Guest Column - October 2013
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The Lost Episodes of Parks and Recreation
(That We Would Like to See…)

By Eric F. Hornig

Let me start by saying, Amy Poelher and the writing team at NBC are brilliant. I have long been a fan of this style of comedy, and this should in no way be taken as a criticism. If you are familiar with the show "Parks and Recreation" and its characters, you will be able to identify with the storyline below, which I believe has untapped potential to showcase the humor in our industry…at least that's what I keep telling myself.

Episode One: A Forgotten Gift

It's a Monday, overcast and gray, with very little to look forward to in the week. As the director, you are content to coffee up and close the door in hopes of stretching the morning paper until lunch. But it is not to be…

Your assistant storms in waving a piece of paper and shouts "We won, we won!" Apparently she discovered a notice of award from the State Department of Health, Tourism and Natural Systems for a grant that your deputy director submitted on the department's behalf nearly five years ago to build a new park. You thought it had no chance of being awarded, so you weren't worried about it, but after being shelved for lack of funding, and then lost, the grant was awarded to your community. It is for $500,000, with only two small catches. You need to come up with another $500,000, and confirmation is required in 24 hours. Oh yeah, and then you have to do it!

Although you try to bury it, to avoid having to do any actual work, your deputy director gets wind of it and calls an immediate task force together as well as a special town council meeting. It looks like you can divert money from the streets, sewer and tree replacement account for the next seven years to help fund the match. The council assembles, begins discussion, breaks to have cake to celebrate the good deeds of a boy who helped carry a lady's groceries, and then around 9 p.m. asks for public comment. One man asks, "Do we really even need parks?" Another vehemently opposes the project on the grounds that it would create extra traffic in his neighborhood. One lady wants to know if the mail would still be delivered on Tuesdays (which was confirmed).

After a four-hour filibuster by a longstanding council member who generally just votes the opposite of the majority, and another round of cake, a vote is taken. The project will move forward, and your life just got far more complicated. In the morning, after driving to each council member's house who left without executing the document, you are able to obtain the nine signatures required on each of the 14 originals to be submitted, only having to backtrack twice to obtain signatures missed on one page or another.

You send your assistant and her boyfriend with the signed documents and charge them with the task of delivering it to the capitol building by 12 p.m. that day, no matter what. No matter what equates to two speeding tickets, three gas station fill-ups, assorted candies, a surf-and-turf lunch and a wardrobe change at the mall, but the package was delivered, just in time! The only path to sanity for you now is to dish this off to your deputy director.

Episode Two: How Tough Can It Be?

You gladly accept the assignment from the director to see the project through to completion. Your ever-present energy and optimistic attitude sails you through the first steps of organizing your team and setting the project up for success. You send out a request for proposals from qualified designers with good results. During interviews, you consider the designer wearing a cape and top hat for style points alone, but settle on a combination of the cheapest / farthest design firm, thinking that that you still need some value, and the out-of-town firm must be experts.

The plan evolves and showcases a new playground, splashpad, shelter, soccer field, trails, baseball field and various site amenities. It is shaping up quite nicely. Against your better judgment, you hold another public meeting to ascertain the public opinion (i.e., it is a grant requirement). After explaining that north is up, the circles represent new trees on the plan, and assuring the citizens that mail will still be delivered on Tuesday, you escape from the meeting with two requests, a permanent pig roasting pit and dog bowl drinking fountain big enough for three dogs at once. How tough can it be?

As you mire through the details of the project, your once-optimistic disposition begins to wane. Your baseball field was planned on the edge of a "wetland" (which was really just a broken drain tile). So after review by the County Department of Sinkholes and Silt (CDSS), your field becomes about 50 feet shorter to account for a protective buffer. No problem, even Fenway has a short porch. You also determine that the park is prime habitat for the Zebra Crested Pixie Bank Swallow. This endangered species nests in thumb-size holes in the earth and thousands have made their home in the topsoil pile left there from last year. Another 50-foot buffer along with some habitat development (i.e., bundles of sticks), requested by the Federal Department of Fur, Fins and Feet (FDFFF), allows you to move forward.

You also learn that your park is not an allowed use in the property's zoning district (which is agricultural, because you wouldn't want to mix park patrons and farmers), and you make your way to the permit office to determine the next steps. Awaking the permit reviewer from their slumber, you are told that the park property is not on file, and therefore does not exist (which will be news to the bank swallows); hence nothing else can be done to advance the process. Reminding them that you work for the same city, that this is a city project, and that this is on city property, yields no results. They return to slumber surprisingly easily despite your raised voice and impassioned plea for logic to prevail.

After using political channels to engage a supervisor, it turns out there was just a typo and the property does exist. You are able to get the issue resolved after only six hours in the archives, and are set up for a special zoning hearing to have the park use allowed, as well as waive the requirement for 87 bike racks needed to comply with the new Sustainability Happening In Transportation (acronym omitted) ordinance (which requires one bike rack for every two vehicular spaces to help cut down on carbon emissions).

After promising not to add any additional plants or leave any open water that could be construed as a food source or habitat for birds (which can get caught in propellers and cause planes to crash), the Federal Consortium of Airplane Enthusiasts (FCAE) agrees to let the project advance only after the habitat development for the Zebra Crested Pixie Bank Swallow has been removed from the project. This aggravates the FDFFF causing a nine-month standoff, resolved over a paper-rock-scissors match (best two out of three).

As the final hurdle in the permitting process, you concede with the Sickness & Injury Prevention Department (SIPD) inspector to stencil a "No Diving" and "3" Depth" label outside of the oversized dog dish at the base of your drinking fountain, just to make sure no one is tricked by the water and tries to take a plunge head first.

Even with a pep talk from your consistently positive city manager, you are unable to shake the pessimism brought on by the ridiculousness of the design and permitting process. You pledge to take your first vacation in years and assign your administrator to complete the project. He will bring a sense of style to the finishing touches and might even enjoy the public limelight that will come with the opening.

Editor's Note: What happens next? The story is continued in Episode Three. To continue reading, visit the web-exclusive section of the website at:

Eric Hornig is a principal and landscape architect with Hitchcock Design Group's Recreation Studio. Hitchcock Design Group is a landscape architecture and planning firm with offices in Chicago and Naperville, Ill.