Feature Article - April 2007
Find a printable version here

Special Supplement: Complete Guide to Park Components & Play Areas

A Place for Everyone

By Emily Tipping

"Another thing we're seeing with picnic facilities is placing other things nearby like a small play lot or an open grass area where you can kick a soccer ball around," he explained. "It's not a field for high-end sports, but just those basic things that if I go there with a group of kids who are different ages, I can keep them all going without changing parks. It's like creating a mini-park in itself. Those open turf areas and smaller playgrounds are important."

Beyond just providing places to sit, take a look at the environment around you. Are there sunny spots and shady spots, or will your patrons be stuck in the glare? Take advantage of wooded areas, or provide shaded seating with an umbrella, shelter or shade structure so patrons have options.

Some places are made for people to gather. At Riverview Park in Independence, Ore., for example, there is an amphitheater and a large playground.

Other places are designed for contemplation. Tanner Springs Park in Portland, Ore., was designed on former wetlands. The park was designed to evoke the feel of a wetland and is meant to be a destination for contemplation, with modern benches to sit on, water to listen to and art to view.

When it comes to materials, there are lots of angles to take into consideration. Price is important, but it's not the only point you should consider. Sure, all things being equal in terms of quality and service, you'll want to go with the lowest bidder. But sometimes a low price also means low quality or poor service. Ongoing maintenance requirements can make a cheap picnic table much more expensive in the long run.

Your site furnishings should all be constructed of durable materials that suit the particular site. Formal parks and gardens in urban areas call for more formal designs in classic or modern styles. Rustic natural areas might benefit more from wood or plastic lumber furnishings.

To build sustainability into your parks, look for indigenous materials, Figurski suggested.

"In the Pacific Northwest, we use cedar, fir and hemlock in terms of woods. We see a lot of stone, and we use a lot of water in design," he said. "Use things that speak of your local area."

When you do have to select other materials, some options are more sustainable than others, he added.

"Steel, for example, tends to be highly recycled," Figurski said. "And you should choose things that are not just recycled, but that sustain themselves: materials like steel benches or things like that have a long life cycle so you're not replacing them as often. Look for things in site elements that have components that can be easily replaced so you don't have to rebuild the entire structure—you can just replace a piece of it."

Using materials that exist on site is another way to build sustainability into your park.

"At Tanner Springs Park, which we finished two years ago now, we actually incorporated some old railroad track," Figurski said. "It just happened that in another area, the local railroad was tearing out railroad tracks, and that got incorporated into the art component of that park as a very nice wall."


Bollards might not be on the top of your list of considerations for park furnishings, but here are five reasons why they should be:

  1. They can provide boundaries between vehicle traffic and pedestrians.
  2. They can prevent vehicles from driving where they're not supposed to or from parking too close to buildings or other structures.
  3. Lighted bollards can provide low-key, low-profile illumination to walkways to increase a sense of safety for pedestrians using the site at night.
  4. They can illuminate areas for security personnel.
  5. Planters that double as bollards can enhance the site and can also separate different uses in the park, such as playgrounds and open fields.