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A Place for the Living in the Land of the Dead:
Multi-Use Cemeteries

Multi-Use Cemeteries

The Rural Cemetery's Evolution

It's not a new concept that cemeteries should be open to the public on a regular basis. It was the rural cemetery trend of the 1830s and 1840s that integrated burial sites with well-used green areas. In response to public health and sanitation concerns, towns began relocating burial grounds outside of the city centre and into surrounding communities, creating cemeteries that had dual purposes: burials and recreational activities.

The picturesque Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was designed as a horticultural haven and wildlife refuge in the 1820s and swiftly became a highly sought-after final resting place by the 1830s. Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery, established in 1838, was one of the city's earliest rural cemeteries, and its popularity paved the way for parks like Central and Prospect. The Brooklyn Botanical Garden has remained a popular weekend destination for Brooklynites looking for a spot to go for a walk, eat a meal with friends, or simply enjoy some nature, bucking the trend toward single-use burial cemeteries. For more info visit

In the wake of the rural cemetery movement, a new movement was born: that of public parks. Recreational and civic activities were historically held in "garden cemeteries." These parks are today. It is widely held that the establishment of public parks has put cemeteries at a disadvantage. As people's perceptions of cemeteries evolved, so did the activities they once performed in them for fun and relaxation. A large number of cemeteries are now considered off-limits to the general public.

Respectfully Breaking the Rules

There are many lessons to be learned from the rural cemetery movement, and how can cemeteries regain their function as places for the community?

Staff time should be devoted to reaching out and engagement

A cemetery's multi-purpose character can only be maintained if it has employees that labor to provide value to the surrounding community in addition to funeral services. To give one example, there are several staff members with expertise in public involvement and outreach at Green-Wood Cemetery who organize and manage volunteer opportunities frequently.


In order to dismantle social norms, one must first talk about the subject. Cemeteries can get involved in the place making process by having a dialogue with the local community about the appropriate and inappropriate uses for their cemetery. You might be surprised by the outcomes if you reach out to everyone in your neighborhood.

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