Supplement Feature - April 2011
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Design for the Times

Stretch Your Dollars, Boost Your Impact

By Rick Dandes

When designing a park landscape, there are several basic to-dos suggested by planning experts, but the most obvious and simple one is to begin the design process well before breaking ground.

"We're working hard at pre-development before we even get to the design stage," Bell said. "Some questions we initially ask our clients are: What kind of ecology was there in the beginning—not so that we can replace it, but so we can find some level of balance between the old and the new? And that is an extremely exciting development from a design standpoint in landscape architecture and the realm of designing parks."

RDG recently teamed up with an ecology firm to inventory 4,000 park acres, Bell said. "We inventoried areas that were developed and those that weren't. And we did so to gain an understanding of the habitat and how various recreational activities would affect the local ecology. After all, people who want to go birding or people who want to go nature hiking shouldn't have that opportunity taken away from them. A park is a living system for the community, and we want to make sure we capture available land that not only provides recreational opportunities, but also provides opportunities for clean water, cleaner air and greater habitat."

Scott Crawford, also a partner at RDG, concurred. "We actually have systems that measure how green a project is or how sustainable a project is," he said, "in order to validate that it is environmentally sound and doesn't adversely affect the environment or the ecology of a particular site. Parks are certainly in the forefront of that movement."

Utilizing native plant material as well as installing less bluegrass turf and more native prairie and no-mow kinds of mixes are "must-dos" for any park landscaper these days, Inman contended.

Whatever the landscape design is, make sure it responds specifically to its setting. "Landscapes in parks take a beating," Inman said. "So you need to select plant material that can survive in a public setting. This is not a place for a rose garden. It's not a place for plants that are annuals. But, you do want to give visitors a beautiful visual experience in a setting that's going to last."