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Designing Modern Park Facilities Part 2 of 3: Urban vs Rural Park Planning – A/E and Landscape Architect Perspectives

Designing Modern Park Facilities Part 2 of 3: Urban vs Rural Park Planning – A/E and Landscape Architect Perspectives

Insights & Perspectives

Urban vs Rural Park Planning – A/E and Landscape Architect Perspectives

Engineers and landscape architects possess different skill sets, have different roles in project design, and may have fundamentally different approaches to problem-solving. But, when working together, these differences make projects better by achieving a collaborative, holistic view resulting in the best overall solution for owners/clients. A recent discussion with local landscape architect, SWT Design, revealed that both parties were in agreement when it comes to the social and environmental considerations for modern urban and rural park facility designs. To take a closer look at some of these social and environmental factors, we broke them down into three categories:

1) Activity Trends

2) Pros and Cons of Athletic Pieces

3) Population Statistics.

Activity Trends

From SWT’s perspective, one of the top leading trends for urban parks is providing opportunities to connect visitors, and children in particular, with nature. This is seen most often in the design of “nature play” experiences where natural or manufactured materials are designed to replicate nature and are the focus of playground design. In addition to the play experience, opportunities to bring natural resources into the parks as passive recreation amenities are another way urban parks connect visitors with nature. From the architectural and engineering side, Introba has witnessed a strong trend towards more team sport activity spaces and ride/walk trails to draw more visitors to urban parks.

Driving trends for destination parks in rural communities also include the conservation of open space/natural resources and regional sports destination complexes. Both are driven by the availability of open space and the opportunity to secure large or multiple parcels. Both firms agree that as regional athletic complex destinations, rural parks can promote economic gain by drawing visitors from outside the community.

Pro and Con of Athletic Pieces

Both firms agreed that the type of athletic piece in an urban park can impact the pros/cons but, in general, pros include providing a safe location for the community to gather and participate in athletic events. These pieces also allow for high park usage during community-sponsored leagues or special events. The cons are that open space in an urban environment may be at a premium. Dedicating a significant percentage of a park to a specific event can significantly limit the overall recreation value a park may bring to a community.

Unlike its urban counterpart, athletic pieces in rural parks usually provide one or more activities within the park.  These elements can provide locations for large groups to gather and for community-run leagues or special programming. A con to these facilities can be the lack of demand for these elements outside of leagues or special events since open green space or sports for informal play is typically available in new housing. Athletic facilities can also require a high level of maintenance to support the locations for athletic events. Introba agreed that in-park athletics can allow increased usage across a wide segment of the population, but added that population density in rural areas may not be conducive to high usage.

Population Statistics

SWT stated that the most important role that population statistics can play in a park is to provide an understanding of the community makeup.  For example, areas with significant population growth may be a priority area of the city for a new park. In areas with young families, consideration of playgrounds and open play lawns may be appropriate whereas walking trails and fitness stations may be considered in parks near aging populations. Introba identified that age groups were a big determination when planning an urban park. A public engagement process can also help determine community needs and desires.  This information reveals age, ethnic and financial diversity within the community and ensures the entire community has the opportunity to voice their opinion.

Rural considerations are similar to urban parks when it comes to ensuring the community has a voice in park development, but in rural conditions, the diversity may tend to be less extensive than in urban locations.  Rural park development may tend to be focused more on projected growth within the community or expansion of the community as indicators for future park development. Introba identified that rural park design is more successful when park amenities are aimed at a young to middle-aged population.

When pressed for the most important social and environmental factors to park design, SWT was a little hesitant to pick just one, stipulating that site/location, the role of the park within the overall parks system, community needs/desires, and ability to maintain the park as equal factors for both urban and rural parks. However, when push came to shove, they stated that the park site itself was a single driver that can have the greatest impact on all the others. Introba weighed in that location to a centralized population was the most important factor for an urban park, and that destination activity are a top priority when considering rural park design.

About the Authors:

Jay Wohlschlaeger, PLA, ASLA: For 20 years, Jay has cultivated a portfolio at SWT within the public sector, particularly in the parks and recreation industry, from the district and countywide master plans to individually built community parks. His success is directly tied to a community-focused process, a partnership that listens to the needs of municipalities and their residents, and works closely with them from project initiation through construction completion. In doing so, Jay and our team can directly address a city’s concerns and provide both short and long-term recommendations for parks systems, facilities, and trail networks.

Brad Pierce, AIA: With 34 years of professional experience, Brad is responsible for all aspects of architectural design at Introba and has intimate knowledge of the design of various park facilities. His broad range of experience with highly technical projects includes site selection, project planning, focus group-based design, financial aspects, and considerations when developing park features, he has been actively involved in large-scale parks to vest pocket parks with various amenities including visitor’s centers, interpretive centers, activity centers, museums, athletic fields, multipurpose event structures.

Stay tuned for part three of this three-part park series which will focus on what makes a park memorable - trends in Parkitecture. Check out part one on our blog.

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