A garden square is a type of communal garden in an urban area wholly or substantially surrounded by buildings and, commonly, continues to be applied to public and private parks formed after such a garden becomes accessible to the public at large. The archetypal garden square is surrounded by tall terraced houses and other types of townhouse. It is subtly distinguished from a public-access version throughout the existence of the square – the town square. Due to its inherent private history it may have a pattern of dedicated footpaths and tends to have considerably more plants than hard surfaces and/or large monuments.
At their conception in the early 17th century each such garden was a private communal amenity for the residents of the overlooking houses akin to a garden courtyard within a palace or community. Such community courtyards date back to at least Ur in 2000 BC where two-storey houses were built of fired brick around an open square. Kitchen, working, and public spaces were located on the ground floor, with private rooms located upstairs.
The conversion of many during the 20th century into public parks renders those garden squares a subset of town squares, that is those with a garden square heritage. Some remain private – they may open intermittently or regularly – but many today are open to the public at least during part of every day, serving as small parks.
London is famous for them; they are described as one of the glories of the capital. Many were built or rebuilt during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, at the height of Georgian architecture, and are surrounded by elegant townhouses. Large projects, such as the Bedford Estate, included garden squares in their development. The Notting Hill and Bloomsbury neighbourhoods both have many garden squares, with the former mostly still restricted to residents, and the latter open to all. Other UK cities prominent in the Georgian era such as Edinburgh, Bath, Bristol and Leeds have several garden squares.
Privately owned squares which survived the decades after the French Revolution and 19th century Haussmann's renovation of Paris include the Place des Vosges and Square des Épinettes in Paris. It was a fashionable and expensive square to live in during the 17th and 18th centuries, and one of the central reasons that Le Marais district became so fashionable for French nobility. It was inaugurated in 1612 with a grand carrousel to celebrate the engagement of Louis XIII to Anne of Austria and is a prototype of the residential squares of European cities that were to come. What was new about the Place Royale as it was known in 1612 was that the house fronts were all built to the same design, probably by Baptiste du Cerceau.
In town squares, similarly green but publicly accessible from the outset, is the Square René Viviani. Gardens substantially cover a few of the famous Places in the capital; instead the majority are paved and replete with profoundly hard materials such as Place de la Concorde. Inspired by ecological interests and a 21st century focus on pollution mitigation, an increasing number of the Places in Paris today many have a focal tree, or surrounding raised flower beds/and or rows of trees such as the Place de la République.
The enclosed garden terraces (French: jardins en terrain) and courtyards (French: cours) of some French former palaces have resulted in redevelopments into spaces equivalent to garden squares. The same former single-owner scenario applies to at least one garden square in London (Coleridge Square).
Outside of Paris
Grandiose instances of garden-use town squares are a part of many French cities, others opt for solid material town squares.
The Square de Meeûs and Square Orban are notable examples in Brussels.
Perhaps the most famous garden square in the United States is Gramercy Park in southern Midtown Manhattan. Famously, it has remained private and gated throughout its existence; possession of a key to the park is a jealously guarded privilege.
The tradition of fee simple land ownership in American cities has made collective amenities such as garden squares comparatively rare. Very few subdividers and developers included them in plats during the 19th century, with notable exceptions below.
Rittenhouse Square in the Center City, Philadelphia encases a public garden, one of the five original open-space parks planned by William Penn and his surveyor Thomas Holme during the late 17th century. It was first named Southwest Square.
Nearby Fitler Square is a similar garden square named for late 19th century Philadelphia mayor Edwin Henry Fitler shortly after his death in 1896. The Square, cared for through a public private partnership between the Department of Parks and Recreation and the Fitler Square Improvement Association.
In Boston tens of squares exist, some having a mainly residential use.
Australia and New Zealand
- Tim McNeese (1999), History of Civilization - The Ancient World, Lorenz Educational Press, p. 10 ISBN 9780787703875
- "Court denies couple use of garden square", Martin Evans, The Daily Telegraph, 10 July 2010.
- Council tax and garden square levies, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, London, UK.
- Open Garden Squares Weekend, London, UK.