Supplement Feature - April 2009
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Site Solutions

Designing & Outfitting Your Park

By Sue Marquette Poremba


Edwards and his group worked with Project for Public Spaces to come up with the initial design for Market Square. "Then we called a landscape architect who took that information and came up with three scenarios," Edwards said. "The choices were: don't do much at all, some change, and a complete change." The designs were then presented to the public, who had a say in the final decision.

Site planning usually involves a team put together from those with a vested interest in the park, representing the parks department, city administrators, neighborhood or other citizen groups, and designers. And inevitably, when you bring together a group of people, conflicts are bound to arise.

"We address this by carefully phasing our design services and confirming that everyone involved has reviewed and approved the design before we move to the next phase," said Smith of RVi. For example, his company is involved with the design of community parks and greenways at the former Robert Mueller Municipal Airport site in Austin, Texas. "We have maintained constant communications with the city, the client, neighbors and other stakeholders to ensure that everyone involved reviewed, understood and approved our work before refining it further. While this does require extra effort, it also minimizes the opportunity for conflict."

Seattle landscape architect Brice Maryman thinks conflicts in the planning process can best be avoided by having robust public involvement.

"Time and time again, various constituencies have come to the table strongly advocating one particular solution to a park's design, but through the iterative design process, the result is a synthesis of everyone's agenda," Maryman said.

However, Maryman added, park owners changing their minds is one of the biggest challenges of the design process. His approach to that challenge is to develop a planning scheme that locks in certain decisions.

"For example, during the conceptual design phase, we lock in high-level principles that should guide the development of the site, such as universal accessibility and environmental stewardship," explained Maryman. He admits that there are times when revisions need to be accommodated during the design process. "The locking in of various decisions during the design process not only helps move the process forward, but also identifies true 'point of costly returns' milestones that will have impacts on the project's bottom line."

One of the biggest design challenges Maryman faces can be summed up in a single word: elegance.

"We've all seen parks that are good, and we've all seen parks that are bad," Maryman said. "But I would conjecture that the parks that are most loved and best cared for 20 years after they have opened are those that are elegant." The role of the designer, he said, is to come up with a plan that brings together the input from the community, the qualities of the site, the regulatory requirements and the needs for ongoing maintenance—no easy task.

Steve Cecil also said that getting all of the parties involved to agree to a site plan can create a high hurdle. "People involved in the planning and approvals processes often look upon park design as a kind of turf battle," Cecil said. "They seem to become fixated on particular park characteristics or uses, and misunderstand that parks can serve multiple purposes and multiple users in a unique way. You can have an open lawn, for example, that allows kids to play with a soccer ball, provides a place for a picnic and serves as an informal theater for the 4th of July concert—and one does not exclude the other."

In addition, Cecil continued, often people's expectation of a new park is linked to that of a park they enjoyed in another community, but what they appreciate in other parks isn't always appropriate for the new park. "The challenge in these cases is to provide multiple examples and to allow people to understand that each park is—and should be—unique."

Waste Not

When you're selecting and installing waste and recycling receptacles, keep the following questions in mind:

  • How much waste is generated at the site? Be sure you purchase enough receptacles so litter doesn't overflow and mess up your site's aesthetic.
  • How easy will it be for the maintenance crew to empty the container, and how often will they be doing so?
  • Are raccoons and other critters prominent in the area? If so, latched or animal-proof receptacles are a necessity.