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

A Place for Everyone

By Emily Tipping


As a part of your master planning process, you should also consider developing a system of standards that will help determine which furnishing materials and components are most appropriate for your parks. These standards can help narrow down choices based on the local environment, including anything from cultural and historical considerations to the impact of typical weather patterns. In addition, these standards will help you establish consistent quality levels and ensure constancy when it comes to maintenance.

The Department of Parks & Recreation for the city of Sacramento, for example, has guidelines that suggest things like providing a single main entry to the park, with a sign naming the park in a landscaped area with flowering trees, as well as special paving and drop-off seating.

It's also important, though, to ensure that a certain amount of flexibility is built into these standards. Even if your community is small, your parks are not all the same, and a one-size-fits-all approach to park planning will not do. Each site will feature different issues, and you need to take these into consideration. For example, one park may be more wooded, requiring different maintenance than a park that receives full sun. Another park might be more exposed to strong winds. Yet another park might be part of a historical district, requiring a different approach to site furnishings than a more remote, natural area.

You also don't want to tie your landscape architect's hands. A certain level of creativity as part of the design process will ensure your parks stand out. Unique parks will keep residents coming back for more.

Sacramento's design guidelines take this into account, stating, "The City shall strive to emphasize unique and innovative design and promote individual character in the design of each park site. Sites, facilities, structures or landscapes of historical or cultural significance within each park shall be identified and included where possible in the park design."

Preventing problems proactively

No part of your park will be perfectly able to resist graffiti and vandalism, but there are a few things you can keep in mind to prevent problems:

  • Get the community involved in the park planning process. A community that feels involved and cares about its park will help you by keeping an eye out for problems and reporting them promptly when they occur.
  • The Project for Public Spaces states that blank, smooth surfaces are most attractive to graffitists. Lighter colors and highly visible surfaces are also more popular.
  • Dense plantings near walls can make it harder to get to the surface.
  • Provide good lighting. This discourages vandals, but also makes it easier for security personnel to keep an eye on things.
  • PPS also suggests mounting dummy cameras or motion detectors in highly visible areas as a very inexpensive means of prevention.
  • Use vandal-resistant materials. If you like the look of wood, you can get plastic lumber, or you can use protective coatings to make it easier to remove graffiti.
  • Maintain a park presence, whether it's occasional sweeps by the police or uniformed park rangers and security guards.
  • Beat them to the punch by painting a big surface area, like a restroom wall, with a multicolored mural.

Of course, the best way to deter vandals and graffitists is to provide a great park that attracts heavy use. The more people present, the less inviting your park is for the ne'er-do-wells.

When all of your protective measures fail, and someone does manage to vandalize or tag your park with graffiti, swift action is essential. Graffiti that remains for more than 48 hours is a sign to other graffitists that "no one cares" about maintenance. In other words, vandalism begets more vandalism. Prompt attention and removal shows graffitists and others that you care about the park, and their work will not be rewarded.

Before you remove the graffiti though, PPS suggests taking a moment to take a picture and make notes about the time it occurred and other conditions like special events. They also suggest phoning the police.