Supplement Feature - April 2010
Find a printable version here

Back to Basics

Seven Guidelines to Creative Park Design

By Daniel P. Smith


Civic leaders like a roadmap, a detailed look at expenses and timelines and details, all of which will make their work more efficient and their interaction with the public more pleasant.

In designing a park or open space, a thorough and comprehensive final plan helps put everyone on the same page. The plan should not only break down expenses and the costs of each element, but also present a phasing strategy so that all will know what to expect and when. Providing educational opportunities—allowing people to stay informed and connected to a project—will help build the public support that's so vital to a project's success. Lastly, the final plan should include a detailed list of management needs. Park leaders should have a firm sense of ongoing costs, potential revenue sources and economic development opportunities with the new space.

"It's more than just a nice drawing or a report, but taking the next step to involve and educate on the park's viability," Burch said. "These spaces and facilities have a life and they need to be cared for."

Burch said drafting various alternatives should also be a necessary slice of the design process, a particularly important ingredient given today's economic tumult and public spending restraints.

"There need to be options of various costs and complexity so a community has choice," he said.

Providing alternatives helps a community identify its most pressing priorities and challenges the design team to generate a number of spirited ideas. In constructing Creekwood Park in Greenfield, Wis., the Bonestroo team offered several alternative concepts for evaluation, including varying configurations for parking, trail alignments, shelter, play areas and lighting. The final design mixed the best ideas, earned neighborhood approval and preserved ample green space in the park.

"You'll often find it works that way — the final plan is a combination of the original plan and a variety of the proposed alternatives," Burch said.