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

A Place for Everyone

By Emily Tipping

To make the boathouse more attractive for everyone, Myrick said they considered the ways the facility could reach different age groups and ethnicities to offer something for everyone to enjoy.

"The boathouse could cut across all of these different groups and offer a hundred things to do, maybe 10 of which are related to people who actually get in a boat, and the rest of which are related to water and the enjoyment people can get out of watching boats in the water and spending time next to the water in an active place," he said. "You could have a paddle pond that's only 2 inches deep, and now any boater can bring their whole family. Their kids could play with a toy boat in the paddle pond, and their husband or wife could sit in a shady place and watch the water or watch the kids playing."

The problem many parks have, Myrick said, is that they are not designed to be experiences for—and experienced by—everyone.

"I think it's critical to try to make sure that the park fits the community and fills their desires," said Gregg Calpino, a landscape architect and Parks and Recreation Market Segment leader for JJR. Calpino serves as a project designer and manager for major master planning and park design and renovation projects throughout the Midwest.

"You can't just take a cookie-cutter approach and follow the NRPA guidelines that say x number of acres per y number of users," he added. "That's not what brings people to parks. There's usually some inherent draw. Especially in communities and spaces that are growing beyond the urban center, it's about building what people want, providing something that makes them want to come and take part in it and protect it. That's a constant with any park we do. You can't just design to the minimum standards."

Jim Figurski, technical director and principal for GreenWorks PC, a landscape architecture firm that designs recreational projects ranging from community playgrounds to trails and natural areas, agreed. And he should know, as he has 22 years of professional experience, with half of that time spent in parks and recreation planning, community involvement, design and project management.

"Probably having come from a public background, I think one of the most important things is will it get used?" Figurski said. "Does it meet the community's needs?"

It's also important to ensure the necessary resources are available, not just to build the park, but to maintain it and its components as well.

"It doesn't matter how beautiful or awe-inspiring it is, if it can't be taken care of, if it taxes the limits of the maintenance people, it's going to fail in the long run," Figurski said.

"It's like putting a top-notch athlete out on the track and never feeding them," he added. "Getting the public to own the new development and making sure the city and neighborhood entities can and want to take care of it after it's developed are key."

What Makes a Good Place?

The Project for Public Spaces has researched parks and social places to determine what good places provide to the community:

  • Uses and Activities: successful parks and public places provide a range of things to do
  • Access: successful parks and public places are easy to get to and are connected to their surrounding community
  • Comfort & Image: successful parks are safe, clean and attractive
  • Sociability: successful parks provide a place to meet with others—both with people you already know and with people who are members of your community

"Stop thinking about recreation facilities in and of themselves," said Phil Myrick, vice president and director for PPS. "And start thinking about destinations. Integrate the facilities with bigger community destinations that are about socializing and mingling and people watching—not just about which muscle group people are going to exercise that day or some narrow group of people that are going to play a particular sport."

PPS is working with Tempe, Ariz., to integrate place-making with the programming of the parks and recreation department.

"We're working to make sure that the capital investment the city makes into upgrading parks and new recreation facilities is integrated with place-making concepts and the ideas of clustering uses and creating these places for socialization, these gathering places," Myrick explained.

"You can actually use the investment in the capital investment plan or recreation plan to build much more sociable places just by tweaking the investment you're going to make anyway," he added. "It's an interesting process that is really led by the questions: What are the destinations we have that we can build on? What new destinations can we create? And how do recreation, parks, amenities and activities help us build these all-encompassing, cross-cutting community destinations?"