Supplement Feature - April 2013
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Set Your Sights on Sites

Exploring a New Golden Age in Landscape Architecture

By Brian Summerfield


Heightened public awareness of sustainability has played a role in driving this development, said Fred Walters, principal at MESA Design Group. Walters has been designing public and private recreation facilities and parks for two decades. "Parks aren't just for recreation and leisure anymore," he said. "They play a sustainable role in this environmentally conscious era. The definition of sustainability is becoming better understood and carried out on all projects, whether they are seeking LEED certification or not."

The high costs and environmental strain associated with land stewardship and maintenance—mowing, mulching and watering—are reduced by irrigation technology, efficient planting, and strategic placement of gravel and other inert materials, Walters said.

"'Mow, blow and go' are not the way they're doing things anymore," Hornig added. "They're stewarding the landscape and trying to understand the needs, as opposed to get in, get out."

Technology

In addition to sustainability, managers of parks and recreational facilities are also increasingly interested in technology as a means for both improving efficiency and enhancing the user experience. In particular, the rise of mobile technology has brought social and digital media into parks and recreation spaces.

"There's a movement toward technology in the landscape," Hornig said. "Maybe you don't read a sign anymore. Maybe you scan a QR Code."

Quick Response (QR) Codes are pixelated, usually small squares that can be scanned by the camera of a smartphone or tablet in order to bring up relevant information about a particular feature or service. And they're proliferating in parks.

"The integration of lots of different technologies in trail systems specifically is growing," Crawford said. "Everyone wants one. And they want a QR Code on everything. We've integrated them with trail markers, educational signs on plants, and so forth."

Light-emitting diode (LEDs) bulbs have also contributed to user experience while at the same time lowering long-term costs. The lighting systems powered by LEDs allow outdoor spaces to be better lit—particularly in the nighttime hours—at a lower cost, Walters said. He added that technology enhancements to LED systems also allow for creative lighting that's projected, programmable and interactive.

Best of all, the front-end costs of LED lighting are beginning to come down too, Crawford said. "Within a few years, after you've paid for those lights, you're saving a lot of money," he added.