Guest Column - January 2007
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Natural Beauty

A landscape architect's perspective on park design

By Patrick W. Caughey, FASLA

Park design has been a mainstay of the landscape architect's professional expertise for more than 100 years. Recreation planning and park design are an inherent component of the formal training and academic experience that landscape architects complete.

Frederick Law Olmsted, who founded the American landscape architecture profession, was responsible for designing such renowned parks as Central Park in New York City, Prospect Park in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Jackson Park in Chicago. And these are just a few of the many parks Olmsted designed across the nation that the public still enjoys to this day.

Parks and accessible open spaces are necessary for human development. As young children, we are exposed to parks through our parents and caregivers. We move through our youth and adolescence playing in parks. We raise our own families while visiting parks. And we continue to value the natural beauty of parks and open spaces in our senior years.

Parks are also a great resource for recreation and provide an opportunity for people of all ages to be more physically active.

Key aspects of park design

Designing a good park is actually very simple. A few key aspects must be considered:

A park must be located where the community will benefit from its use. The park's location also should serve to encourage people to offer support for its continued care and maintenance.

A park must have equal shares of passive and active recreation spaces. Passive areas refer to non-programmed open space, while active space refers to sports venues like baseball fields or play structures for children of different ages.

The design of the park should take into account any historical or cultural significances found within the surrounding community. This will help provide the park with special recognition and unique qualities that can't be found elsewhere.

The design of the park should also consider the safety of park visitors.

The location of the park should facilitate easy access from surrounding neighborhoods with minimum conflicts from non-pedestrian circulation.

Parks should provide relevant activities and experiences for people of all age groups, lifestyles and special interests. Sports fields, play structures and rose gardens, for example, are each very important to different park visitors.

Most importantly, the design of a successful park must take maintenance and care into consideration. Landscapes are very dynamic and are constantly changing and evolving. A community must take on the responsibility to provide the proper care and maintenance of a park to ensure long-term enjoyment.

Green spaces for all

What is perhaps most interesting about the development of a successful park is what happens after it is built, when the community starts to take advantage of its passive and active spaces.

Parks provide so many benefits to a great cross-section of visitors. Children learn to interact and play with other children. Teens enjoy having a place to hang out with one another. Parents enjoy interacting with other parents. Seniors enjoy taking part in activities with their families. Even dogs have a touch of real freedom in the park.

Parks have become an integral part of our lives and our lifestyles. The "green spaces" provided by parks is just what is needed to feel connected to nature and to enjoy the beauty of our world.


Patrick W. Caughey, FASLA, is president of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). For over 20 years, Caughey has successfully balanced his practice of landscape architecture with his leadership of ASLA at the college, chapter and national levels. Caughey oversees the daily practice of Wimmer Yamada and Caughey in San Diego.

Founded in 1899, the ASLA is the national professional association representing landscape architects. ASLA promotes the profession and advances the practice through advocacy, education, communication and fellowship. For more information, visit