Supplement Feature - April 2012
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Sustaining Excellence

New & Improved Landscape Design for Today's Parks

By Kelli Anderson

Getting an Education

Whether incorporating historical pieces or bringing in revitalizing sustainable elements like using storm water to create a new habitat, choosing permeable pavers for hardscape materials, or even creating an eye-catching green roof, sustainable landscape design options create another great opportunity for exercising what many landscape architects and park managers feel is a vital role in their job description: education.

"We're more environmentally conscious, and the biggest part is the educational piece," said Kristy DeGuire, RLA, ASLA and president of DG2 Design Landscape Architecture in St. Louis and NRPA award winner. "Our role is to educate the public. A lot is signage and public participation, so when asking as we work with a municipality to learn from them what they want, we can also later say in a project what we believe it needs."

And these days what they may recommend is environmentally friendly permeable pavers or creating rain gardens adjacent to a playground or introducing native plants. They use the community's wish list as an opportunity to explain a new way of doing old things, such as outlining the benefits of replacing mowed grass with native plants. "Although it (the prairie grasses) may not look like a mowed lawn, they don't realize how many chemicals are needed to keep lawns green and we ask them, 'Do you really want your kids playing in that?'" DeGuire explained of their educational conversation with clients. "So we educate at public meetings."

Another key educational component of the park or playground's landscape design is signage. For DeGuire, educational signage is now coming to the forefront of many of their projects, both as a means of eliciting interest about what is, as well as creating enthusiasm about what can be.

Last fall on a conceptual /site analysis for the River des Peres Greenway project in metropolitan St. Louis, her company discovered that people wanted more amenities and greater access to the river. However, because the river was in poor condition, providing those amenities would require a lot of work. In addition to recommending ways to bring people closer to the river, DeGuire suggested that the greenway's large acreage of mowed lawn should be transformed into more prairie, a process alone that takes three years to establish.

"They're working on the signage, and an awful lot of it, to explain why the river is currently as it is, and that it will need millions to fix down the road," DeGuire said. "And another huge part is explaining the positive impact on the city if they will reduce the amount they mow by creating more prairie by not having to spray chemicals or pay people to mow it and using up gasoline."