Special Supplement: A Complete Guide to Site Furnishings & Park Components

Planning the right park components

By Stacy St. Clair

It's a shame, the things we do to innocent site furnishings.

Install a picnic table there. Slap a fountain over here. Put in a few benches and—voilà!—you've got yourself a perfectly furnished park, right?


To get the maximum value from your park furnishings, you have to invest a lot of forethought. You must think about each piece and its value to both the facility's goals and its aesthetics.

You should anticipate your patrons' needs, deciding which elements must be shaded and which can accommodate those with disabilities. All this must be done before you can begin thinking about selecting materials, maintaining them and preventing them from becoming vandalism targets.

Recreation managers who pay little heed to the importance of site furnishings find themselves paying a lot more in the long run. Without the proper elements, parks may never live up to their full potential.

"Some parks don't give a lot of thought to site furnishings," says Kathy Madden, senior vice president for the New York-based Project for Public Spaces (PPS). "Often people just put them in, and they're not used."

Fortunately, the furnishing industry and landscape architects have made selecting park elements as simple as decorating your own home. With a little information and a lot of attention to detail, your park can be fabulously furnished in no time.


In many cases, master plans or development standards facilitate the site furnishing selection process. They ensure that all purchased materials meet certain expectations and maintain a uniform appearance throughout the community.

Many parks departments prefer bulk purchases, which can make finding replacement parts easy and reduces manpower. It also makes sure that everything purchased follows certain codes (like the Americans with Disability Act) and can withstand the local elements.

This will give you a cohesive look, but don't let it be your only option. It may eliminate the hodgepodge appearance of some communities, but it also may give your park a boring, tedious look.

When deciding your budget, however, remember that even similar-size parks will have differing budgets based on themes, historical demands and the venue's goals. If you are challenged by such places, it would be beneficial to use a landscape architect or a civic organization like People for Public Spaces. They both can provide expert advice—particularly in places with programming challenges—to create highly functional parks.

Before you can begin the planning process, however, you must decide how the park will be used. Your decision will give you the best information on how to proceed.

"It's one of the biggest mistakes parks make," Madden says. "They don't ask themselves how the space will be used or what is needed to accommodate those uses."

Trash Talk

A few things to keep in mind when choosing and installing garbage receptacles and recycling bins:

  • Before purchasing, consider how easy it will be for maintenance crews to empty the container.
  • Be sure to purchase enough cans so litter doesn't become a problem.
  • If your park has a vandalism problem, stay away from plastic containers that easily melt when set on fire.
  • Place latched or animal-proof receptacles in wilderness areas.
  • Consider fines for campers who leave trash at their sites.


The Project for Public Spaces (PPS), which has helped communities plan parks worldwide for more than 30 years, offers a series of steps on how to turn any place around. And, the truth is, it's a lot easier than it may seem at first.

"It's hard to design a space that will not attract people," sociologist and PPS inspiration William H. Whyte once said. "What is remarkable is how often this has been accomplished."

The first step is to identify the talent within your community. In each town, there are people who understand the needs and wants of local residents. Obtaining this information at the beginning of the process will help prevent future headaches.

If you plan to turn an under-used space into a vital place, the right sight furnishings must be introduced to make people feel welcome. Select benches, chairs and tables that encourage people to spend long periods of time in an area without having to go elsewhere to have their needs met.

The best way to accomplish this is to think of your park as a series of spaces rather than one massive recreation opportunity.

"A good park should have at least 10 separate places," Madden says.

For example, if you want your park to have a playground component, you must consider that area's needs. In addition to being close to the parking lot to make it easier for kids and care-givers to reach it, there also should be picnic tables, benches for parents to sit and trash cans.

There also should be fountains that both parents and children can use, as well as a shade element to protect children from harmful ultraviolet rays.

"You need to ask yourself what's going on there now and how you can improve it," Madden says.

Madden and other PPS experts recommend triangulation, which Whyte defined as "the process by which some external stimulus provides a linkage between strangers as if they knew each other." In a public space, the selection and arrangement of site furnishings can put the process in motion. For example, if a bench, trash receptacle and a recycling bin are placed with no connection to each other, they may receive limited use. But stick them next to a hot-dog stand, and they will bring people together.

On a broader level, Madden says, if a new playground is placed next to a children's library and food kiosk, more activity will occur than if these facilities were located separately.

"We're trying to teach this view all over the world," Madden says. "Triangulation is the best way to encourage activity in a public space."

Quick Quiz

Is your picnic table wheelchair-accessible? Take the following quiz. If you answer "no" to any of the questions, you might need rethink your park's accessibility.

1. Does the table's knee space allow a minimum of 27 inches in height, 30 inches in width and 19 inches in depth?

2. Does the toe clearance have a minimum 9-inch height and extend an additional 5-inch minimum from the knee clearance?

3. Is the clear floor space a minimum of 30 inches by 48 inches, with one fully unobstructed side connected to an outdoor recreation route?

4. Does the table clearance have a minimum 36 inches of clear floor or ground space surrounding the usable portion of the table, measured from the seat?


It's no secret that many recreation managers consider site furnishings an afterthought, the last mundane task in an otherwise exciting project. But here's the real truth: The right combination of tables, benches and chairs help make the impossible possible.

Many saw proof of this magic during Super Bowl XL in Detroit, where the newly opened Campus Martius shined like a community diamond during the week. The public square was the focal point for many events, helping to shed a better light on the much-maligned Motor City.

The project began nearly six years ago, when a group called Detroit 300 decided to honor the city's tercentennial. The civic organization aimed to revitalize the blighted downtown and decided to make the park the centerpiece of its effort.

The group raised $25 million to create the downtown square. They wanted a place that would be more than just beautiful: They wanted it to be a lively, energetic place where people would interact with one another.

A little history, after Detroit's fire of 1805, President Thomas Jefferson tapped Judge Augustus Woodward to oversee the layout of new streets, squares and lots with the assistance of Canada's best surveyors. The judged used instruments and astronomical devices to determine the city's "true north." He called this the Point of Origin and made it the center from which Detroit's coordinate system was created.

The judge's plans also called for the site to be used as a public square, but it never happened. The site was used as a drill site and gathering place for Michigan residents to march off to war, but it remained a vacant lot for nearly 200 years.

Bench Marks

Ten places to put benches:

  • Playgrounds
  • Entrances
  • Exits
  • Nearby bus or public transportation spots
  • Trail heads
  • Areas conducive to waterfowl feedings
  • Near fountains
  • Near concession vendors
  • At lookouts and overviews
  • Near historical markers

Six ways to get a bigger bang for your benches:

1. Provide shade. Benches are not just for people who want to bask in the sun. Take advantage of leafy canopies or buy table umbrellas so everyone can enjoy the furnishings.

2. Be wary of placing wooden benches in a grassy or natural setting. Without diligent care, they're susceptible to rot. Consider a more durable material.

3. Resist the temptation to put benches far off the beaten path. In addition to making it difficult for handicap patrons to reach, it also causes a mowing nightmare and can be a graffiti magnet.

4. Place benches along cement or paved paths. It creates a connection to the path and reduces mowing problems. It also spares visitors from having to trek through the mud after a heavy rain.

5. To deter skateboarders from riding on your benches and scratching them, install armrests. They'll thwart the free ride.

6. Seatbacks provide comfort. If you need to limit the amount of time people spend sitting around, purchase backless benches.

As the city's 300th birthday approached, Detroit 300 wanted to embrace Woodward's vision and develop a town legacy. They tapped Indiana-based Rundell Ernstberger Associates to transform a series of asphalt lots into a new square.

Advocates envisioned the park's unique and central location on Detroit's main street—Woodward Avenue—as the critical foundation from which the real revitalization would take hold, connect and spread to other downtown activity centers. But it wouldn't be easy, especially in Detroit, where decay and disinterest had become the hallmarks of its downtown.

Working with the Project for Public Spaces, it would take landscape architects nearly six years to fully realize—and then exceed—Woodward's vision.

"There were times when you say to yourself, 'What am I doing here?'" architect Dean Rundell says. "But the end result made it worth it."

The firm created a park unlike anything Detroit had ever seen. It was designed to be used year-round, offering concerts during the warmer months and ice skating throughout the winter. During Super Bowl week, it hosted the highly praised Motown Winter Blast.

The square boasts several amenities such as an ice rink, Au Bon Pain café and wireless Internet access. All three elements embrace the principles promoted by the Project for Public Spaces by encouraging people to assemble, interact and socialize.

For the park's centerpiece, Rundell installed a year-round fountain with more than 100 jets. A raised central plinth contains jets that can shoot water in excess of 100 feet into the air while water shimmers and cascades down granite walls into the basin below. Water also cascades down perimeter steps while jets arc in from the corners.

During the holidays, the city's annual Christmas tree is placed in the center of the fountain while water cascades down from it. By making it an operational focal point in all seasons, Rundell eliminated the barren, blighted feel created by an unused fountain in the winter.

Elementary, My Dear

With a little imagination, site furnishings can serve a multitude of purposes.

They can offer rest to the weary. They can add color to a drab area. They can promote eco-friendliness. And, in at least one case, they can be combined to provide a safe haven for children.

A few years ago, Sawmills Elementary School in Granite Falls, N.C., had a serious problem. There wasn't a turn-in lane in front of the school.

When the final bell rang, parents created a dangerous traffic nightmare searching for their children. To remedy the problem, the principal pushed all their outdoor benches together to create one giant bus stop.

"We decided to buy enough benches so that the children could sit and wait for their parents to pick them up by grade level," says Alisa Bumgarner, Sawmills administrative assistant. "For example, the kindergartners all sit together at the front of the line of benches because they are dismissed first."

The decision immediately made the area safer for children, keeping them organized and away from the street. The school was so pleased with the super-sized bench that administrators purchased four more after the first year to make it even longer.

"It is also a lot safer and easier for the kids because you don't have them running all over the place, and they have a place to sit," Bumgarner says. "They seem to like it a lot as well."

Parents are also thrilled with the new system. They now can pick up their kids without worrying about a child darting into the street or tying up traffic as they search for their own.

"The parents seem to really like it a lot," Bumgarner says. "They know exactly where to go to pick up their kids, depending on what grade they are in, and there is no more holding up traffic. It is much better organized."

In addition to remedying the traffic problem, the new benches also cured a longtime vandalism headache. For years, skaters had been scratching the school's site furnishings with their boards.

The new super-bench's design fixed that.

"We put handles around our new benches so that there would be no skateboarding," Bumgarner says.

"This is something really unique," Rundell says. "It makes the lighting ceremony very special."

Granite walls also line the western edge of two sitting gardens. Their sculpted forms provide a sense of constant motion, while the sound of gently dripping water provides a much-needed, quiet escape from the hustle and bustle of Woodward Avenue.

"We felt it was important to have some sort of white noise there," Rundell says.

The park also boasts 750 moveable chairs and tables, which allow patrons to create their own social groupings. It gives the park the feel of a European square, a private, personal space amid very public surroundings.

Rundell selected stainless-steel and aluminum site furnishings because they would best reflect the vibrant hues of the park's magnificent gardens. They also give the square the sleek, sophisticated feel that Detroit 300 hoped to capture with a downtown renaissance.

"It allows some of the other colors to stand out," Rundell says. "We felt that it was a neutral material that would work well."

At either end of the north lawn, two stage platforms rise out of the plaza pavement. With permanent, state-of-the-art lighting and sound systems, the stages provide myriad entertainment possibilities. When the performances are over, the stages recess back into the ground and out of the way of general park use. The square also has a portable canopy system that can be used at either stage in case of inclement weather.

The lighting and sound system, however, has poles that stretch 30 feet into the air. In an effort to avoid an unwanted eyesore, the architects chose a stainless-steel trellis and planters from which vines and flowers can grow. This makes the color vegetation a focal point instead of the poles.

"We had to do something," Rundell says. "They [the poles] looked so big in such a small place."

The architects also incorporated artwork that paid homage to the city's history. On the northeast corner, a piece honors the city's contribution to music and culture. On the northwest side, there is a tribute to the area's industry and innovation.

Two murals also depict the park's past and future. One shows Judge Woodward and the troops assembling, while the other depicts the square's present day uses.

They also moved a 450-ton statue honoring the site's military history. The granite piece was refurbished, and a new base was added to provide additional seating for patrons.

"We wanted people to be able to touch the statue, to sit on it and interact with it," Rundell says.

The park's end result has been amazing. The project truly created something that changed Detroit's image in people's minds. The square hosts more than 200 events each year, ranging from an international jazz festival to a story hour for kids.

In its first year, Campus Martius attracted roughly 750,000 visitors. Its seats are filled during lunch time, and it has even become a recreation destination for families who had moved out of Detroit.

"The response to the whole park has been outstanding," Rundell says. "It's even bringing people from the suburbs back to the downtown."

The square also has begun to meet its goal of revitalizing Detroit. Since plans for the park were announced, $500 million of new investment has flown into the area. The area now has new retail shops, loft developments and revamped office space.

The most significant improvement was the opening of a major computer firm's office across from the square. During the lunch hour, the park is now filled with many of Compuware's 4,000 employees.

It's a testament to what the right creativity, the right enthusiasm and the right elements can do for a park.

"We've created something," Rundell says, "that belongs to everybody."

Doggie Do

It's no exaggeration to say Metro Parks Tacoma in Washington was hounded by the public to come up with a dog park. Citizens' groups met with parks officials on several occasions, trying to find the perfect spot that could appease both pooch lovers and bean counters.

At the time, the park system faced a budget crunch not unlike many recreation departments today. Officials, who provide recreation services for the city's 200,000 residents, had even toyed with shuttering a few parks.

One of those on the potential chopping block was Rogers Park, located on the east side of town. Seventy-five volunteers from Metro Park's chip-in program spent a Saturday removing tons of brush, debris and litter. It was no small task because the park had been offline for many years with only minimum maintenance.

With a large exercise area carved out, work began on a park that both dogs and their owners could enjoy. They installed the requisite fencing, gates, paths and upgrades, but it was the park system's water fountain that really set the facility apart.

Parks plumber Mike Nelson came up with an idea only a canine could love. He proposed placing a fire hydrant in the park and converting it into a fountain. He found a 1962 hydrant that had been city surplus and retrofitted the discarded fire plug to a two-level water fountain for dogs and their owners.

With the help of parks welder Wayne Knuston—who is also a painter—they drilled, painted and sculpted it into a water fountain of doggie aspirations. For the base, they created a concrete landing in the shape of a dog bone, a difficult task given the bone has no straight lines. Before the concrete set, many park employees brought their dogs to the park and cast their paw prints.

The hydrant, which was a hit with patrons, was awarded the Maintenance Idea of the Year by the International Northwest Parks & Recreation Association in 2005.

The canine theme also was carried out in other site furnishings. The benches, which offer doggie parents a place to rest while their pooches run free, also sit on bone-shaped cement pads.

"We have had an extremely positive response from the community, and there is almost always someone there during daylight hours," says Susan Hulbert, Tacoma Parks communications director.

The park has been so successful, officials say it played a key role in the passage of a recent bond issue. Roughly 62 percent of voters gave the park system permission—as well as the tax dollars—to put dog parks in each of the city's four quadrants.

"This whole experience and the park really helps build community," Hulbert says.


Nothing can hit your park's reputation—or budget—harder than poor upkeep of site furnishings.

Run-down elements discourage patronage and, in many cases, invite vandalism. Conventional wisdom may suggest better maintenance cures the problem, but that's not always the ideal solution. Increased maintenance means more money must be spent on labor and materials, a move that ultimately can hurt the park's overall fiscal health.

With a little forethought and extra effort, however, recreation managers can maintain an inviting, well-kept appearance. When choosing site furnishings, for example, the price tag shouldn't always be the bottom line.

You also must factor in maintenance and durability. How often does the item have to be replaced? How much maintenance time and money will have to be spent to keep it safe, usable and looking good? Be willing to pay a little more upfront if it means less maintenance in the long run.

The first step in reducing maintenance cost is deterring graffiti. Concrete and plastic structures, for example, easily withstand the rigors of vandalism. Brick and wood, meanwhile, are more vulnerable during the removal process. Dark, rough surfaces deter vandals because their work will not be as visible, thus denying them the thrill of seeing their crime on display. Regardless of material type, all outdoor furnishings should be covered with a protective coating that allows graffiti to be expunged without damaging the paint or surfaces beneath. If graffiti does appear, it should be removed within 48 hours.

When choosing site furnishings, it's important to think about how it will impact your maintenance crews and the bottom line. Make sure, for example, the receptacles are large enough to allow you to dictate your own emptying schedule. If your bins aren't big enough, you risk garbage spilling out onto the grounds as well as increasing your maintenance staff's workload by requiring them to work frequent trash-emptying trips into their day.

The best way to reduce maintenance, of course, is to select site furnishings that don't require much upkeep. One such option is recycled-plastic components, which boast molded-in colors that never require painting or staining. The products are not only strong, they are environmentally friendly, too. The sturdy material comes in a variety of styles and is used for a variety of furnishings, including park benches, picnic tables and trash receptacles. Their durability can make them ideal for heavy-traffic areas such as school playgrounds, ball fields, golf courses and trails.

When building your own outdoor furnishings, consider using plastic lumber and timbers. High-quality plastic lumber can provide a desirable alternative to traditional materials because it can withstand the elements better. Plastic lumber and timbers will not crack, split or splinter, which makes them a good material to use in places where concrete, wood or metal needs to be replaced. Plastic lumber can be cut, drilled and nailed using standard woodworking tools. Unlike treated lumber, it does not leach out chemicals that pollute surface and groundwater. Plastic materials also can be disposed of easily, unlike treated lumber, and can be recycled after use.

However, it is not a one-for-one replacement for wood because it is more flexible. Check with the manufacturer before purchasing to ensure it will meet your applicable needs.

Of course, many still may opt for the natural beauty of wood or the artistic look of metalwork or stone. If you decide to go with furnishings made of wood, metal or other materials, it seems obvious, but make sure you keep them up. Like the old proverb says, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Stain or paint regularly as directed to prevent bigger maintenance headaches from arising.

You may want to consider buying park components in bulk, though experts warn it could lead to a generic feel to your park. However, having a master plan or park standards can help reduce maintenance migraines. From a practical standpoint, bulk buying makes replacing parts easier and means the maintenance staff won't have to grapple with 42 different types of benches and their individual upkeeping needs.

Pavilion Pride

Site furnishings offer a wonderful opportunity for private donations and corporate sponsorships. In addition to generating revenue, they also give stakeholders a personal interest in a park's success.

For proof, look no further than philanthropist Dickson Downey, an 87-year-old Vero Beach, Fla., resident. He approached his local recreation department a few years ago about building a pavilion, his gift to the community.

"My wife and I decided if I was ever going to give anybody something," he says, "I'd better do it."

While similar pavilions had been successful in Saratoga, N.Y., and Melbourne, Fla., Downey hoped it would embody the same qualities of the bandstand in his boyhood town. The shelter played a key role in the town's social world, serving as a gathering place on the weekends.

"On Saturday night, all of the farmers would come with their Model Ts and bring instruments if they played," he says. "It was a big summer event on Diamond Lake, and the town supported the lake. It was the only source of amusement—we didn't have television then."

Those memories stayed with Downey for more than 75 years. Once the recreation department approved his vision, he began working with a designer to recreate his boyhood memory.

The result was one of the most magnificent pavilions on the Florida coast. The 4,000-square-foot structure has withstood several hurricanes and gone through several weather-induced repairs.

Still the Grand Pavilion has become a wildly popular place for weddings, which some couples must book more than a year in advance. It also has been rented out for parties, family reunions and Boy Scout events.

"In fact, about a month or so ago, my wife and I wanted to give a party, and it was sold out," Downey says.

The Vero Beach Recreation Department handles all the scheduling for the Grand Pavilion. Park officials also re-contoured the land around the structure so people could put lawn chairs around it during concerts and other events.

"It has been more successful than we ever hoped it would be," Downey says. "The public reaction has been very positive. It fills a gap in the town's facilities."

Healing Gardens

Not all parks must offer colorful playgrounds, paddleboats or basketball courts to be successful.

Sometimes they succeed simply by being there.

Therapeutic gardens have become increasingly popular in the United States and Canada as a way to restore tranquility and order in the lives of the very ill. Designed for people with temporary and permanent disabilities, they often can be found near hospitals and rehabilitation centers.

"Therapeutic Garden is a very broad term," landscape architect Gary Blanford says. "It depends on what you're defining as to what your definition of a therapeutic garden is. It can be whatever you want it to be."

Though they have become trendy in recent years, therapeutic gardens date back to the Middle Ages in Europe. Monasteries used restorative gardens in their medieval hospices to give patients an opportunity to enjoy sunlight, comfort and hope. Psychiatric facilities embraced the value of outdoor spaces in the 18th and 19th centuries. Landscaped views were created to provide soothing experiences, while grounds maintenance and gardening became part of the patient's therapy.

Therapeutic gardens, however, fell out of vogue in the 20th century, when technological advances overshadowed nature's benefits. As the popularity of hospice care rebounded toward the end of the century, facilities that catered to AIDS, cancer and Alzheimer's patients included gardens for their restorative value. Though lush, colorful plants are the centerpiece of gardens, site furnishings also play an important role.

The areas should have moveable chairs and benches, which encourages people to socialize. Seating areas also should be placed near trees, whose foliage moves easily and creates a relaxing noise even in a slight breeze. When placing seats, experts urge facilities to provide seating for varying levels of sociability.

Some chairs and benches should be placed at the entrance for people who can not walk far. Other furnishings should be placed in secluded enclaves where people can spend private (and perhaps final) moments with their family or close friends. Seats also should have backs and sturdy arms that provide support to weak visitors.

If possible, install birdbaths and bird feeders to attract birds, which will give a bucolic feel even in an urban setting. Shelters and other shade elements also are crucial components because they allow the gardens to be enjoyed throughout the year as well as during inclement weather.

The therapeutic areas also should include a water feature, which can create a psychological screen that experts believe helps the restorative process. Still water also encourages meditation and peacefulness.

Before selecting where to place a water element, however, be sure to consider wind exposure and competing noises. As with any park, the garden and its furnishings must be well-maintained to be beneficial. They also must be open and available to everyone who wishes to enter.

And, perhaps most important, patrons must know about these therapeutic areas. Be sure to install directional signs, perhaps with an identifying symbol, that direct patrons to the garden.


The right site furnishings encourage people to enjoy the great outdoors. They bring them into the open, where fresh air and sunshine bolster their health.

But while you're urging patrons to bask in nature's benefits, be sure you're not inadvertently endangering them. It's important to provide an ample number of site furnishings with shade protection.

In doing so, it's no exaggeration to say you may be helping save lives. Shade protection has become an invaluable partner in the fight against sunburns and skin cancers.

Unprotected site furnishings and playground equipment can get too hot to touch during the summer months, which can lead to children and adults being severely burnt. Equally troubling—and an often overlooked—aspect of children's health is the lack of UV protection.

The depletion of the earth's ozone is increasing our exposure to the sun's dangerous ultraviolet rays. With more than 1 million cases diagnosed each year, skin cancer currently ranks among the fastest growing cancers in the United States. A baby born today is twice as likely to develop skin cancer than 10 years ago. Research also shows as few as two severe sunburns during childhood double the chance of developing potentially deadly melanoma later in life.

A survey sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that about 43 percent of white children under age 12 had at least one sunburn during the past year.

Doctors nationwide have been troubled by what they see as a growing incidence of melanoma among younger patients. Pediatric melanoma, once almost unheard of, now affects about seven children per million, according to 2002 statistics from the National Cancer Institute. While that amounts to only about 500 children each year, the number has risen from three permillion in 1982.

"There's an appropriate level of alarm here," says Dr. Anthony Mancini, dermatology chief at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago. "Clearly it's happening, and it's deadly, and it's missed."

As more and more people become aware of the harmful effects of ultraviolet exposure, an increasing number of recreation managers are providing sun protection at their facilities. Playgrounds, splash play areas, pools, skateparks, benches, tables, bleachers, dugouts and concession areas—which were once left uncovered—now are being protected with shade canopies. As an added benefit, shade covers also can protect spectators and children from errant foul balls from adjacent ball fields. In short, this once "optional" park amenity has become a required element where patrons' health and welfare is concerned.

Fortunately, the shade industry is ready to help in the fight against ultraviolet rays with long-lasting, durable and attractive products. The best elements offer extensive warranties and come in a range of colors and shapes. When purchasing a new shade product, you first must ask yourself several questions. What is the warranty on rust through corrosion on metal components? What is the deterioration warranty on fabric canopies, including stitching thread? And, most importantly, does the canopy screen up to 99 percent of ultraviolet rays?

Recreation managers also should consider whether the shade element's design allows you to remove and then re-attach the canopies during the winter or in the event of severe weather such as a hurricane. While most canopies can withstand at least 80 mile-per-hour winds, they do not provide a substantial snow-load rating. They also cannot survive a hurricane's angry thrashing. It's important to be able to remove canopies when you need to and easily reattach them later without hiring outside installers.

When deciding how large or how tall your shade cover should be, you must consider playground requirements established by the American Society for Testing and Materials. Overhead obstacles should be at least 7 feet away from the nearest designated play surface. As the amount of shade provided is inversely related to the shade cover's height, try not to exceed the minimum by too much. Check with your manufacturer for exact spacing, as most shade roofs are hip designs that rise higher as they approach the canopy's center.

When covering bleachers, stay 8 feet above the top row to discourage patrons from reaching up and grabbing the roof rafters. On all other shade applications, common sense prevails when deciding where to place the posts. For example, avoid high-traffic areas and beware of underground piping and building foundations.

Canopies also offer a secondary benefit to recreation managers with tight budgets. Facilities throughout the country use colorful permanent shade structures to give their parks a facelift, as well as block the sun. While they're keeping patrons safe, shade structures need not be sterile, boring elements. Embrace the various shades and colors offered as a way to add some pizzazz to your park. Vibrant hues and fun styles can bolster a playful and energetic atmosphere at your facility.

A Helping Hand

You're ready to design a dream park. You've got the funding, the community support and the vision.

But where do you go from here? Who's going to help you select the perfect bench? Who knows exactly where to place that picnic table so that it gets the maximum use?

You, my friend, need a landscape architect. Landscape architecture encompasses the analysis, planning, design, management and stewardship of both natural and built environments. These projects include parks and recreation areas, as well as dozens of other kinds of open spaces.

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) is a good place to begin your search. The 107-year-old organization began with just 11 members but has swelled to 16,200 members and 48 chapters worldwide. The group promotes the profession and advances the practice through advocacy, education, communication and fellowship.

The association also can reduce the stress recreation managers feel when they're trying to locate the right landscape architect. ASLA has an ultra-helpful firm finder database on its Web site. Just type in your location and project type. Within seconds you'll have a list of certified firms in your area, as well as their phone numbers, e-mail addresses and Web sites.

For more information, call the American Society of Landscape Architects at 888-999-ASLA or visit www.asla.org.


Regardless of the park's purpose, there's at least one furnishing priority: seating. Under the Project for Public Space's triangulation philosophy, seating should be situated where it's connected to other purposes.

To this end, the PPS recommends moveable chairs in parks. This allows people to create their own space and their own social groupings. In giving them a sense of freedom, patrons will feel at ease in the surroundings and are more likely to return.

"It gives them a sense of flexibility," Madden says. "When you observe, everyone who sits down moves their chair, even if it's just six inches."

Beyond ADA

Being truly accessible requires going beyond the Americans with Disabilities Act. It means doing whatever it takes to make all patrons feel welcome.

Here are a few tips for accomplishing that goal:

  • Ask your landscape architect to select site furnishings everyone can use, not just a few handicap-accessible chairs and tables.
  • At campsites, select fire rings and grills that can be used by people in wheelchairs.
  • Consider putting a larger concrete entrance pad for vehicle parking. This will help disabled patrons get in and out of their cars or RVs more easily.
  • Post accessibility information so it's easy to locate and regularly available to site users. Create site maps, brochures and other media that provide information on campground accessibility. Place them in a centrally located or highly visited area such as a park office or visitor center.
  • Publicize accessibility information on press releases and program signage. Increase outreach to persons with disabilities by using alternative forms of communication rather than just printed text. Increased radio and television publicity is recommended to reach a wider audience.

Lantern of Truth

For years, the people longing to commune with nature had been hurting it.

Campers would come to Gifford Pinchot State Park in south central Pennsylvania and set up their tents. They'd bring all the traditional gear: bug spray, hot dogs, marshmallows and sleeping bags.

They'd also bring lanterns, though there was no place to put them. Placing them on the ground was too dangerous because they could be knocked over easily. The picnic table wasn't an option either because the light attracted bugs and took up room.

"People don't like it on the table," says assistant park manager Jesse Taylor. "It's inconvenient. You're trying to eat, and there's light right in your eyes, and bugs flying all around your food."

So the visitors did what campers have doing for decades: They pounded a nail into a nearby tree and hung their lanterns from it.

The move—which was repeated over and over again at the park's 339 camp sites—made Pinchot officials cringe.

They knew how much damage each hammer blow was doing to the environment and the dangers future campers and maintenance crews could face.

"First of all, you're pounding a hole into a tree," Taylor says. "That's not good. But the problem is more than just a little hole."

The lantern's heat does a lot of harm to a tree. The heat damages the bark, making it susceptible to disease and infection.

"That's the most important reason for not letting people hang them from the trees," Taylor says. "It can kill the tree."

To remedy the situation, the park has begun installing lantern hangers at all its campsites. The decision—part of a complete site makeover that includes a deeper parking pad—will protect countless trees in the 2,338-acre park.

"As time, money and manpower allow, we will be converting all our sites," Taylor says. "It's the right thing to do."


When the weather gets hot, good recreation managers know the right site furnishings can help keep things cool.

The industry offers several ways to help visitors chill out, including drinking fountains, misters and pet fountains. All require relatively low maintenance, but they can do wonders for your patrons' spirits.

Drinking fountains—the most important of all water elements—have been around for nearly a century, serving as an indispensable site furnishing in public parks. When choosing this absolute necessity, consider the ease of installation, ease of cleaning, durability and safety to the user. In areas with heavy traffic, it's also a good idea to purchase a fountain made from vandalism-resistant materials. For easy drinking, the water stream should be adjusted upon installation. The stream must be at least 4 inches above the basin and provide both knee and toe clearance for people in wheelchairs in order to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In cold-weather states, consider purchasing a drinking fountain equipped with freeze protection. A freeze-protected fountain typically has a special box that houses the main plumbing components inside a heated room. In extremely cold areas, the fountain should be turned off during the winter months and purged of water that could freeze and expand.

Most importantly, water fountains must be kept clean. Studies show patrons equate cleanliness with water quality. Not surprisingly, the majority of people will not use fountains if they view them as unsanitary. Have an employee check fountains every two hours to ensure they are in clean, working condition. During big events, consider performing hourly inspections.

Water fountains should be cleaned at least once a day. When cleaning, first check the water flow. For sanitary reasons, the stream should be at least three inches away from the bubbler. Next, spray disinfectant cleaning solution on the inside surfaces of the mouthpiece and protective guard. Using a grout brush, scrub the inside and outside of the mouthpiece and protective guard. Use a clean, damp cloth to wipe down drinking fountain surfaces.

Fountain maintenance also should include the removal of lime buildup. The first step is to spray descaler onto the bowl and back of the drinking fountain. Once you've done this, saturate a clean, lint-free cloth with lime remover solution. Run the cloth directly over any surfaces with lime buildup. When removing the solution, use a brush or hand pad to remove the hard build-up if necessary. Wipe the area dry with a clean, lint-free cloth.

With increased population and industrialization, the world's water resources become more stressed every day. The global challenge has given rise to the recycling of treated municipal wastewater for non-potable uses such as park and golf-course irrigation. Non-potable water reuse often enables a community to supplement its water supply and reduce reliance on other pristine, yet quite limited, sources.

However, water reuse in park and recreational irrigation does not come without associated challenges. Wastewater, by its very nature, is highly contaminated. Only pathogens and some inorganic materials need to be removed for non-potable uses. Though the nutrient-rich water benefits the landscape, it poses a threat to patrons if it comes in contact with nearby water fountains.

It's critical that public drinking fountains located on or directly adjacent to irrigated areas have separate irrigation streams. When drinking fountains are located near irrigation heads, non-potable water can contact the drinking fountain's bubbler head, causing potential contamination problems. To remedy this, consider a device that shields the head.

The industry recently came up with a simple device that encases the bubbler head, protecting it from outside exposure and contamination. When the fountain button is pressed, the water line pressure forces the shield up, exposing the bubbler head and clearing the water flow. When the button is released, the water pressure's elimination lowers the shield and once again encases the bubbler.

Try Triangulation

A good park will have at least three places where people can congregate, according to the New York-based Project for Public Spaces.

This means more than just slapping tennis courts, a playground and some basketball hoops on a blueprint.

It means thinking out each area and picking the perfect site furnishings to go there.

If, for example, your facility has a bus stop along the property line, consider creating an interactive area near there. Kathleen Madden, the project's vice president, encourages recreation managers to take a practical approach to the planning.

First, she says, write down 10 things you do around a bus stop. This should lead to a list of site furnishings you need.

  • You sit at a bus stop. You need benches.
  • You endure inclement weather. You must provide shade.
  • You wonder what time the next bus comes. Post informational signage.
  • You might want to grab quick bite or buy some gum? Perhaps a kiosk or sandwich shop might be nice.

The brainstorming keeps going until you have a user-friendly area that will keep patrons coming back.

"Make your list," Madden says, "then all of a sudden, you have triangulated a series of activities."


Fountains, of course, aren't the only way to refresh visitors on a scorching day. If you're looking for a way to keep patrons in the park a little longer, install a mister, which lightly refreshes patrons and entices them to stay and play for a while. Several professional ballparks and concert venues have enlisted misters as a public-health tool to help keep the masses cool on scorching days. Purchasing a mister with a metered valve can help eliminate water wasted with the help of a timer much like push-button sinks in public restrooms.


Humans, of course, aren't the only park patrons who need hydration. Our four-legged friends need to keep cool, too. Recreation managers can score big points with pet owners by providing a pet fountain in their facility. Many manufactures offer a pet fountain in combination with a normal drinking fountain. There are also models that serve as pet comfort stations, featuring both water bowls and metered showers with leash hooks.

Tips on Triangulation

The Project for Public Spaces believes a park's success depends on its ability to encourage triangulation, which it defines as the tendency of external stimulus to prompt strangers to interact.

To accomplish this goal, experts encourage
park planners to select proper site furnishings.
Here are 10 ways to encourage interaction:

  • Tabletops with checkers and chess games etched on them
  • Moveable café tables that let people create their own seating areas
  • Create a wireless hotspot and provide enough table space for laptops
  • A sound system for open-air concerts or summer movies
  • A gazebo to hold weddings or pose for bridal and prom pictures
  • Water fountains to create white noise
  • A café or sandwich shop that encourages lunchtime crowds
  • Large umbrellas, which allow people to gather together in the shade
  • Dog fountains that offer pet owners a place to stand and chat
  • Kiddie-size picnic benches that encourage children to interact with each other and adults to do the same at their own tables

Material Needs

A quick guide to common materials found in most site furnishings:


  • Strong
  • Lightweight
  • Affordable
  • Not many aesthetic options
  • Can corrode if not coated or anodized


  • Durable
  • Heavy
  • Variety of colors and textures
  • Can crack


  • Naturally beautiful
  • Conducts heat well, comfortable
  • Low upfront cost for softwoods
  • Hardwoods can be long-lasting
  • Needs regular painting or sealing
  • Can splinter


  • Lightweight for easy portability
  • Conducts heat well, comfortable
  • Self-cleans in the elements
  • Lifespan of 15 years
  • Some products may fade without UV protection


  • Environmentally friendly product
  • Moisture-proof
  • Does not corrode, rot or rust
  • Does not splinter
  • Virtually maintenance-free
  • Long-lasting
  • Vandalism-resistant
  • Heavy
  • More expensive than some products but may be cheaper over the long run
  • Some products may fade without UV protection
  • Without steel reinforcement, structure may sag in high heat


  • Lightweight—ideal for pool areas, lounge areas or bistros
  • Can be damaged easier than other products


  • Conducts heat well, comfortable and powder-coated
  • Corrosion-resistant
  • Long-lasting
  • Virtually maintenance-free
  • Very durable
  • Heavy
  • Can scratch and need repair
  • Some products may fade without UV protection


  • Durable
  • Beautiful
  • Heavy
  • Must be treated to prevent rusting


They're an absolute necessity, but lights do more than just illuminate a park. They can be an important aesthetic element that also provides a sense of security and safety.

Fixtures should blend in, and their glow should never be overbearing. Sometimes recreation managers shed too much light and destroy a park's ambience.

"There is a tendency to over-light because people are worried about being safe," Madden says.

Instead of flooding the entire park, Madden recommends illuminating the walkways. By doing this, you will light the areas where people travel without disrupting the environment.

You also can enhance the park by lining gazebos, shelters or buildings with small, white lights. This provides a simple, elegant way to add illumination and draw attention to focal points.

"You can create a welcoming presence," Madden says. "It has worked really well in some parks."

Laying Down the (Wedding) Law

Striking gazebos and shelters that attract weddings and other special events bolster a park's image—and prove to be lucrative investments.

Just ask Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, Va., which ranks among the top wedding sites in the Washington, D.C., area. The park has become a coveted location, in part, because it has clear rules on how ceremonies and receptions will be conducted. It also has a strict policy on how to handle unreserved wedding parties.

Here are a few of the regulations that help Meadowlark weddings go off without a hitch:

  • Weddings only may be held in a garden gazebo that has no reserved function taking place at that time. If bridal parties see a function taking place in a gazebo, they are instructed not to enter. Instead, they are required to go to the visitor center upon arrival and ask if a gazebo is open.
  • Weddings must take place in designated gazebos or the atrium. They are not allowed in any other areas of the park.
  • The bridal party and guests are instructed not to stand in or walk through flower beds or any planted garden area without a path. Grass areas are open to walking and picture-taking.
  • The atrium building and gardens are strictly off limits to unreserved wedding parties during reserved atrium events. Patrons should check the atrium schedule at the visitor center front desk.
  • Unreserved wedding parties are required to pay all garden entrance fees. There is no group discount for wedding parties regardless of the size.
  • All patrons vehicles associated with unreserved wedding parties must use the visitor parking lot.
  • Limousines may discharge passengers in front of the visitor center but must wait in the parking lot until passengers return. Limousines are not permitted to wait in front of the visitor center or in fire lanes.
  • No musical instruments, chairs, tape recorders or radios are permitted.
  • Guests are reminded not to block pathways or doorways as to impede garden visitors.
  • No food is allowed. Alcohol of any kind is strictly prohibited.
  • Failure to follow these rules can result in the wedding party being asked to leave the gardens.


In bucolic settings, the last thing people want to think about is trash. But if recreation managers make garbage the last thing they consider, it'll be the first thing patrons notice.

Trash cans and recycling receptacles with muted colors such as browns and greens often blend in best with their surroundings. In campsites or large opens areas, animal-proof receptacles make good sense.

Parks planners also should be careful not to place trash cans and recycling bins too close to picnic areas. Trash cans attracts bees and other insects, which can make the experience unpleasant for patrons. Your best bet is to put them at least 10 to 25 feet away from seating areas.

Poolside Picks

Recreation departments spend millions to build waterparks and aquatic centers.

So why do some of them pay so little attention to site furnishings?

"They are usually something the owner selects and purchases after the completion of the pool," says Peter Suhr, senior associate at William Architects in Wheaton, Ill. "It's a designated option for the owners to spend. It's very important to think about site furnishings during the design of the pool."

Suhr, however, promises that decorating your facility shouldn't prove too difficult. Just give careful thought to the elements you need—deck chairs, circular benches and picnic tables—and it'll be a snap.

It should go without saying that the materials should be water-resistant. They also should be comfortable so as to encourage longer stays, which means more money spent on concessions and souvenirs.

If your facility embraces the design trend that divides aquatic centers into age-appropriate activities, make sure your site furnishings reflect this approach. For example, consider installing child-sized picnic tables and benches in the younger areas.

Suhr also has seen aquatic centers seek donations to pay for some site furnishings. They found sponsors to pay for benches and tables, occasionally putting a little placard on the element to honor the benefactor.

"We had a client who had all of their furnishings donated by Coca-Cola, and of course, all of the furnishings had the Coca-Cola logo," Suhr says.


When choosing your site furnishings, be sure to select handicap-accessible elements that everyone can use. It's not only the law, it's a moral imperative.

Parks professionals strive to bring fun, healthy recreation opportunities to their communities on a daily basis. But if your facility alienates a segment of the population—one that would benefit from outdoor stimulation—on a daily basis, you're not doing your job.

A recent study by the National Organization on Disabilities shows people with disabilities are twice as likely to avoid participating in their community as people without limitations. The poll specifically cites attending sporting events and using recreation facilities as evaded activities.

Fortunately, the industry has made it easy to accommodate special needs with an array of wheelchair-accessible picnic tables, fire rings and other site furnishings. The National Center on Accessibility also reduces the burden with step-by-step advice on how to make your grounds compliant.

The first step is to relax. It's not hard to provide accessible picnic elements such as tables because tables already come in a variety of shapes and sizes.

Next, you must determine the number of accessible tables that you need. The guidelines dictate that at least 50 percent of the tables—but no less than two when two or more are provided—must be accessible. If for example, you have two picnic tables in your park, they both must be accessible. If you have purchased 16, eight must accommodate wheelchairs.

It's also critical to have at least 40 percent of tables—but no less than two when two or more are provided—be connected to an outdoor recreation route. Quite obviously, you want your patrons to be able to access the tables. Placing the majority in hard-to-reach places defeats the purpose entirely.

Once you've determined the number, you now must decide the dispersal. According to the U.S. Access Board, accessible picnic tables should be dispersed among the different types of picnic areas provided.

For example, if there are picnic areas near both the playground and the lake, you must provide accessible picnic opportunities at both places. This provision, however, does not require an increase in the total number of tables provided.

Next, you must consider the number of wheelchair spaces provided. This is determined in relation to the tabletop perimeter. Anything up to 24 linear feet only needs one wheelchair space. But tables with 65 to 84 linear feet must accommodate at least four wheelchairs.

The surface and slope must be stable and clear. The slope of a clear floor space must be 1:50 or less in any direction. However, in areas where the conditions require slopes greater than 1:50 for drainage purposes, a maximum 1:33 is allowed.

Surface compliance and slope provisions, though, may not be necessary under one of the following conditions:

  • Compliance would cause substantial harm to cultural, historic, religious or significant natural features or characteristics.
  • Compliance would substantially alter the nature of the setting or purpose of the characteristics.
  • Compliance would require construction materials or methods prohibited by federal, state or local laws.
  • Compliance would not be feasible due to terrain or prevailing construction practices.

Of course, making a facility truly accessible does not mean being in simple compliance. Recreation managers who go beyond the Americans with Disabilities act to make their parks fully accessible will create opportunities for an often-unengaged segment of the population's well as boost patronage.

The National Center for Accessibility has several recommendations for making parks more inviting. They're simple, practical and not wildly expensive.

First, consider allowing spaces for more than just one wheelchair. This not only allows a group of wheelchair users to sit together and enjoy each other's company, it allows them a choice on where to sit. Why should a wheelchair user be forced to sit in the sun just because that's where the spot is located?

Recreation managers also should be sure the wheelchair spots are positioned for social interaction. A space in the middle of the table puts the user in the center of their family and friends, thus increasing social interaction.

If possible, provide additional knee and leg space. People who use wheelchairs are people of varying sizes and abilities. While the standards reflect the average chair size, each one is tailored to the users' specific needs.

It's also a good idea to increase the firm and stable surface around the picnic table. When the surface is not properly maintained, it becomes an issue for disabled users. Providing a larger surface area means less maintenance because the inevitable deterioration will begin on the surface's edges and will not immediately impact the accessible area.

Recreation managers also would be wise to install a certain number of fixed accessible tables. It's a preventive measure because if the wheelchair-friendly tables are moved from their locations, visitors may be prevented from using them in their new spots.

Take the time to anticipate your patrons' needs. Some, for example, may have sun allergies or want to stay away from ultraviolet rays. Do you have enough shaded site furnishings to accommodate them?

As with all accessible programming and elements, it's important to publicize them. Place signs, brochures and maps at the entrance to remind patrons that the park is for everyone.

And of course, having an accessible facility not only benefits those with disabilities but also can be appreciated by others with unique needs, like parents with strollers.

Vanishing Vandalism

To beat graffiti, communities must go on the offensive.
Here are some proactive tips for combating the problem:

1. Organize a local paint out. Local businesses often are willing to donate paint and brushes for volunteers to use for graffiti cleanup.

2. Keep your park clean. A neglected appearance invites vandalism. Make sure litter is picked up, fences mended and shrubbery trimmed.

3. Install quality lighting. Poorly lit structures are more vulnerable to nighttime vandals.

4. Plant shrubbery. Trees and shrubbery provide natural—as well as psychological—barriers.

5. Remove graffiti promptly. Statistics show graffiti removed within 24 to 48 hours results in a nearly zero reoccurrence rate. Conversely, graffiti removed after two weeks has a near 100 percent reoccurrence rate, according to the Keep American Beautiful campaign.

6. Encourage citizen reporting. Educate the public about the effects of graffiti vandalism and provide a way for them to report it. Many cities have established an 800-number, a dedicated telephone line or an Internet site for this purpose. Be sure to respond promptly to graffiti reports.

7. Enforce graffiti laws. Help your community develop tough anti-graffiti laws and make sure they're enforced. When asked what would stop them from tagging, vandals in a recent study listed "fear of getting caught" as their top deterrent.

8. Educate local youth. Sponsor programs that explain the negative impact of graffiti. Waco, Texas, for example, developed a mentoring program in which high-school students teach fourth- and fifth-graders about stopping graffiti.

9. Use an adopt-a-spot program. Some communities provide citizen volunteers with graffiti clean-up kits to keep an area they have adopted "graffiti-free." The programs improve awareness and engage citizens in the process.

10. Keep a watchful eye. Ask local law enforcement to increase patrols around structures most susceptible to graffiti. Neighborhood watches also have proved beneficial to reducing graffiti. Some communities have begun installing security cameras in the most heavily vandalized areas.

11. Provide alternatives. Here's a preventive measure that all recreation managers should be able to handle. The Institute for Law and Justice Inc. suggests diverting criminal graffiti to positive alternatives. Options can include youth centers, art programs and civic activities such as mural painting and graffiti cleanups.

12. Create a paint-brush mural. Use a community mural to spruce up the wall of an outdoor structure frequently hit by graffiti. Murals can involve local artists, students and community volunteers.


Few things frustrate recreation managers—and patrons—more than graffiti. It deters visitors, creates an eyesore, drains manpower and hurts property values. Some consider it childish pranks. Others dismiss it as inevitable.

Whatever you want to call it, be sure to call it by its exact name: a crime.

Graffiti makes up 35 percent of all vandalism in the United States, according to U.S. Bureau of Justice statistics. The federal government estimates the country spends roughly $12 billion each year to clean it up.

Of course, it's more than just a drain on tax dollars. The National Association of Realtors estimates properties located in areas with heavy graffiti lose 15 percent of their value.

And, in the recreation industry, graffiti-riddled structures can impact patronage. A gazebo sullied by vandalism gives the impression of a neglected park.

Even worse, it may suggest that more serious crimes—such as theft and assault—also may go unchallenged there. When purchasing and installing site furnishings, you're also accepting a civic duty. You assume responsibility for keeping it crime-free, protecting property values and making patrons feel safe.

"It's very insightful to prepare [a graffiti-prevention plan] for new construction," says Bob Hills of the Maryland-based Anti-Graffiti Project. "Most people think of it as an afterthought."

The first step in combating graffiti is understanding it. Experts classify it one of four ways: hip hop, gang, hate and generic non-threatening messages such as "Class of '05" or "Brad + Angelina 4Ever."

About 80 percent is hip hop, or tagger, graffiti. Gang graffiti accounts for about 10 percent, according to Keep America Beautiful Inc. Most studies show that taggers usually are males between 12 and 21 years old. Only 15 percent are females.

Arrest data from 17 major cities shows that up to 70 percent of street-level graffiti is done by teenage boys from the suburbs. Towns across the United States have come up with anti-graffiti polices with varying success. Some communities have toyed with so-called legal walls, areas that permit graffiti. Experts, however, warn against the initiative after several communities in California and Illinois experimented with them and failed.

They faltered, in part, because they send a mixed message. To paraphrase Albert Einstein, a community cannot simultaneously prevent and encourage graffiti.

Studies back this up, too. Community records indicate the legal walls may work initially, but graffiti eventually spreads to surrounding areas. Data also shows vandalism arrests do not decline in communities with free walls.

Studies also suggest the media can play a role in keeping a new outdoor structure free from graffiti.

Recreation managers, however, must be willing to reach out to local journalists to make sure this happens. Experts suggest meeting with reporters and their editors to discuss the negative impact of graffiti.

After outlining the emotional and financial toll of vandalism on the community, ask the media to help fight this crime. Specifically request that newspapers and television stations avoid showing graffiti, using the tagger's name or referring to vandals as artists whenever possible. Such measures are critical because media exposure often provides vandals with a sense of accomplishment and spurs them to commit more acts.

If the news outlet must show graffiti, ask the journalists to show only a small, unrecognizable portion. Try suggesting the graffiti be shot slightly out of focus or from an angle that makes it difficult to read the tag.

In addition to a face-to-face meeting, recreation managers can share their anti-graffiti message in several other ways. Experts suggest hosting a breakfast meeting in which reporters are invited to an informal meal with neighborhood groups, law enforcement and public officials.

You can use this valuable opportunity to educate journalists about local efforts. During the meeting, officials should provide the reporters with a media kit. Keep America Beautiful suggests issuing a press release highlighting a new study, as well as information about a local increase or decrease in vandalism, area cleanup, or mural-painting efforts. All packets should include local contact information, as well as facts sheets provided by a national organization such as Graffiti Hurts.

Such efforts, however, will not ensure perfect media coverage. There will be times when journalists offer stories that seemingly contradict or undermine local efforts. When these occasions arise, recreation managers have more options than just calling the journalist to complain. A letter to editor is often more effective because it gives readers an opportunity to hear your side in your own words. Graffiti Hurts provides a sample letter, which details how an agency can take a negative story about graffiti and turn it into a proactive measure.

How to Get Help

Once facility managers decide to combat graffiti, there's a multitude of resources willing to help.

Here's a look at two of the best.


Developed by Keep America Beautiful Inc., Graffiti Hurts aims to reduce vandalism through grassroots education.

The organization encourages communities to take a proactive stance against vandalism with a variety of preventive tools. It offers lesson plans, posters and videos all designed to discourage graffiti.

Its Web site provides invaluable information on every thing from removing graffiti and creating clean-up kits to launching a media campaign and engaging youth.


An offshoot of the National Council to Prevent Delinquency, the project works with communities to help reduce vandalism.

It boasts a wealth of information on what other communities do and provides networking opportunities. Its Web site also offers sample legislation used to bolster anti-graffiti efforts around the country.

The project provides invaluable supply-side control assistance. It has programs and materials aimed at curbing the illegal purchase and shoplifting of graffiti products.


Of course, once you have established your perfect public space, your work isn't done. Good recreation managers constantly re-evaluate their parks, deciding which spaces need changing, which furnishings have worn out and which elements fail to capture the public's attention.

As the Project for Public Spaces experts say: Being open to the need for change and having the management flexibility to enact that change is what builds great communities.

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