Supplement Feature - April 2015
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Find the Right Site Furnishings for Your Space

By Rick Dandes

Choosing the right site furnishings, from benches and picnic tables to light fixtures and trash receptacles, is an important part of making sure your park or recreational space and the surrounding area is enjoyable and safe for everyone. And, when properly integrated in the design of the public space, furnishings can help create an identity and develop a sense of community that will attract a larger and more diverse population of users.

When it comes to choosing site furnishings, said Scott Crawford, senior partner, landscape architect, RDG Planning & Design, Des Moines, Iowa, "start by understanding the character of the park or public space. Does it have a particular theme or architectural style? As a designer, if I have not been involved in the initial overall planning, I'll also want to know what the vertical infrastructure of the park is: if there is a restaurant building, shade structures, a community center within the space. Once I understand that, I would then try to select a family of furnishings that have a similar character to carry consistently throughout the park."

Many times in a master plan, Crawford suggested, you'll want to include a furnishings recommendation, with families of all the different types of furnishings that you would typically include in a park. And that includes everything from furniture down to light fixtures and trash receptacles. Any kind of dog or pet amenities should be a part of that, as well. Do this to provide a guide for the parks department so that years later, if they need to, they can order and install new furniture for their trail system, for example.

What frustrates park designers like Crawford most is to go through a trail system or a park system and see five different kinds of furnishings. That detracts from the overall aesthetics of the park, he said, and the experience of the park user.

But site furnishings have other important benefits besides pure aesthetics. Shade canopies and shelters can help prevent sunburns and dehydration of the people who come to the park by giving them a cool area to rest and relax in the midst of their play or exercise routine. They can also help prevent the possible risk of burns because of overheated play equipment, such as older metal slides. Picnic tables and benches are a nice place for children to rest or enjoy a snack; at the same time, they offer parents and supervisors a comfortable, convenient area from which to watch their children.

If you offer comfortable and useful site furnishings, said Marilee Gray, marketing director for a site furnishings manufacturer in Janesville, Iowa, "it is certainly true that patrons will be more likely to use your facilities for longer periods of time."

All of these factors should be key to your master plan, Crawford explained. "In your guide to furnishings, there should be specific recommendations to where those furnishings should be placed."

Sometimes placement is intuitive: You want to have picnic tables near trash receptacles. Oftentimes you'll have intersections of trail systems next to drinking fountains, and perhaps even bike racks, if it is an area where people are going to be coming off the trail system to a destination point, whether it's to use a restroom, or to go to a commercial retail hub along the trail system.

Look comprehensively at how people are going to behave and what their actions are going to be when they are either coming to a park or when they are moving through a trail system. You want to focus a lot of your furnishing dollars at those particular points of activity because that is where they'll get the most use.

Lighting will be a part of the furnishings package as well. Factors in choosing the right lights should include a discussion about safety, accessibility and overall use of the park and trail system during the nighttime hours. Oftentimes the posted hours of the park are 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. After closing you might consider dimming lights in the park, kicked down to a lower lighting intensity level, or even turning off half of them for six or seven hours to conserve energy. Safety, however, is always the primary consideration, particularly if you're concerned about vandalism.