Everyone has a favourite park; a place that brings joy, evokes memories, or provides value to your life. Although the success of a park isn’t necessarily a direct reflection of the cash injection into that space. There’s no doubt that a bottomless pit of money can make a huge impact, but so too can clever design. The right foresight and decisions along the design journey can create outcomes that not even money can buy. Let’s explore four principles which help shape the parks we love.
- Understanding community needs
When we understand what motivates and excites a community, we can tailor the design of our spaces to their needs. Is it a maze of play towers, swings and equipment, or somewhere to take the pooch on the daily walk? An urban plaza with constant activation or open lawn to play sport? Maybe natural areas to get away from it all? There is no “one size fits all” approach however by listening to and understanding the community, we can start to put together a strategy for an appropriate open space response. This will influence where to focus on because without community endorsement, public spaces will inevitably fail.
- Choosing the right site
Location is the next critical factor in setting up the framework for a successful open space experience. If we select the wrong site, expenses can blow out before we’ve even started installing the embellishments that people love. What’s worse is that many of these costs can never been seen and never appreciated. Demolition, earthworks, and civil infrastructure can have huge price tags which may have been avoided if another site was selected. In a situation where the site needs to be flat and the site doesn’t lend itself to this, the budget will vanish into retaining walls and earthworks.
- Celebrating existing assets
Stripping a site and starting from scratch means every embellishment has a price tag attached to it and many priceless assets may have been lost. A single retained tree can provide more shade than a $100,000 shelter, as well as all the added environmental benefits. Thousands of dollars spent on seating could potentially have the same outcome as some strategically placed site rocks. Where there are natural assets such as trees, waterways, rock outcrops and topography, we should always look to incorporate and celebrate these in the design wherever possible as money cannot recreate the value that these assets offer.
- Creating the special details
Magical moments occur when an emotional response is triggered within us. The elements that create these feelings can be very simple and low cost. A recent playground that we designed had a strong medieval theme with the hero piece being Excalibur: The Sword in the Stone. This was some simple flat steel bar welded together and set into a site rock. Extremely cost effective and successful by triggering the imagination; bringing out the inner King Arthur in the visitors.
Adopting these principles allows us to maximise the value of open spaces and create great outcomes that are embraced by the community.