A Plea for Parks

In the mellow days of “Indian summer,” many Nebraskans head to the park for a last dose of

outdoor recreation before the chill of winter. Most of us don’t think much about our parks, or

the foresight of community builders who set aside lands for the enjoyment of future


A hundred years ago, the dedication of real estate for park use was a hotly debated issue. The

Board of Park Commissioners of Omaha sought advice from a professional–H. W. S.

Cleveland, designer of Minneapolis’s park and boulevard system. Cleveland wrote a lengthy

report, which was published in an 1899 issue of the Omaha Bee. He counseled, “With free

access to open fields and woods within a mile or two, we think of parks only as luxuries, but

when the distance is so increased that a day must be devoted to the journey in order to secure

the boon of green fields and fresh air, the sense of confinement becomes stifling and we

mourn the folly which prevented us from foreseeing and providing for the certain want.”

“Omaha already contains more than 100,000 and at present is in no pressing need of a 400-

acre park. It would be a luxury now, the want of which is not seriously felt because the

woods and fields lie all around within easy access. But it will be an urgent necessity when

the population has come to be half a million, and unless that necessity is provided for today,

its relief will then be impossible except at such a distance as will in great measure defeat the


“Your city is yet in its infancy. Its situation is such that is must of necessity become a central

point of distribution and supply for the vast regions whose resources of wealth are almost

beyond conception, and the development of which has hardly begun. In view of these

resources, and watching as you do the steady tramp of armies which year after year are

marching through your streets to their conquest, do you still lack faith in the future of your

city? Or do you shrink from proving your faith by your works? You have seen by the data I

have cited how other cities have suffered from delay. Can you hope to escape the same

penalties if you fail to take warning from their experience?”

Fortunately for all of us, Cleveland’s advice (and designs) were eventually taken, resulting in

the largest city park and boulevard system in Nebraska.

Note: Indian was used instead of Native American as was the norm at the time.

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