Supplement Feature - April 2009
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Site Solutions

Designing & Outfitting Your Park

By Sue Marquette Poremba


Landscape architects are integral to site planning and are typically brought into the process very early. In fact, landscape architects are frequently engaged as the lead site planner, according to Steve Cecil, AIA, ASLA, of The Cecil Group in Boston.

"Our role is to provide the analysis and synthesis, which results in the shared understanding of a park's character," Cecil explained. "The landscape architect provides a plan of the physical layout for the park that accomplishes both the practical and aesthetic purposes that have been established. In this sense, the landscape architect provides the 'vision' for the park that can be readily understood."

Smith added that the landscape architect's role can include analysis, park programming, site planning and design. "Many of our clients, such as municipal parks departments, know precisely what they need in a park, but don't have sufficient in-house resources to do the site planning and design themselves," he said.

Designers for public park projects, Smith continued, are often selected by means of a Request for Qualification (RFQ). "When utilizing this approach, the client has usually already selected a site, established a budget, and needs a design firm to see the project through," he said.

A number of parks departments or city planners, like Michael Edwards in Pittsburgh, are looking at organizations such as Project for Public Spaces to help plan parks and other public spaces.

Pittsburgh brought representatives from Project for Public Spaces to help create a strategy based not only on how the city wanted to revitalize the Market Square area, but also to find out how residents and visitors would actually use the space.

"There is no reason why a park or any kind of public civic place should not be attracting all kinds of people at all times of day and not have that vibrant life you want to see in a downtown," said Phil Myrick, vice president of Project for Public Spaces. "But most parks don't work that way."

The idea behind Project for Public Spaces is to put the people who will be using the park first, before the design.

"When you talk about downtown spaces, you are looking at high land values, a lot of opportunities to become an anchor for activity downtown," Myrick explained. "It's incumbent on all parties to do their utmost to create the park for maximum success."

However, what often goes missing, he said, is the attention to the vision for what the site should be in terms of a destination. That includes considering closely all of the programs and activities that could happen in that park that would make it a popular recreational destination. What Project for Public Spaces does is help communities tease out the potential uses for the park site.

"We believe the community is the expert," Myrick said, "and they are the backbone of the project." His nonprofit organization shows community leaders examples of dozens of other parks to help spur ideas and suggestions. Once the community defines its vision, Project for Public Spaces begins to shape it. "We use a variety of tricks of the trade, like triangulation," Myrick continued, "which is the clustering of different uses and activities to create destinations, both large and small." It can also include creating small park areas within the larger park or developing amenities that create irresistible places to visit.

"What we come up with is a program plan that is very detailed," Myrick added, "and that becomes the backbone for the design."

Together and Alone

Picnic tables and benches should be placed in areas that encourage socialization, as well as in nooks that invite solitary introspection.

A picnic area should not just include picnic tables, but also should be located relatively close to parking and waste receptacles. It's also smart to provide grills and a separate place to dispose of hot coals.

Benches can be placed along pathways and generally anywhere that people might want to have a view of the action: near a skatepark, next to a playground, by ballfields and in convenient spots along trails.