Feature Article - November 2006
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Open Invitation

Landscape design brings in visitors

By Jessica Royer Ocken

Warm welcomes

This same idea can work to intrigue and engage visitors to modern parks and outdoor landscapes, but it may also raise safety concerns, Dold noted. Adequate oversight and a security presence will help visitors feel safe and comfortable in the environment, but even this must strike a careful balance. You want park visitors to feel safe, but not excluded or intimidated by a giant security wall.

"It's not the greatest message to see a huge fence," said Mike Fraze, a landscape designer with Mesa Design Group in Dallas. "Think about hiding it behind the landscape or routing people into the site in a way that minimizes gates and fences."

Consider having one main entrance instead of three or four.

Mesa recently put this approach into action in its work on Collin County Adventure Camp, a facility for teens in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

"When the kids arrive on buses, they turn onto the property, and instead of an immediate gate, they travel a good distance—an eighth or a quarter of a mile into the woods—before they actually hit a gate," Fraze said. "The gate meets functional security parameters, but it looks like more of a marker and a celebration of coming to camp than a barrier to protect. That's done through materials and enhanced shapes. [The bus drives] under a covered roof structure. It's like a portal."

A more welcoming appearance may help attract visitors to your outdoor grounds, but your job does not end there. Ensuring that people will stay and enjoy the green space you've created requires further effort.

"If you give people places to sit, they'll sit on them, but if not, they won't stay in the area," Dold said. "Place benches along pathways, and give people places to be secluded, as well as places to rest and watch other people."

Allowing for an assortment of perspectives makes the space more interesting and accommodates the needs of more visitors. So don't stop with benches.

At Collin County Adventure Camp, Mesa also created a variety of programming structures for campers.

"Some campers experience nature in an elevated program shelter that puts them in a position where man is dominant over the environment," Fraze explained. "In other areas, the program shelter is at grade (symbolizing a symbiotic relationship with nature), and in other situations the shelters are lowered into the grade, creating a humbling view between man and nature."

These assorted perspectives help campers see the environment in a variety of ways and offer opportunities for discussion and learning.

It's also important to consider the accessibility of your outdoor wonderland to those with disabilities. Smooth concrete paths are pleasant for everyone, and making walkways a bit wider allows more to enjoy them. These sorts of adjustments may have unexpected benefits as well.

As Madison, Wisconsin's JJR has worked to develop and implement an award-winning plan for revitalizing the riverfront in Oshkosh, Wis., they've found that the ramped boardwalks and concrete fishing piers make a shady haven for fish, as well as allowing those with disabilities closer access to the water.

"Fish habitats flourish in the cooler water," noted Dan Williams, the project's designer and an associate with JJR. "As we move into construction, the city [of Oshkosh] and JJR will work with the Department of Natural Resources to create better habitats than what exist along the river now."

And because much of the riverfront area is formerly industrial, this shouldn't be hard to do.

"There's all kinds of potential for planting trees and shrubs to create shaded zones," Williams explained.

Another way to ensure visitors enjoy your landscaping is to incorporate some recreation. Create a walking path for exercise or contemplation among the greenery, or give your grounds some extra oomph by using plants and natural materials to create a maze or labyrinth. (See sidebar for more on this.) A hole or two of golf might even blend nicely into your grounds, and if you're worried about maintaining the grass at a links-worthy level, consider some faux turf instead. Last summer The Summit at Las Colinas, a 19-story Dallas-area office building, enhanced its outdoor grounds (and the experience of those who work there) by installing a five-hole putting course that mixes ornamental garden plants with a specially designed nylon putting surface and Zoysia-like synthetic grass.