Art Lesson | 10 Parks that Changed America Curriculum

Art Lesson

Design a New Use for a Disused Structure

Gas Works Park (credit Matt Hagan)
The High Line (credit Jon Smith)


In this lesson, students will design a park plan for a disused artifact in their town. The artifact could be an elevated highway or section of highway, vacant mall, abandoned factory, etc.

Grades: 6 – 12
Time: 2 periods


This lesson addresses selected standards from the McRel Visual Arts Standards.

  • Level III (Grades 5 – 8)
    Standard 1: Understands and applies media, techniques, and processes related to the visual arts.
    Standard 5: Knows different subjects, themes, and symbols (through context, value, and aesthetics) which convey intended meaning in artwork.
  • Level IV (Grades 9 – 12)
    Standard 1: Understands and applies media, techniques, and processes related to the visual arts.
    Standard 5: Knows how specific works are created and relate to historical and cultural contexts.


To prepare to teach this lesson, teachers should:

  • Watch the Gas Works Park and High Line segments from the PBS special, 10 Parks that Changed America, on DVD or online.
  • Review the lesson plan.
  • Download and print the planning worksheet and design worksheet.



  • Copies of planning worksheets, design worksheets
  • Pencils, colored pencils, crayons
  • Rulers
  • Drawing paper

Period 1

  1. Students should watch the Gas Works Park and High Line segments from the PBS Special 10 Parks that Changed America.
  2. Why did the individuals involved with the creation of Gas Works Park and the High Line feel the need to save these industrial relics? Why were they important to the city? (Students’ answers might include that they provide a link to the past, they tell a chapter of the city’s history, they are beautiful, etc.) What might have happened to those places if these imaginative and visionary people hadn’t come along?
  3. Ask students if there are any disused industrial relics in their own town or city or in a nearby location. It could be anything from old farm infrastructure (e.g., grain silos) to an abandoned mall to a section of road or railroad track, or any structural relic from a previous time. Brainstorm a list. Tell students that they are going to design a re-use scheme for one of these places. They will come up with ideas to turn the site into a park or some other type of open space.
  4. Write the words “adaptive reuse” on the board. Elicit its meaning. (In historic preservation, adaptive reuse means reusing a structure, building, or site for a purpose different from its original intent.)
  5. Divide the class into teams of 4 or 5 students. Distribute the planning worksheet and design sheet. Students work together to develop their ideas, both in words and in images. Tell students that when the High Line was being redeveloped, an international ideas competition was held. More than 700 entries from all over the world poured into New York, including the idea of transforming the High Line into a swimming pool.

Period 2

  1. Groups present their ideas to the class. The class votes on each group’s best proposal.

Period 3

  1. Each group transforms their winning idea into a more developed drawing. Students may also create a brochure that describes their project. If time permits, they may go further and build a model.

Additional Resources


  • High Line: The Inside Story of New York City’s Park in the Sky by Joshua David and Robert Hammond
  • On the High Line: Exploring America’s Most Original Urban Park by Annik LaFarge
  • Landscape Design: A Cultural and Architectural History, by Elizabeth Barlow Rogers
  • Richard Haag Bloedel Reserve and Gas Works Park, edited by William S. Saunders

Online Sources

For Further Study

This Art lesson can be extended to other subjects or paired with other 10 Parks that Changed America lessons to create the following interdisciplinary connections:

  • English Language Arts: Write an op-ed essay for the local newspaper (or student newspaper) advocating for the adaptive reuse of the site the students redesigned. This will be a persuasive essay.
  • Mathematics: Based on the measurements of the site the students are redesigning, they may calculate the number of cubic feet or cubic yards of soil they would require.
  • Science: Learn about the bioremediation that was necessary to reclaim the soil at Gas Works Park.
  • Social Studies: Consider the economic impact of the adaptive reuse plan the students devised. How do they think this plan will impact the local economy? Will it lead to development? Jobs?