Supplement Feature - April 2012
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Sustaining Excellence

New & Improved Landscape Design for Today's Parks

By Kelli Anderson

The Spice of Life

Another emerging trend in designing parks and playgrounds is variety. Parks and playgrounds are being designed for greater varieties of users and uses. "I think we're seeing an increase in who park planning is serving," Graham observed. "Parks nowadays are so much more than just a playground or a ballfield. We are seeing a desire for a diversity of age groups, so I design for children ages 2 to 5, or design for elderly and active adults. We are seeing more fitness trails and incorporating more of our lifestyle into our parks, and community gardens."

A healthy diversity of parks within a community includes those that focus on passive activities as well as active. Parks and gardens can be edible, historical, horticultural and cultural. It is important to have a variety of recreational landscapes to meet the diverse interests and needs of the community.

This awareness of different users within the same park also affects design elements such as seating placement. For guardians of young children, for example, seating should be in closer proximity than for older children who want the look and feel of more independence but who still need to have their parents and caregivers within sight.

Safety and Security

Designing the landscape with safety and security in mind is also high on the list of design "dos." One of many design tips in Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) suggests that choosing locations of parks and playgrounds within direct visual and physical reach of a local community reduces crime and vandalism. "Two of the most essential elements of successful design are safety and security," Graham said. "There's a national program, CPTED, that we emphasize strongly in our designs. Each park needs to be safe, and parents need to feel safe when their children are there alone, or with them. We want people to feel comfortable in a public space."

One park in Boise that continually suffered from vandalism was finally relocated closer to a street and, now more visible to the community, it has greatly improved. "The community rallied around the new park and began to self-police it, picking up trash and keeping it safe," Norton said. "Another similar issue relates to bathrooms, making sure the doors face the line of sight or looking at shrub placement to avoid any visual barriers. We work with the police force and often ask them for comments on designs to see if we are missing anything since they're the ones patrolling. It's a team effort."

Speaking of Team Effort...

Of course, no amount of planning for sustainability, safety, security or fun will matter if maintenance isn't factored into the landscape design. According to Graham, one of the most important elements overlooked during the early design phase of a project is having an accurate understanding about what the end maintenance program is going to be. A good designer, Graham said, will ask those questions from day one and will interact with anyone and everyone who might have a hand in its future upkeep, asking what resources will be available and learning about the level of commitment they are willing to make in order to maintain the park once it is finished.

"One of the major things we have learned is to have as much input during the design process on how the projects will be handed over and maintained," Seck said, underscoring the issue's importance. "We have to provide opportunities for maintenance folks to have access to lawns and not have it look like it's an afterthought. The design has to involve maintenance and operations because some unique sites will need a unique approach."