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

A Place for Everyone

By Emily Tipping


In fact, community involvement is critical. The Excellent City Park System from the Trust for Public Land claims that successful city parks have a "robust, formalized community involvement mechanism."

"Portland is committed to an aggressive public input process as part of the design process," Figurski said. "I think if you can get the public involved in the development from the beginning, they take ownership, and I think that makes for success."

For the city of Sacramento, Calif., the master plan for each individual park is developed with public involvement before any development of a new or existing site takes place. Residents help choose which recreational elements and components will be included.

Calpino said that the Chicago Park District also relies on citizen input to help design and outfit its parks. "Especially when you're dealing with playgrounds, which can be communitywide, and especially at the neighborhood level, finding an organized community group is critical, because it's their back yard—literally—especially with the more urban playgrounds," Calpino said. "With the Chicago Park District, for example, the community groups do a lot of the initial process of picking out the furnishings. So we're usually part of an initial public interaction process. Usually this is a very early first step, to engage the user groups and understand what they want, the age groups involved, is there a theme they want."

Figurski said that most of the public park development projects GreenWorks has worked on also involved committees of citizens. "Having a group like that—and it may be more than one group, representing the neighborhood, representing the city, representing all the different entities—it works well when you have layers of groups," he said.

One key to success, Figurski added, is also getting a technical advisory committee, including parks maintenance people, involved, and ensuring that all of the committees come together to discuss their needs and concerns.

"It's important to pull them into the process and get the neighborhood groups to talk to the technical groups so both groups can understand where each other is coming from," he explained. "I've stood in front of groups and given them the budget, and the citizens' advisory committee members might ask why a picnic table in a public park costs $1,500 when they can go to the local Home Depot and get one for $100. It helps to have maintenance there to help the citizens understand that the picnic table is going to be left out year-round, so it needs to withstand the pressures that are out there. When people can see the person who's got to take care of it and see that the person has a passion for what they're doing, it helps everybody to come to a common ground."

Ultimately, getting community members involved in the park planning process up front will encourage ownership, which is critical to the success of the park in the long run. Citizens who take pride in a local park that they helped to plan will also contribute to things like ongoing maintenance, preventing vandalism and getting other community members involved in using the facility.

A Long, Tall Drink

Don't forget to provide your patrons with a place to get a drink of water, especially on hot summer days. Water fountains are an absolutely essential park component.

Most importantly, you should keep the fountains clean. This requires a regular maintenance schedule, when park personnel not only clean the fountain, but also check to be sure it's in working order.

Many cities shut down their water fountains for the winter months to prevent the water lines from freezing and bursting. If you do this, you'll need to flush the lines to make sure no water remains. Then you'll have to go through a sanitizing-and-cleaning ritual in the spring before turning the fountains back on.

One way to avoid this potential maintenance headache is to purchase fountains with freeze protection. Some of these must be attached to buildings, so the water lines can be housed indoors. Others provide a catch-basin below the freeze line.