Feature Article - April 2002
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A Walk in the Park

Essential elements of modern park design and components

By Kelli Anderson

Bark parks grant dogs public places to play,
Going to the dogs? And more

As Americans continue to enjoy new trends in exercise and play, it naturally follows that their interests will be reflected in their play areas. The shear variety of parks now available to a more sophisticated, informed and demanding public is evident everywhere. Skate parks are popping up in noticeable numbers as communities are catching on to the advantages of providing a contained and creative site for determined skateboarders.

Dog parks are also proving to be very popular. With Americans still being a nation of avid dog-lovers, it makes sense to provide areas for doggie exercise and socialization in residential areas where adequately large backyards are few. These parks should not necessarily be placed too close to a residential area and need to provide lots of space for owners to walk and run their pets off the leash.

Components of dog parks share some things in common with their human park counterparts such as provisions of comfortable seating, restrooms, and so on, but they also have some unique needs. Because dogs are allowed to run free, it is essential that the parks be fenced. Additionally, drinking areas for the animals, wood-chip paths, puppy training or "time out" areas, bulletin boards for the exchange of information, and the establishment of membership and park rules also contribute to a happier, healthier Rover and his human best friend.


Somewhat lesser known but definitely growing in number are children's gardens and therapeutic gardens. As the name suggests, children's gardens are not equipment-based parks. Instead, they're designed to appeal to a child's natural tendency to explore, discover and create. It's all about igniting a child's imagination—give them sand and water and see what they can do with it. Four-foot hedge mazes irresistibly beckon them to explore. It's back to nature and the imagination.

Therapeutic gardens, by contrast, tend to be designed for older populations. Certain plants produce calming fragrances while others are planted for their tactile qualities—textures to be touched. Raised flower beds enable the less agile to reach them while water features provide a soothing sound. These gardens are more commonly used for their healing qualities and are found in hospitals and senior residential areas but can certainly be utilized and enjoyed by the general population or segments within a park district's own community.

Green parks, parks intended to teach about the environment, are also designed for a connect to nature. Wetlands and bird sanctuaries that incorporate paths dotted here and there with informational signage, ponds where children can explore what wriggles in the mud and in the water, preserved historical farms—all are part and parcel of a more educational park design.

As we continue to expand our repertoire of play and health interests, our parks and park design will naturally follow to change and adapt. And with the right elements of thoughtful planning, lots of creativity and professional input, the possibilities are boundless.

Accessorize, Accessorize

No matter how parks change over the years, park components will remain an essential element of good park design. Comfort and aesthetics are key factors in determining the success of your facility, and choosing the right park components should not be an afterthought. Now more than ever, park components are not only safer, but they are more durable, designed to require less maintenance and offered in more aesthetically pleasing colors and designs.


  Cost is always a major determiner, which comes as no surprise, but maintenance is the next runner-up in the search for quality products. Components that do not require painting and that can withstand some abuse are a valuable asset. Graffiti-resistant properties lessen maintenance costs as well.

  Although the ADA has helped bring park components a long way in the realm of safety, we still bump into the occasional problem. Wooden components need to be checked for chemical treatments, for example. Several Florida parks were recently shut down when it was discovered that a chromated copper arsenate (CCA) treatment used on the playground's lumber was seeping into the soil. (CCA is a chemical compound mixture containing inorganic arsenic, copper and chromium that has been used for wood preservative uses since the 1940s.)

  Comfort features, such as benches, trash receptacles, toilets and drinking fountains, need to be provided. They should be placed to maximize their use and effectiveness, which will keep park users happy and coming back.

  If you've been in the habit of one-stop shopping—buying all your components from one vendor—you might consider mixing and matching manufacturers. Taking the best from a variety of vendors while being careful to keep within the color schemes and themes of your facility can be very effective.