What is the Future of our Community Parks

28 Apr, 2016 Design Tips

So often we are asked by our Clients to design parks and open space that meets the demands of their future communities, ensuring that they are not only recreational draw cards from the day they open but they improve with age and endure the test of time. The key to delivering our modern parks of tomorrow is to understand how our communities’ recreational needs and culture is changing, and how communities need to be utilising parks in the future.

Last Monday I had the pleasure of attending the Anzac Dawn Service at Springfield Robelle Domain Parklands as a VIP guest with my family. It was a special service for me and the community of Springfield as we gathered for the first time around Springfield’s first dedicated Australian Defense Forces memorial – a modern memorial that we were given the honour of designing.

As I sat with over 1500 other people in the dark of the circular events lawn mesmerised by the pulsating glow of red light that fixed solely on the memorial, I could not help think of the important multi-functional role our modern day parklands are now playing in our communities, and how increasingly important they will become in the future.

Future community parks
Anzac Day 2016, Robelle Domain Parklands

 

Changing demands of society and current trends in our parks

Our world is changing at a rapid rate. Even in the last five years, the way we live our lives has changed dramatically. The influence of technology and other modern day cultural changes are having a major impact on the shape of our cities, and how we live and recreate in them. As a result, the need for public parks and open space in our cities has never been greater.

If you follow the evolution of our community parks, over the last five years you will see an increasing trend. Our parks are now major attractors for the community. Visit any of the popular parks throughout your city on a weekend and you will know what I am talking about, they are bursting with people.

Orion Swimming Lagoon, Springfield
Orion Swimming Lagoon, Springfield

 

These “Super Parks” have become the heart of our Communities, not just places to meet and have a picnic or barbeque, but places where community gather for parties, significant events, and civic ceremonies. They are major public recreation attractions boasting monumental facilities such as towering playgrounds, bespoke water play, cafes, restaurants, weekend markets, bike trails, light shows at night and often much more.

These “Super Parks” are fast becoming the universal expectation for our new communities – in our future public parks these monumental attractions will become the status quo.

Although offered free to the community to enjoy, what do these “Super Parks”  really cost?

 

An unsustainable trend

Finding the money to build these parks does not seem to be the issue. Whether it be State and Federal governments grants to assist Local Government, or Developer dollars to attract the new wave of urban dwellers to their community; “Super Parks” are emerging everywhere. But it is the ongoing maintenance and operation costs of these parks that are becoming a real concern for the local authorities that take them on as assets.

The huge popularity of these “Super Parks” is the recognition that these facilities are of a high value to our communities, therefore our local authorities can justify the increased expense in operating and maintaining these “Super Parks” for the community. It is seen as money well spent. I do not believe this is where the problem rests; in fact, these “Super Parks” are here to stay and should continue to offer improved recreation opportunities for our future communities.

However, in comparison, if you observe how our “Local Parks” (small scale average 5000 square metres or less) are being utilised by the communities, it can be difficult to see any valued activity.

If you speak to the people that live up the road from these local parks, they will tell you they love the convenience, they love having it there, but the reality is that they would rarely use it at all.

Unfortunately, these parks cost rate payers a lot of money to keep maintained, clean and safe and our local authorities’ diminishing resources are struggling to keep up. The small community value of these smaller parks versus the maintenance costs to upkeep them, leaves you questioning the actual importance of these types of parks. The lack of maintenance makes them even less appealing to the community. This current trend cannot continue. There has to be a better way.

We need to change our Thinking

A Regional Northern NSW Local Authority is recognising this issue and taking action to deal with it, by undertaking a program of identifying all the smaller under-utilised parks throughout their city and implementing a process to sell them for residential housing and reinvesting the full proceeds into the more popular local parks, in effect turning them into “Super Parks”. The program has been endorsed by the broader community and long term will reduce ongoing maintenance costs for Council.

We need to change our thinking for the future, we need to re-educate the community on the perceived value of our smaller parks and influence Government to amend the policy on the role and requirements of our lower order parks and indeed our need for them at all.

We need to work on delivering fewer but higher quality and treasured parks – “Super Parks” that provide the level of attraction and recreation value that our communities are now expecting and demanding. Consider the solution one of quality over quantity. Spend the money developers would typically spend on “Local Parks” on adding more value to our higher level parks.

We need to re-think how our future parks can generate revenue to offset the cost of running and maintaining them while maintaining their facilities free to the public. There are some really good examples of where this is already happening around Australia.

Our parks are important to our way of life, but we have to acknowledge that they have become so much more. We need our “Super Parks” to be the focal points of our communities. They are destinations and major attractions, they need to be planned carefully and designed to maximise their value for the community, we need to ensure they are well connected and we need to find smart ways to offset the cost of maintaining and operating our future “Super Parks” .

“People will never know how a park was designed, people will rarely know who designed their park, but people will always remember how it made them feel.” 

Three key takeaways

1. How we use parks is rapidly changing, and our community’s expectations for what is offered in them is growing higher.

2. Modern “Super Parks” that offer a range of recreational attractions are the new bench mark and are the model for our future parks.

3. We need to find better strategies for offsetting the cost associated with operating and maintaining our future parks without reducing their community value.

David Hatherly