Restored Ecology as Park Design Inspiration
By Scott Crawford, PLA, ASLA, LEED AP
Valley View Park is an 84-acre park located in West Des Moines, Iowa, at the crossroads of Interstates 35 and 80. Over the past two decades the City of West Des Moines has been and continues to be one of the fastest growing communities in Iowa. Since 1990, the city's population has grown from 31,702 to 56,609, and the city has increased in size from 21 to 47.3 square miles. Projections currently estimate the city to grow to a population of 71,863 by 2020.
In May 2010, the city retained the services of RDG Planning & Design, in collaboration with Applied Ecological Services and Foth Infrastructure & Environment, to facilitate a master plan process for Valley View Park, focusing on engagement of citizens and emphasizing the importance of natural resources management. The Valley View Park Master Plan is the culmination of an extensive public involvement process, investigation and evaluation of historic site conditions, and a balanced approach to park development incorporating human needs with environmental considerations.
The initial phase of the master plan process consisted of researching the historic conditions of the site, completing an investigation and natural resource inventory of the site's current conditions, and synthesizing this data into layers of information to gain a better understanding of the various opportunities and challenges of future development. Considerations included historic and existing land cover, regional and sub-watersheds, hydrology, soils and wetlands, wildlife habitat, adjacent land uses, and pedestrian and vehicular access locations. This information provided the foundation for informed decisions to be made during concept plan development phases.
Citizen engagement and input was an essential aspect of the master plan process to achieve the city's goal of creating this park as a model with an ecological-based approach to design. Involving the public early and frequently in the process was equally important to ascertain park needs of the community and to gain insight into citizens' understandings of historic and existing environmental conditions of the park, and demonstrate the importance and benefits of appropriate natural resource stewardship as the park is developed in the future.
Once the program and priorities for the park were determined through the inventory and public involvement process, multiple concept plan alternatives were created that responded to these elements. Following several refinements and vetting of these concept plan alternatives with the public, the design evolved to meet active recreation and park needs of the community, as well as provide restored ecological zones for passive recreation, interpretation and educational opportunities.
The success of the master plan is deeply rooted in the ability to transform a parcel of agricultural land into a functional public place that balances purposeful human activity with ecology and economy.
Ecological zones of the park are seamlessly integrated with the stormwater management areas to mimic the processes of an ecologically-based water cycle rather than an engineered or forced management of this system. Rainwater that falls on the park generally flows from west to east and, through the proposed master plan, is provided with multiple opportunities for infiltration and water quality improvement through a treatment train of bioinfiltration cells, wetlands, rock streams channels and drainage basins.
Active and passive recreation zones of the park correspond closely with the ecological zones and stormwater management areas of the park.
The perimeter vehicular drive and distribution of parking create an internal circulation loop to allow users access from all entrances to amenities within the park and parking opportunities in close proximity to major program elements.
The vehicular circulation drive located at the perimeter of the park also minimizes vehicular intrusion into the core of the park and creates less pedestrian-vehicular conflict. The pathway circulation system includes multiple connections to adjacent trail systems, neighborhoods and sidewalks, and establishes a hierarchy of pathways including high, moderate and low intensity use through varying trail widths, materials and alignments.
The southwest corner of the park, with high visibility from 88th Street, provides an ideal location for active recreation elements such as basketball, sand volleyball and tennis. The great lawn area is intended to provide much needed practice spaces for a variety of teams, leagues and organizations as well as a large contiguous open space for festivals and special events.