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How two New York City parks helped change America

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A new PBS series looks at how urban planning, including NYC parks, helped shape the U.S.

Tourists And Locals Alike Enjoy Summer On New York’s High Line Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

After exploring ten of the most important homes in American history, PBS's ongoing series 10 That Changed America continues with a survey of the ten parks that proved hugely influential on urban planning in the United States. And, unsurprisingly, two New York City parks have ended up on the list: Central Park and the High Line. And while the influence of both is irrefutable, their inclusion is interesting because the two could not be more diametrically opposed.

Central Park, which was designed and built in the mid-19th century, is one of the finest examples of a park within a city. Per the program, it was "conceived as a much-needed refuge" for New York City dwellers of the day, and its naturalistic landscape—closed-off from the city's grid, full of open meadows and rolling fields—remains an urban oasis that's been copied throughout America. The design of the park also turned its designers, Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted, into veritable celebrities; they would go on to design Prospect and Fort Greene Parks in New York, along with major projects in Buffalo, Chicago, and other U.S. cities.

In contrast, the High Line is a stunning example of adaptive reuse; instead of placing a green space in the middle of the urban environment, its planners took a piece of existing infrastructure—abandoned railroad tracks on the west side of Manhattan—and created a park on top of it. As for its influence, Robert Hammond, one of the driving forces behind the park, says that "I think it can make the crazy credible." Indeed, the "High Line effect" has rippled throughout the country, with Chicago, Philadelphia, and even Queens just some of the places that have planned rail-to-trail conversions.

10 Parks That Changed America premieres on PBS tonight at 8 p.m.; and if you think other New York City parks were more deserving of the accolades (Prospect, anyone?), drop 'em in the comments.