Feature Article - November 2006
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Special Supplement: Problem-Solver Guidebook

By Stacy St. Clair and Emily Tipping

Accessorizing a Park

Site furnishings can help turn an average space into a very special place. Selecting the perfect elements, however, can be a bit daunting. Here are some of the toughest questions you'll face—along with their relatively easy answers.

Q: We're about to begin the planning process for a new park. When should we start thinking about furnishings?

A: Right now. Site furnishings and amenities need to be a strategic part of the design plan from the very beginning with a budgeted line item all their own. Relegating furnishings and amenities to the end of the process could likely result in a beautiful but empty park.

Q: Are there any hard-and-fast rules about bench placement?

A: Regardless of style or building material, the rules about bench placement remain the same: Locate a bench near something, visually anchoring it to a place with a substantial planter, a decorative wall or beautiful landscaping. Placing seating in an easily visible area offers a sense of security and reduces vandalism, vagrancy and loitering.

Q: There are some different types of materials out there. Which should I use?

A: It depends on what you're looking for. Every material has its own benefits and drawbacks. Recyclable materials, for example, are environmentally friendly, vandalism-resistant and require little maintenance. Their heavy construction makes them tough to steal, but it also makes them difficult to move.

Q: When it comes to park furnishings, we've historically bought in bulk. Is this the way to go?

A: Many parks departments prefer bulk purchases, which can make finding replacement parts easy and reduces manpower.

It also helps ensure that everything purchased follows certain codes (like the Americans with Disabilities Act) and can withstand the local elements. This will give you a cohesive look, but don't let it be your only option. It may eliminate the hodgepodge appearance of some communities, but it also may give your park a boring, tedious look.

Q: How much should we spend on park furnishings for a medium-sized park?

A: When determining your budget, remember that even similar-sized parks will have differing budgets based on themes, historical demands and the venue's goals. If you are challenged by such places, it would be beneficial to use a landscape architect or a civic organization like People for Public Spaces. They both can provide expert advice—particularly in places with programming challenges—to create highly functional parks.

Q: We need new water fountains. What do I need to consider?

A: When choosing this absolute necessity, consider the ease of installation, ease of cleaning, durability and safety to the user. In areas with heavy traffic, it's also a good idea to purchase a fountain made from vandalism-resistant materials.

Q: How can we ensure our park is truly accessible?

A: Ensuring park accessibility often means going beyond ADA requirements. First, select sight furnishings everyone can use, instead of installing a few handicap-accessible chairs and tables. At campsites, select fire rings and grills that can be used by people in wheelchairs.

Q: We have a beautiful nature trail that we don't want to disrupt with unsightly garbage cans. What are our options?

A: In bucolic settings, the last thing people want to think about is trash. But if recreation managers make garbage the last thing they consider, it'll be the first thing patrons notice.

Trash cans and recycling receptacles with muted colors such as browns and greens often blend in best with their surroundings. In campsites or large open areas, animal-proof receptacles make good sense. Park planners also should be careful not to place trash cans and recycling bins too close to picnic areas. Trash cans attracts bees and other insects, which can make the experience unpleasant for patrons. Your best bet is to put them at least 10 to 25 feet away from seating areas.


   R.J. Thomas Mfg. Company: 800-762-5002   

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