Supplement Feature - April 2021
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Going Green, Sustaining Momentum

Park Designs Focus on Sustainability, Equity

By Chris Gelbach


Advances in Community Engagement

While the pandemic has created obvious obstacles to moving new projects forward, it has also spurred new approaches to community engagement that likely will offer benefits that last well into the future. Compton noted that her team has increasingly relied on online meeting platforms such as MeetingSift, Social Pinpoint and even traditional Facebook groups for this purpose.

George Dusenbury, Georgia state director for The Trust for Public Land, has seen powerful benefits emerge from the need to go all-virtual for community engagement efforts. He works on initiatives such as the Atlanta Community Schoolyards Project, which improves community schoolyards through a participatory design effort that includes input from children from local schools. Community members also have a chance to offer input since the program aims to not only improve the schoolyards, but to also open them up as neighborhood green spaces that the public can use during daylight hours when the schools are closed.

Part of this effort has included the creation of websites for each project (like the one at schoolyards.wixsite.com/sarahsmith) that allow residents to fill out an online survey relating to the project, contact project managers and be added to a mailing list for updates. Since Dusenbury's team can get such a site up in half a day, he sees it as a helpful tool that will be adopted moving forward.

Likewise, Zoom meetings and YouTube presentations have also proven beneficial in engaging more people than a one-time in-person presentation. "By making it virtual, you've created a situation where people can access it at their leisure, and it makes it easier for people to participate," Dusenbury said. "It's especially important with a schoolyard when you're dealing with parents, with working folks with busy schedules. Having a website and recorded presentations makes it more accessible and lowers the barrier to presentation."

At the same time, in-person meetings are still important—especially for engaging with children in the classroom and on the playground site for a schoolyard project. "There's nothing like taking the kids out to the site that we are looking to design, so I think that will continue to happen," Dusenbury said.

A Focus on Equity

These kinds of efforts can also help parks designers and parks departments get much-needed input from all demographics that will be potential users of these vital public spaces.

"We really aim to engage communities in a way that it's tailored specifically to them. So considering all current and future user groups, we want to be inclusive of all demographics while placing emphasis to the diversity, equity and inclusion aspects of the places we help develop," said Colt McDermott, parks and recreation - focus market leader for RDG Planning & Design.

According to Compton, recent TPL research found that parks in neighborhoods with majority people of color average half the size of parks serving majority-white neighborhoods, even though the former parks are surrounded by five times more people on average.

"So you've got smaller parks serving more people, and that's something that's been a particularly acute problem over the last year as people need to distance and have space," Compton said. "But that's a problem all the time. When you have a smaller park, you can't have as much programming. You can't have as many amenities. You can't fit in as many different types of uses."

In his work on comprehensive park master plans, Hornig is seeing a move toward equity as a major priority. "Trying to make sure that you've got that park within walking distance for people is a really important aspect of your long-term planning," Hornig said. In addition to working toward an equitable distribution of accessible parks, he also recommends "making some of them special and making sure they all relate to the neighborhoods they're in and have their own unique character for the context they're in."