Feature Article - May 2016
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Changing the Landscape

Natural Materials, Adventure Courses Top Design Trends

By Deborah L. Vence

Discussing more trends and development in design, Naylor said the idea of flexibility in open spaces is important, too. "We need to build flexibility into parks. Flexibility needs to apply to open space," he said, noting that Julian B. Lane Park in Tampa is a neighborhood park.

"Civitas and W Architecture and Landscape Architecture were the co-designers for the redevelopment of the 25-acre park, which had fallen into deep disrepair. While it was once a center of community activities, including basketball tournaments, tennis and community events, the number of park visitors had decreased in the last 15 years," according to information from Civitas.

The community came together around the new InVision Tampa plan to regenerate the west Tampa Riverfront and historic African-American and Latino neighborhoods. The Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park redevelopment is the first project to be implemented as part of the InVision plan.

A series of meetings with the public had revealed the community's desires and needs for greater safety and accessibility, public access to the Hillsborough River, fitness trails, picnic sites, a great lawn for events and activities, and references to community history.

Based upon the feedback, the new design creates a public space where the community can come together. The park includes programming and activities for people of all ages to enjoy, including large areas for family picnicking along the river, a community building to include senior programming, a history walk, community performance pavilion, new events lawn, splash pad and playground, structured recreation courts and fields, and additional parking.

Furthermore, the design maintains "many existing mature trees while engaging the Hillsborough River by providing a waterfront promenade, a calm water harbor for people to practice boating, and a new boating center for paddle-powered crew boats, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, canoes and dragon boats."

"At the same time, it holds events of varying sizes. They want to hold large concerts to food trucks to festivals of different kinds, while being a neighborhood park. Parks [have] to do more and more," Naylor said.

"A well-designed park system has those components. Parks often try to be everything to everyone," he added. "But many times, that's not possible. We try to design to understand in what context it's fitting in the overall network."

Naylor also discussed the issue of social equity, making sure that everyone has equal access to the benefits and advantages of parks and recreation.

"Social equity is really becoming more and more to the forefront, and open space becomes more valued and used," he said. "That's a whole area entering more and more in public space design. The homeless have a right to be in the parks. How do you handle that in a way that parks have a positive influence on everybody?"

Moreover, Naylor continues to work with parks and recreation in Denver to address the huge demand for events within parks. "… Parks are the place for people to host events. In one year, parks and recreation in Denver got a huge increase in the number of special event requests."

Eco-Friendly Elements

Landscape design has been adapting over time, with the addition of more environmentally friendly elements.

Planting design, for instance, has adapted so that more native plantings are being grown and specified that adapt better to the local conditions and climate. "Native plants establish better and require less maintenance and watering due to their longer root systems and ability to compete with invasive species," Howard explained. "This is particularly important for water conservation and in areas where water is scarce and restricted."

When it comes to illuminating landscape areas, lighting design also has advanced significantly, with an increase in energy-efficient LED lighting. Parking lot, pedestrian and sports field lighting all have LED options that reduce maintenance significantly.

Besides that, recycled content within landscape products has continued to grow as well. "For example, many unit pavers, pre-cast concrete products and concrete paving include recycled content such as recycled glass," Howard said.

The selection of site furnishings and decking materials that are made with recycled wood and plastic has increased, too. "The wood composite decking and benches are easier to manage by reducing the required maintenance of sealing or staining traditional wood products," Howard said.

Another trend that's created more eco-friendly spaces with less synthetic materials is a move toward natural or reclaimed materials in play equipment and site furnishings, weaved within the landscape.

"There may be an increase in the routine inspections required within these recreational spaces, but the upside is that the initial project costs will be significantly lower, and the natural materials are a renewable resource that can be replaced when worn out or after reaching the material's lifespan," Howard explained.

Recent research "indicates that using natural materials within natural settings supports creativity and problem-solving, enhances cognitive abilities, increases physical activity, improves academic performance, reduces stress and improves social relations," he noted.

Speaking of a more natural landscape, Naylor noted an example of Commons Park, a 19-acre natural park in Denver. "Sixty to 70 percent is native, a natural landscape," he said. "We really looked at bringing in subtle beauty. It's adjacent to downtown Denver. I think reconnecting with nature is something really important."

Commons Park is described as a "green oasis that connects downtown Denver to the Platte River. The park was designed to appeal to the urban community's interest in nature and the river. Landscape forms and experiences vary from hills, overlooks and pathways to areas for informal sports, picnics, contemplation and general play. Large areas of the park were re-established as riparian zone and riverine wetland."

In addition, the park has been credited with inspiring the redevelopment of Lower Downtown Denver with more than 2,000 new high-end for sale and for rent residential units, retail, restaurants, cafes and common urban amenities that were lacking before.

In addition, the park has a pergola that was designed for shaded seating and as a river-overlook point. Civitas restored a large wetland area and designed a bridge that responds to the city's Millennium Bridge across the park. Formerly a brownfield site, Commons Park now features native plants, birds and wildlife.