Supplement Feature - April 2013
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Exploring a New Golden Age in Landscape Architecture

By Brian Summerfield


In 2005, Richard Louv, an American journalist, published a book titled Last Child in the Woods, in which he argued that children around the world (especially in the developed countries of the West) are spending less time outside than ever before. The consequence of this has been the development of what Louv believes is a "nature deficit disorder," which has in turn led to greater levels of childhood obesity and mental issues.

Since the publication of this book, a movement spearheaded by the No Child Left Inside coalition has developed around promoting outdoor activities and environmental awareness among youth.

This has also spurred parks and recreation spaces to offer more nature-based play, Hornig said. He added that this often "looks somewhere between the real thing and Disney" — that is, it's either a natural environment that has been manipulated or it's a combination of synthetic and natural materials that mimic a particular ecological system.

This move toward natural "playscapes" that incorporate native materials such as stones, logs and water helps children use their capacity for creativity, said Crawford.

"Manufactured and prefab playground equipment serves a purpose and there's a need for it, but children learn more if they're playing in natural environments," he explained. "When a child walks up to a prefabricated piece of play equipment, the behavior for that is very prescribed. With a natural feature, the exploration is left to the children."

Along these lines, aquatic features such splashpads and spray fountains have been brought to park landscape design. "These are generally smaller elements that support an overall play environment," Hornig said.

Another important aspect of outdoor recreational spaces for the public today is adaptation. "One of the overriding factors is flexibility—being able to use these spaces for multiple purposes and easily adapt to other uses in the future, for sports like field hockey, soccer, lacrosse, rugby, Aussie rules football," Crawford said.

This is especially critical in more populated, urbanized areas, Walters added. "Multipurpose programming is instrumental for city parks," he said. "Flexible outdoor spaces allow for opportunities for the community to utilize these areas."

The need to accommodate more organized sports has led to more implementations of artificial turf fields over the past few years, Hornig said. These fields can take more abuse than natural fields, and can be used in all kinds of weather as well. And for parks that decide to go the natural route, there are smarter irrigation techniques, often supported by technology. "From a sports field perspective, there are lots of systems out there that will reduce the amount of native water that has to be used for irrigation," Crawford said.