Proposal:Park boundary

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Park Boundary
Proposal status: Draft (under way)
Proposed by: ZeLonewolf, stevea
Tagging: boundary=protected_area
Applies to: area relation
Definition: Standardize methodologies to tag boundaries of parks and other conservation and recreation areas

Draft started: 2020-09-13
Proposed on: 2020-09-26

Proposal summary

The boundary of this mixed-use park is obscured by overlapping natural=* areas.

This proposes a method for tagging the boundary of a mixed-use park. While there is syntax to tag park boundaries that are conservation areas (using boundary=protected_area + protect_class=*), there is no accepted method to tag park boundaries for a class of parks that contain both manicured park land (like an urban city park) and undeveloped natural areas not properly tagged leisure=park. Mixed-use parks are common in suburban and rural areas of the USA. A case study with photos is provided as an example of this type of park.

These mixed-use parks are neither conservation areas nor wholly described by leisure=park, so neither tagging strategy accurately represents the park. Thus, it is proposed that these areas may be accurately tagged as an area protected for human recreation, optionally with distinct leisure=park areas inside. This allows mappers to craft a rich combination of internal and/or overlapping features and renderers to display a visible boundary.

Today, mappers seeking to demarcate the boundaries of these properties often adopt the discouraged practice of tagging for the renderer, because of the lack of separate tags for park boundaries and park areas. Common (incorrect) strategies for causing a boundary and label to render include:

  • Tagging the boundary leisure=park in order to generate a fill and omitting the tagging of overlapping areas with natural=* (for example natural=wood).
  • Tagging the boundary with landuse=recreation_ground in order to generate a fill and omitting tagging of internal areas entirely.
  • Tagging the boundary with both leisure=park and natural=* in order to generate a natural area fill and omitting the accurate tagging of internal natural=* areas.
  • Tagging the boundary with leisure=nature_reserve in order to generate a boundary even though the area isn't a nature reserve.
  • Tagging the boundary with boundary=protected_area and protect_class=* in order to generate a boundary even though the area isn't a conservation area

This proposal provides an alternative to these discouraged practices by recommending that boundary=protected_area may be used on mixed-use parks as areas protected for recreation, while continuing current, established usage of both leisure=park and boundary=protected_area + protect_class=*.

Proposed are that:

  • In order to bridge international differences, formal definitions be adopted for park and protected area, as described in this proposal and derived from Wikipedia, in order to provide a tagging scheme that is sufficiently flexible to allow for differing national interpretations.
  • Where appropriate, both parks and protected areas may be tagged boundary=protected_area. This proposal does not change leisure=park, nor does it require that all parks be tagged with boundary=protected_area. Mapping communities are encouraged to interpret the principles of this proposal and adopt local tagging practices that are appropriate for the variety, characteristics, and protection status of local parks and protected areas.
  • Areas may be tagged with boundary=protected_area alone, without a corresponding protect_class=*, indicating the boundary of an area with natural, ecological, or cultural protection, but without further specification of the type of area or type of protection.
  • Specific guidelines be followed when mapping parks with mixed areas of leisure=*, natural=*, amenity=*, tourism=* and landuse=*.
  • The tag leisure=nature_reserve is used only on areas where the public is permitted to visit, in order to match the plain language definition of leisure=*, which is used for "places people go in their spare time".

Scope and definitions

The specific mapping challenges addressed by this proposal arise partly from a lack of clear definitions for the various terms associated with these areas. In many cases, there are differences in terminology usage between countries. Therefore, this proposal offers definitions that assist mappers with aligning OSM tagging with local terminology and customary usage.

Protected Area

Protected area, as defined by this proposal uses the  Wikipedia definition:

Protected areas or conservation areas are locations which receive protection because of their recognized natural, ecological or cultural values. There are several kinds of protected areas, which vary by level of protection depending on the enabling laws of each country or the regulations of the international organizations involved.
Wikipedia entry: Protected area

Any property protected by law, for the purpose of preserving one or more of these three values (natural, ecological, cultural), are protected areas that may be tagged with boundary=protected_area, with exceptions noted below.

Ares protected for their natural values include:

  • Parks and conservation areas whose primary purpose is to preserve the natural state of the land or sea so that future generations can enjoy and benefit from their natural characteristics. If applicable, conservation areas may fit within  IUCN category definitions and be tagged with iucn_level=*.
  • Parks whose primary purpose is to provide public access to natural or semi-natural outdoor spaces for recreation and enjoyment. Parks include areas that are kept in a wild, natural state, areas that are fully manicured and/or developed for recreational usage, and mixed-used areas that exhibit a combination of both characteristics.

Areas protected for their ecological values include:

  • Wildlife protection areas, whose primary purpose is to protect the naturally-occurring habitats of plants and wildlife from harmful human influence.
  • Nature reserves, whose primary purpose is to provide public access to protected plants and wildlife for education, study, and enjoyment. In many cases, areas are both wildlife protection areas and nature reserves.
  • Natural resource protection areas, whose primary purpose is to protect natural resources from human spoilage. Such areas may or may not also allow for varying levels of human visitation.

Areas protected for their cultural values include:

  •  Natural monuments, which are natural or natural/cultural features of outstanding or unique value because of its inherent rarity, representative of aesthetic qualities or cultural significance. If applicable, natural monuments might also be appropriately tagged with iucn_level=III.
  • Natural areas protected for their long-standing spiritual and/or religious significance.
  • Natural areas protected in order to maintain a rural and/or rustic character to an area.

The types of protections established for protected areas include:

  • Prohibition or limitation of the type and amount of  land development which is allowed to occur.
  • Limitations on the types and amount of human activity that is allowed to occur.
  • Management policies which ensure that the area maintains a certain natural character.
  • An explicit or implicit intent or guarantee to maintain the area's natural or semi-natural state in perpetuity or for an extended period of time.


There are a few exceptions to the protected area definition above for practical and historical reasons:

  • National Parks, which should be tagged with the widely-accepted tag boundary=national_park.
  • Lands inhabited by indigenous peoples, while possibly qualifying as a "cultural area" under this definition, should be tagged with the approved tag boundary=aboriginal_lands.
  • Areas protected for their historical significance, which should instead be tagged with the established historic=*, heritage=*, and associated keys.


Park, as defined by this proposal uses the  Wikipedia definition:

"A park is an area of natural, semi-natural or planted space set aside for human enjoyment and recreation or for the protection of wildlife or natural habitats. Urban parks are green spaces set aside for recreation inside towns and cities. National parks and country parks are green spaces used for recreation in the countryside. State parks and provincial parks are administered by sub-national government states and agencies. Parks may consist of grassy areas, rocks, soil and trees, but may also contain buildings and other artifacts such as monuments, fountains or playground structures. Many parks have fields for playing sports such as baseball and football, and paved areas for games such as basketball. Many parks have trails for walking, biking and other activities. Some parks are built adjacent to bodies of water or watercourses and may comprise a beach or boat dock area. Urban parks often have benches for sitting and may contain picnic tables and barbecue grills."

Wikipedia entry: Park

The term park has multiple meanings in English-speaking regions of the world and these ambiguities influenced park tagging, resulting in confusion and inconsistency. By park, this proposal includes the following types of "parks":

The following areas which include the word "park" are not properly tagged as protected areas:

  • Areas known as "trailer parks" or "caravan parks" as these are properly tagged landuse=residential
  • Areas known as "business (or corporate) parks" or "industrial parks" as these are properly tagged landuse=commercial or landuse=industrial
  • Dog parks, as these are properly tagged leisure=dog_park
  • Places known in British English as "car parks." These are properly tagged with amenity=parking
  • Theme parks or amusement parks. These are properly tagged with tourism=theme_park
  • Place names or geographic features which happen to include the word "park" such as the Middle Park basin in Colorado, USA.

In this proposal:

  • "park" is meant as Wikipedia defines it above.
  • leisure=park refers to specific usages of that tag, deliberately for "manicured park land" contained within a park.

Tagging guidelines for mixed-use parks

The sequence of diagrams below demonstrate a current practice in park tagging and how this proposal improves a resulting ambiguity. Note that these diagrams are illustrative and are not intended to represent actual renderings. A case study from the USA demonstrates a real-world example of this ambiguity.

In the example below, two polygons are used to map a square park that is partially overlapped by a wild and natural wooded area. The square park is mapped by drawing a way around the park's boundary tagged leisure=park. The wooded area is mapped with an overlapping polygon that represents the wooded area tagged natural=wood. Thus, the lightest green area represents the manicured areas of the park, the medium green area represents the wild and natural wooded areas that are within the park boundaries, and the darkest green areas represent wooded areas outside of the park boundaries.

This creates ambiguity. A piece of land cannot simultaneously be both a wild and natural wooded area and a manicured park. Where leisure=park is applied, the intent is to mark the boundary of the park. However, this has the side effect of marking the entire area within the boundary as manicured park land. This problem exists for every park that is not 100% manicured.

The current park tagging scheme creates ambiguity
Tagging leisure=park in this way creates ambiguity

Proposed solution. This proposal separates park boundary tagging from leisure=park area tagging. By using a distinct boundary=protected_area third polygon, OSM can represent other, arbitrary regions within the park, tagged leisure=park or natural=* to accurately reflect what is present on the ground. When supported by renderers, the outer boundary=protected_area correctly and unambiguously displays the park boundary distinct from any additional internal regions the park might contain.

Separate boundaries and internal regions allow for less ambiguous, more accurate tagging
Park construction from three polygons.png

The description in this section is intended to describe a method to tag the boundaries of more complex, mixed-use parks. Where adopted by local standards and conventions, it may be appropriate to omit boundary=protected_area for fully urban parks, minor manicured park land, and/or unnamed incidental areas of landscaping, tagging these with leisure=park alone.

Tagging Changes

Summary of Tagging Changes
Tag Action Description
leisure=park No Change This tag is already used for manicured park land. This proposal continues the established usage of this tag, and offers strategies and guidelines for using it in conjunction with boundary=protected_area for mixed-use parks.
protect_class=* for values 1a, 1b, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 No Change These values are inspired by internationally-established IUCN Protected Area Categories with the same values (as Roman numerals). Use this tag only on conservation areas, omitting it on public recreation parks that do not meet IUCN criteria.

The disposition of protect_class=* is deliberately unresolved with respect to this proposal; the authors ultimately favor replacing the confusing numeric values of this key with named values via a future proposal.

iucn_level=* for values IA, IB, II, III, IV, V and VI No Change This key is used to tag IUCN Protected Area Categories. Use this tag only on conservation areas, omitting it on public recreation parks that do not meet IUCN criteria.

The authors ultimately favor using this key to indicate explicit IUCN conservation area designations and fully deprecating protect_class=*, however that is beyond the scope of this proposal. Mappers should maintain existing tagging practices with respect to protect_class=* and iucn_level=*.

boundary=protected_area Expand Usage This tag is already used for conservation areas. It is expanded to include parks that are protected for the purpose of human recreation, or for multiple purposes. It is now permitted to tag an area with boundary=protected_area without a corresponding protect_class=* in order to indicate an unspecified protected area.
protection_title=* Expand Usage This tag is already used for conservation areas. It is expanded to include parks that are protected for the purpose of human recreation. This tag is used with or without a corresponding protect_class=* tag.

Guidelines for interior regions of parks

Though incorrectly tagged with protect_class=5, this mixed-use park demonstrates separate boundary and internal area tagging.

In general, boundary=protected_area (on a closed way or a relation with multiple polygons) is used to tag only the boundary of a park, while leisure=*, natural=*, amenity=*, tourism=*, and landuse=* are used to tag interior regions of the park corresponding to particular features. Only when an entire area is characterized by the meaning of the tag should one of these other tags be used on the boundary way or a relation tagged type=boundary, though if the relation has multiple polygons, consider tagging each polygon appropriately with such a specific (non-boundary) tag.

Use these tags with the following strategies:

This is particularly confusing with the tag leisure=park, which denotes "manicured park land." While urban parks are often entirely manicured, suburban and rural parks are more typically multi-purpose and frequently have various types of natural features, land cover, amenities, etc. For example it is common for a park to include both a manicured (or modestly improved) portion as well as less-maintained, "more natural" regions used for hiking, camping, or other wilderness or wilderness-like activities. For these types of parks, the tag leisure=park is properly applied only to the manicured (or modestly improved) region(s) of the property.

Guidelines for leisure=nature_reserve

The tag leisure=nature_reserve is used on a type of protected area where the public is invited to enjoy protected flora and fauna. Nature reserves may offer amenities such as parking, restrooms, interpretive signage, guided tours and/or a visitor center. Alternately, nature reserves may be large undeveloped areas without meaningful visitor facilities. Human activity typically permitted here includes wildlife observation, hiking on designated foot paths and perhaps backpacking. Often, a leisure=nature_reserve has "Reserve" or "Preserve" in its protection_title=*. Nature reserves with significant water or wetland areas might be accessible only by boat. On a spectrum, strict nature reserves (protect_class=1a/iucn_level=IA) are areas of pure conservation usually disallowing or strictly limiting human use, areas tagged leisure=nature_reserve are primarily for conservation while allowing "low-impact" human use, while typical parks are primarily for recreation, often with a view towards limiting further human development inconsistent with human recreation (such as residential or commercial development).

Additional guidelines:

  • In some cases, a park may contain a nature reserve within its boundaries. Here, tag leisure=nature_reserve only on the specific region of the nature reserve. If the entire park is a nature reserve, tag the boundary with both boundary=protected_area and leisure=nature_reserve.
  • The leisure=* key denotes a place people go for leisure or recreational activities, so usage of this key implies public accessibility. Therefore, leisure=nature_reserve should NOT be applied to nature protection areas that discourage or prohibit human visitation.
  • A nature reserve is an area that exists to protect nature while simultaneously permitting low-impact human recreation. Therefore, areas tagged leisure=nature_reserve should always be tagged with or be geographically contained within a boundary=protected_area.
Guidelines for the use of leisure=nature_reserve on conservation areas
IUCN Category Tagging Guideline
Ia Areas properly categorized as IUCN Category Ia is managed such that human visitation, use and impacts are strictly controlled and limited to ensure protection of the conservation values. As such, areas which do not allow human access should not be tagged with leisure=nature_reserve. An applicable access=* tag with value no or private is encouraged.
Ib, II, III, IV, V, VI The boundary of areas properly categorized as IUCN Categories Ib, II, III, IV, V, and VI may be tagged with leisure=nature_reserve if the nature of the entire park is properly categorized as a nature reserve. Consider whether the public is generally permitted to roam freely through these areas in order to enjoy nature. Alternately, a park may contain a nature reserve within their boundaries. For example, in Denmark, the Hanstholm Nature Reserve is contained within and is part of Thy National Park on Wikipedia and thus would properly be tagged as a leisure=nature_reserve within the National Park boundaries.


  1. The use of boundary=protected_area on all parks satisfies a need to describe the boundary of park land reserved for human recreational purposes, but is neither conservation areas covered by the IUCN definitions, nor entirely a leisure=park. This allows mappers to tag the overall area of a property, and have it render with a boundary, while more properly using other tags for tagging sub-areas and features within the overall property. In particular, this allows mappers to use leisure=park more sparingly only on those portions of a property that are manicured park land rather than tagging the entire property (often solely for the purpose of causing the renderer to generate a colored fill).
  2. Parks that are not conservation land are typically protected from development, in that the land is set aside as open space for recreation and leisure. Therefore the use of boundary=protected_area is appropriate in this context. Mappers still retain the flexibility to tag areas with leisure=park but omit boundary=protected_area if the park land is not protected from development.
  3. The use of the IUCN Conservation Categories in protect_class=* values 1a, 1b, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 has emerged as a convention through de facto usage, and is supported by the default renderer. Continuing this tagging scheme preserves current usage on areas already tagged as conservation areas, while leaving open the future possibility of changing this lookup-based key to more standard OSM conventions, for example, English-text values. This proposal is not an endorsement of protect_class=*.
  4. Similar to administrative boundaries, park boundaries are verifiable boundaries that are described by government property records, and can be surveyed via established boundary markers, natural landmarks, and documented points of reference.
  5. Park boundaries are a useful feature to map. In many cases, wooded or otherwise undeveloped natural areas of parks abut private land without an obvious boundary indication (as official boundary markers are often sparse or hidden). Having an explicit way to tag a park boundary gives renderers and other data consumers an explicit way to indicate the extent of public land independent of natural, land cover, or land use areas.
  6. A recommendation to renderers to display boundaries for unspecified protected areas (tagged with boundary=protected_area but not further defined) allows less-sophisticated mappers the entry-level ability to map these types of areas without the need to become experts in the complex categorization details of conservation land. This helps avoid the common occurrence of mappers arbitrarily and naively tagging areas with protect_class=* and/or leisure=nature_reserve in an attempt to force the area to render in Carto. The narrowed defintion of "protected area" offered in this proposal ensures that the class of areas tagged with boundary=protected_area are all appropriate for rendering, regardless of their specific characteristics.[1]
  7. Adoption of the recommendations proposal by renderers that are currently only rendering certain values of protect_class=* will cause additional areas to suddenly render on the map. However, inspection of the list of these areas (using the overpass queries in the sections below) shows that these areas are, for the most part, correctly tagged as protected areas and ought to render.
  8. The plain-language definition of leisure=* is a place that "people go in their spare time". Therefore, in order to maintain that key's meaning, leisure=nature_reserve should only be used on areas where people are allowed to visit. Tagging an area which cannot be visited with leisure=nature_reserve effectively creates a trolltag. An overpass inspection shows that leisure=nature_reserve is combined with access=private, access=no, protect_class=1a or protect_class=Ia on only 4.1% of usages. Thus, clarifying this definition maintains consistency with over 95.9% of the usage of leisure=nature_reserve.
  9. Prior proposals adopted boundary=special_economic_zone and hazard=*; and deprecated protect_class=23 and protect_class=16 respectively. The remaining values of protect_class=* that are still in use describe objects that fit within the definition of "protected area". Therefore, it is appropriate for renderers to consider rendering all lands tagged with boundary=protected_area with a common style.[2]

Existing non-rendering areas

If this proposal is adopted, renderers of protected areas will be recommended to render a boundary for all areas that are tagged boundary=protected_area. For renderers currently only rendering areas tagged with protect_class=* values 1a, 1b, 1-6 (as is the case with the OSM Carto style), making this change will cause additional areas to render. The overpass queries in the section are offered for a cursory inspection of the areas that may begin displaying on maps if the recommendations in this proposal are adopted by renderers.

Areas tagged with boundary=protected_area but not protect_class=*

This query generates a list of protected areas that are not tagged with protect_class=*. It excludes areas that are tagged with leisure=*, landuse=*, or certain values of natural=*, as these tags already cause those areas to render.

try it yourself in overpass-turbo

Areas tagged with non-rendering values of protect_class=*

This query generates a list of protected areas that are tagged with a value of protect_class=* that do not currently render in the OSM Carto style. Note that this query ignores areas that currently render due to other tagging, such as leisure=*, natural=*, or landuse=*.

try it yourself in overpass-turbo

Non-rendering protect_class=* inspector

The following query generates a map of areas that are currently tagged with non-rendering values of protect_class=*, regardless of whether those areas have been tagged with renderable tags.

try it yourself in overpass-turbo
out meta;
out skel qt;


Tagging Examples

The following examples are intended to demonstrate the usage on various types of protected areas. For brevity, these examples exclude other tags such as access=*, wikidata=*, etc., that would also be used with these areas:

A small, urban, city park, manicured in its entirety

A state park with camping, fishing, athletic fields, etc

  • Within the bounds of the park, specific nodes or polygons (for areas) tagged with leisure=*, natural=*, etc. as needed
  • ...

A nonprofit-owned conservation area that allows visitors

A state/province watershed protection area

Applies to

This proposal applies to:

  • area Areas


Rendering hints for boundary=protected_area and associated tags
Value Rendering
boundary=protected_area with no protect_class=* tag (of any value) Render an outline border (LawnGreen #7CFC00 as a thin line?)
boundary=protected_area + protect_class=* values 1a, 1b, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 Render a more significant outline border (LawnGreen #7CFC00 with an interior drop-shadow?)


OSM recommends that validators report warnings under the following tagging conditions.

Validation hints for boundary=protected_area and associated tags
Under this condition Warning
protect_class=* with leisure=park Key protect_class conflicts with tag leisure=park. Use protect_class for conservation areas and leisure=park on manicured park areas
protect_class=1a with leisure=nature_reserve. Tag protect_class=1a is inconsistent with leisure=nature_reserve
leisure=nature_reserve with access=no or access=private Tag leisure=nature_reserve is used on an area without public access

Features/Pages affected

Page Required changes
Park Currently redirects to Tag:leisure=park, change this to a new page containing comprehensive tagging guidance for various types of parks and protected areas, linking to leisure=park and boundary=protected_area.


Provide updated guidance on the tagging of interior areas rather than at the boundary-level for parks with greater complexity (multiple interior areas).

Key:protection_title Update this page to include usage of this key on parks.
Key:protect_class Update this page to reflect omission of this tag on non-conservation parks.
Key:protected_area Update this page to reflect the wider usage of this tag on non-conservation parks and indicate that protect_class=* is optional, rather than a required field.


Geocoders are recommended to use descriptive language to categorize protected areas tagged with boundary=protected_area. Two possible strategies are offered:

Transition plan

The key transition challenge is that rendering of park boundaries is needed in order for mappers to break the dependence on the use of leisure=park for park boundaries on mixed-use parks. Therefore, a 2-step transition plan is proposed:

  1. Achieve renderer implementation of boundaries on non-conservation parks tagged boundary=protected_area, but not tagged protect_class=*.
  2. Update wiki documentation to reflect guidance on tagging of park boundaries.

After this, additional (pending) proposals which both complement this one and improve OSM generally for these "public lands" (e.g. protect_class=* / protection_class=*, ownership=*...) can be subsequently introduced to the community for approval. Many of these are already written in draft form and/or are largely sketched out as part of a comprehensive reformation of parks and public lands.

Alternate approaches

The following approaches are outlined as possible alternatives to this proposal. These were ultimately rejected during the proposal drafting process in favor of the simplified approach now outlined. They are presented here so the community might compare and contrast different ways of achieving the same objective:

  • Create a new value boundary=park for non-conservation parks. The advantage of this tag is that the plain meaning of a park boundary is better represented. The disadvantage is that a new key must be created for this purpose and it also splits parks into two categories, rather than having the single tag boundary=protected_area be used to tag all parks.
  • Create a new value boundary=park for all parks and deprecate boundary=protected_area. The advantage of this approach is that the plain meaning of a park boundary is well-represented and all types of parks are now tagged with a single value. The disadvantage of this approach is that this tag must be applied to all parks including conservation areas and the renderer must be modified to maintain render support for conservation areas.
  • Deprecate most of protect_class=*, leaving only values 1a, 1b, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6, deprecate boundary=national_park, and deprecate iucn_level=* while expanding usage of boundary=protected_area as presently proposed. This approach was narrowed in order to focus specifically and clearly on the issue of park boundaries, as improvements to the way that IUCN categories are tagged is a larger issue that deserves a separate proposal.

External discussions

See Also

  • United_States/Public_lands, a working document of tagging conventions for public lands (including parks) in the United States.
  • Key:park:type, which, while is in the process of being deprecated, still has thousands (or perhaps only hundreds) of usages. It offers history of this widespread application of tagging in the 2010s and deprecation strategies with potential tasks to complete to that end.
  • Proposals to deprecate protect_class=* and replace it with protection_class=* using words for the values, and in some cases to make the protection more specific. The authors of this proposal fully support the deprecation of protect_class=* and replacement with plain-English tagging.


Please comment on the discussion page.


  1. This rationale presumes that predecessor proposals have already been approved which allow us to narrow the scope of and definition of boundary=protected_area in this way.
  2. The tag protect_class=24 is in exception. It has been replaced by the tag boundary=aboriginal_lands, however, renderers should maintain separate support for protect_class=24 until it has been fully supplanted.