least nine more parks will be built around the trails.
The Underline will span 10 miles, following the path of the Metrorail. Actually, it would mostly be built directly under it. With funding from Miami, Coral Gables, and South Miami, as well as various community foundations, it would transform the empty and blighted terrain under the Metrorail tracks into a linear park with space for jogging, walking, and biking. Public art exhibits would be featured throughout, as well sections dedicated to exercise parks and playgrounds, and even a bike repair station.
Connecting more than 34,000 people across Miami-Dade County, the 6.2 mile Ludlam Trail would provide a safe space for walking, running, and biking within a disused section of the Florida East Coast railway. Along the way, the Ludlam Trail would link greenways, schools, parks, and transit hubs via what could be considered a bike and pedestrian highway. The proposed location for the Ludlam trail would have it run from Dadeland Mall to Miami International Airport, bypassing some of the worst suburban traffic in the county to provide pedestrians and bicyclists with a safe alternate travel route.
This article has been updated since publication.