Supplement Feature - April 2008
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Room to Live

Outfitting Your Parks to Provide Space for All

By Emily Tipping

Safety, comfort and a pleasant view are also important. If people perceive that the park is not safe—whether it's due to graffiti left in view too long or because the lighting is poor as evening hours set in—they will find somewhere else to go. In addition, aesthetics—provided through a pleasant vista, colorful gardens, attractive artwork or ear-pleasing fountains—will invite people in and keep them there to enjoy their surroundings. This means keeping the park clean, as well. Nothing will destroy your pleasing aesthetic more quickly than a park full of water bottles, newspapers and blowing plastic bags.

Ultimately, parks should function as a place to be sociable—both with people one is already familiar with as well as with other members of the community. By providing a place to be sociable, parks offer ways for places on the map to become communities.

When planning your space, VP and Director for PPS Phil Myrick suggests asking the following questions: "What are the destinations we have that we can build on? What destinations can we create? And how do recreation, parks, amenities and activities help us build these all-encompassing, cross-cutting community destinations?"

The Trust for Public Land (TPL), another nonprofit organization that works to conserve land for people to enjoy as parks, community gardens, historic sites, rural lands and other natural places, has also done extensive research into the factors that make parks successful. In its publication, "The Excellent City Park System," written by Peter Harnik, the organization cites the following seven factors as being critical to a park's success:

  1. A clear expression of purpose
  2. An ongoing planning and community involvement process
  3. Sufficient assets in land, staffing and equipment to meet the system's goals
  4. Equitable access
  5. User satisfaction
  6. Safety from crime and physical hazards
  7. Benefits for the city beyond the boundaries of the parks

Careful planning can help you ensure that you meet all of the needs of your community, offering an excellent park within your own system. And a major part of that planning is providing the furnishings that turn an empty landscape into a gathering place that will draw people for years to come.

As part of your planning process, you should also develop a site plan—one that covers your entire system, as well as addressing each park's individual issues—to unify your park system's look and to simplify the process of choosing site amenities. Take into account each site's use, and then figure out the best materials and styles for benches, tables, fountains, waste receptacles, bike racks, planters and so on.