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Parks and Public Spaces

A new question and answer department featuring LASN readers

LASN called some of its subscribers, who are active in public space design, implementation and maintenance to solicit their comments on these topics. Below are the responses to questions about special considerations that must be taken when designing public areas, and any concerns they have had on their projects.

A main concern is always budget. what can we realistically afford to do with a project? Budget concerns are certainly a key factor, as well as maintenance of the project once it has been completed. No matter what you design, it has to be maintained in the long run. It must be designed to be maintained. Those are certainly two key considerations, as well as making sure that the community is satisfied with the project.

Because we are a public office, we have to meet with various civic organizations, associations and committees to make sure that we know what they want. Who we meet with depends on the size of the park and its location, but they usually get a chance to review the plans and designs, and we always try to work together with the public to make sure that they’re happy and that we can maintain the area.

Mollie O’Donnell, Landscape Architect
Columbus Recreation and Parks
Columbus, Ohio

Most of our work is custom residential, so if we do get park space, its as a part of the developer’s other work that we do. Our main concern when we do these areas is to make sure that spaces work for people, depending on their needs. The residents of one of our projects, Nellie Gail (an upscale residential area in Orange County, CA), are primarily horse oriented, so we want to make sure that they have areas where they can tie their horses up and sit under a tree and have a picnic if they choose to.

Another project might have a totally different focus, such as some of the developments that we’ve done down near the ocean. One of the problems with parks and public spaces I see is that, when I grew up, you had transition areas that were created by shrubbery and bushes. Today, however, safety concerns have eliminated almost everything except trees and turf. It’s unfortunate because its difficult to design an area where a family can go and feel at least semi-private in. Those are the kinds of spaces that we’d like to create, small spaces where families can have picnics or gatherings and feel comfortable.

Ron Leland
Project Manager
Daniel Stewart & Assoc., Landscape Architects

Most of the parks and public spaces that we’ve done have been in the Los Angeles area, both city and county, for the recreation department and the community redevelopment agency. Probably the most important element of parks and public spaces that we’ve done is public safety. Making sure that proper lighting has been installed, playground equipment is durable enough and installed with an adequate safety area around it, plantings that aren’t going to obstruct the view of traffic either approaching or leaving the area or hide undesirable behaviors, or that could heighten the perception that there is a potential for danger there.

When we did the Arroyo Sports Complex for the city of Riverside, one aspect that stands out was the long process of getting a conditional use permit. We had to go through all kinds of hearings with the city and the neighborhood, making sure that all of their concerns were heard, such as making sure that there was no light spillover from the playing fields into the neighborhood and that noise levels were going to be reasonable. The city really helped a lot by cooperating with the priorities of the community. There also was some size constraints involved in trying to fit all of the facilities into a limited area.

Yosh and Jon Befu, Landscape Architects
Befu Donan Associates
Redwood City and Los Angeles, California

In our situation of developing and maintaining the state park system here in Virginia, what we try to emphasize is the natural setting, the naturalistic environment of the area, rather than formal gardens and the like. Our projects range from renovation of bathhouses at state parks to complete construction of new parks, so there are always little surprises along the way in the development of a park facility.

The most problems that we encounter have to do with public access, making sure that all of our roads are accessible, and also renovating existing parks to make sure that they are accessible to the disabled. Many of our parks were built more than 50 years ago by the CCC, so a lot of the facilities at the parks weren’t designed to be accessible to the handicapped or disabled. At present, perhaps 25% of the facilities at our parks aren’t accessible to the disabled, but we’re changing that around.

Leigh LaClair
Civil Engineer
Division of State Parks, Richmond, Virginia

The majority of our work is parks and public spaces. Liability and maintenance concerns probably are the bulk of our worries. Our liability concerns lie mainly with playground structures and facilities that we build. We use the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s guidelines when designing any playground area. As far as maintenance is concerned, we choose our plant materials, site amenities and such to make sure that everything works together and can be maintained.

We review designs from private firms all the time, and many times we find that the designs are virtually unmaintainable because of the overall design or certain plant materials that have been chosen. The overall project has to be integrated within itself; the plant materials, irrigation system, maintenance plans and, materials and so forth. Many of the areas that we maintain have been collaborations with others, such as artists, developers and designers, and we’re included in the final approval of design decisions, with most projects ultimately coming under our care as part of the parks department.

David Pierce, ASLA Landscape Architect
Arlington County
Arlington, Virginia

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August 24, 2019, 10:43 pm PDT

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