Supplement Feature - April 2008
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Room to Live

Outfitting Your Parks to Provide Space for All

By Emily Tipping

hether you operate a large system of varied parks that function as urban oases amid the concrete jungle or your parks offer the rustic appeal of a walk in the wooded wilderness, you know that creating a place that will draw people for recreation and active living means more than putting up a sign and a parking lot and throwing an opening-day celebration. Maintaining a long-term interest in these vital public places means a long-term commitment to ensuring the site continues to function as a draw for desired audiences, and that means master planning, proper maintenance and attention to detail.

According to the Project for Public Spaces (PPS), a nonprofit organization that helps entities create and sustain public spaces that help build community, there are plenty of parks on the map that don't fit the bill, no longer working to "capture the hearts of local residents." Maintenance and funding are just part of the problem. The real issue, according to PPS, is a lack of "the right combination of physical amenities and activities that make the park a magnet and an important place within a particular community."

What makes one park draw people in, while another seems to sit empty day after day?

According to the PPS' research, parks and social places that work well provide several outlets for the community, including varies uses and activities, accessibility, comfort and aesthetics, and a social outlet. Successful parks, PPS says, function as mini-destinations, with a range of things to do and see, including passive recreational activities like enjoying a beautiful landscape and active recreation like ballfields, skateparks, playgrounds and more. For example, Millennium Park in Chicago, a 24.5-acre park in the midst of the downtown lakefront area that features gardens, sculptures, water features and more, draws millions of visitors through its varied attractions, which include free concerts at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion. From Millennium Park, it's a short walk to Chicago's Grant Park and other city park locations that include varied concessions, lakefront activities, ballfields, miniature golf and more.

In addition, access is a key issue—not just in terms of providing accessible options for the disabled community, though that is also critical, but also in terms of making sure the park is connected to its community and that it's simple for people to access the park. Parks that sit seemingly in the middle of nowhere must offer a lot to get people to make the trek, whereas a park that is easily accessible from a neighborhood can quickly become a gathering place for the community by offering places to sit and picnic, and a playground for the kids.