Supplement Feature - April 2011
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Design for the Times

Stretch Your Dollars, Boost Your Impact

By Rick Dandes

Increasing Attendance—a Numbers Game

After all is said and done, can landscape planners increase the number of visitors to a park?

One sure way to do this, Focht suggested, is to make sure the park design is responsive to the local community needs.

"When we design," he noted, "we make sure there is a really rigorous community outreach. We aggressively engage the community, making sure the features that go into the park, the landscaping, even colors and textures, are representative and responsive to the community interests. Now, community members don't have the final say. We do. But, the best parks are those that reflect the community as strongly as possible."

It is relatively easy to engage users if the park in question is a small neighborhood space across the street from row houses in the middle of a city. But even if it is a larger park, identifying the user groups and trying to engage them is important to understanding their interests and desires.

Don't ever overlook the basics, Inman said. "You need to have a place for users to get a drink of water and go to the bathroom. If a family unit of people can't do one of those two things, then that is going to limit their stay."

And, make the park design unique to the community; something it can be proud of. "How you landscape it should make community members feel like it's truly their park and not like one they might see in a nearby community," he added.

Also, incorporate the multigenerational aspect. A park should be something for the entire family to experience—a place everyone can enjoy.

Another trendy draw to parks incorporates the local produce movement, through farmers markets and community gardens.

In rural areas, this may not be necessary, but urban parks and their surrounding neighborhoods will likely respond positively to homegrown fruits and vegetables sold in an outdoor farmer's market setting.

Community gardens have become quite popular around the nation. Imagine an urban garden producing organically grown herbs and vegetables, with some of the produce put on sale for area residents at bargain prices. It helps support urban agriculture, healthy food choices and anti-obesity programs. Some parks have built organic farms and send out the produce to local food pantries for the needy.

"There are some other trendy amenities that encourage visitors," Focht added, "such as a splashpad, which is a fountain feature. Skateparks are still popular. And there is still a high demand for picnic permits and shelters. A park should and always will be a place where people can gather for a party."

"But, more than anything," Inman noted, "parks are still all about sports. "Sports participation in this country is huge. And it's not just one particular ethnicity. There is huge participation in soccer, lacrosse, cricket, baseball and softball. Active adults engage in recreation. Those kinds of sports-related amenities have and will continue to draw the most people to parks. And, of course, you have to have good managers to manage the schedule."