Feature Article - April 2007
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Special Supplement: Complete Guide to Park Components & Play Areas

A Place for Everyone

By Emily Tipping


They may not be the most beautiful site components, but if you fail to plan carefully, your park's beauty will be severely compromised if you ignore garbage cans and recycling bins.

These receptacles come with considerations of their own. Ask these questions to be sure you get it right, and avoid litter problems in the park: How many people use the park, and how much garbage do they throw away? How often can we empty the receptacles? Is vandalism a problem? What about wildlife?

Answering the first two questions will help you determine how many receptacles you'll need. Make sure you get enough receptacles—or big enough receptacles—so you can empty the cans on your own schedule. Too small or too few, and your maintenance staff may get overloaded.

Buying garbage cans and recycling containers in bulk can help you save some money on the purchase, but specific site considerations need to be taken into account, just as when you're purchasing benches and picnic tables. For a more groomed urban park, for example, you might want to invest in a classic-looking can. For rustic areas, appearance may be less of a concern, while protecting the garbage within from the critters without will be vital.

Trash receptacles should be placed close to seating and picnic areas, but don't put them so close that people will be disturbed by odors and insects.

In Midwestern autumns, bees commonly hover around trash cans, creating a nuisance for picnickers. Designers suggest 10 to 20 feet as a good distance between seating and garbage cans.

Receptacles should be easy to use—both for park maintenance staff, as well as for park patrons.

According to the Project for Public Spaces, the best waste receptacles do not require patrons to touch them in order to use them, and openings should be large enough to accommodate the litter. In parks, for example, people may be throwing bigger things away, so the hole needs to be larger. Also, to accommodate the handicapped, the opening shouldn't be more than 3 feet high.

For park maintenance staff's ease of use, PPS suggests that the easiest receptacles to service can be emptied from the top. Moving parts are to be avoided, since they can easily be broken or vandalized.

When you put care and consideration into your park planning process, you'll be sure to get it right, creating a park that provides a place where all can gather to celebrate the spirit of your community.

A Place for Plants

You can make your site pop with good landscaping. In more urban parks and at entrances, planters can do a nice job of making a more aesthetically pleasing space.

In addition, you can use plantings to separate different site elements.

Jim Figurski, a landscape architect with GreenWorks PC, suggests considering native plant materials, which will be easier to maintain.

"One of the easiest things to look at in terms of sustainability is native plant materials," he said. "And I always say that with a caveat, because they're not always the best plants for a particular design."

The elements of the site may make native plants less native, he said.

"Parking lots, for example, are not a natively occurring function," Figurski explained. "They tend to be more desert-like, and if you don't live in a desert area, your native plant species might not be best suited for that type of use."

Just be sure that wherever you plant, there is a water source nearby.