Supplement Feature - April 2009
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Site Solutions

Designing & Outfitting Your Park

By Sue Marquette Poremba


While there are many layers in developing a new park, site planning may be the most important phase, not to mention the earliest.

"The site planning process is comprised of assessing a site's opportunities and constraints, and then organizing the proposed park's features, facilities and layout in such a way as to take full advantage of the site and optimize its use for the intended purpose," explained Mark Smith, principal at RVi Planning + Landscape Architecture + Graphic Design in Austin, Texas. "Significant site planning considerations may include location, budget, size, compatibility with adjacent land uses, access and circulation, and security."

Site planning should also be sensitive to the ecology of the site and not make demands on resources for its construction or maintenance that are intensive and wasteful, added Jeff Elliott, senior project manager and landscape architect for the Daniel Island Company in Charleston, S.C. "Site planning takes into account the unique qualities of the site and those qualities that can be viewed from the site," Elliott said. "It considers how the site will be viewed by others. Site planning responds to solar orientation and prevailing winds and provides lasting value to the properties around it."

Choosing the site depends largely on the type of park being planned.

"A sports park may require large, flat, open spaces for active sports, while a nature preserve might require unique environmental features," Smith said. "Areas of exceptional beauty or environmental quality, such as the Roy E. Guerrero Colorado River Park in Austin, may be selected in order to preserve them for future generations. Finally, some park sites, usually on the leading edge of suburban growth, are selected for the purposes of anticipating future population and recreational needs."

When planning a park, it is best to start with an inventory and assessment of existing parks and identify the strengths and weaknesses of the entire park system. Once it is determined not only what the needs are for the new park, it is recommended that community input is sought. "By determining what's important to the community, you establish a firm basis for future park improvements, procurement and development that will actually meet the needs of the citizens," Smith said.

Gary Scott, parks and recreation director in West Des Moines, Iowa, said his city wants every resident to live within a ľ- to one-square-mile radius of a neighborhood park and within three square miles of a community park. The neighborhood parks, he says, are usually five to 10 acres in size and are meant to encourage outdoor play or gatherings for individual neighborhoods. It isn't uncommon for new developments to dedicate the land for the neighborhood parks.

"Usually, about half of the neighborhood is developed by the time the site plan for the park has been determined," Scott said. He works with the residents of the neighborhood for ideas on what they'd like to have in the park (or what they don't want to have), and also to explain that there are certain amenities, like restrooms or small parking lots, that need to be included in the site plan.

Community parks, Scott continued, are more intensely developed. They are much larger in size—up to 200 acres—and usually include athletic fields, lights for after-dark activities and a lot more traffic. Whereas the neighborhood park sites are often donated and dictated by developments, Scott said the parks department buys land for community parks. One of his challenges is to find large areas of available land that hasn't already been bought by developers. "Everything within three miles of the city is owned by developers," he said.

Another type of park that Scott plans for is the urban park. The urban park is meant to attract visitors from all over the city region and is host to special events like a 4th of July festival. Like community parks, the West Des Moines urban park includes softball and soccer complexes, but it also has a lake for boating, a nature lodge and hiking trails.