Our tips on designing parks people will love – Part two

08 Oct, 2016 Blog, Design Tips

Taking off where we left off in our last post, we share the final 5 tips on how we design parks that are memorable and leave lasting impressions; parks that will draw the community back over and over again, parks that get better with age.

“Parks need to be functional, addressing those basic needs around comfort, safety and activation, but the great parks will offer much more.”

Our next 5 tips outline the principles and strategies that we use to design parks that are unique, memorable and what we like to call “born from the site”. When a park’s design can achieve this, the result is magical.

Just in case you missed the first 5 tips, you can find them here.

6. Parks must have Personality

As well as being function, comfortable and safe, the best parks are those that allow visitors to make an emotional connection, not just with each other but with the place they are visiting. However, for people to be able to connect with a place, it needs to have a unique identity, we like to call this our park’s personality. A trick to discovering this is to think or your park as a person, a person with various personality traits and behaviors.

For example, I think of New Farm park in Brisbane as an elderly grandmother that loves to dress in floral cloths and always smells of roses, she always welcomes you with open arms and a big cuddle, she spoils all the children in the neighbourhood, we always feel safe, secure and welcomed when visiting her, she drives an old fashion car, but she takes pride in it and looks after it.

Identify the unique characteristics and personality traits that will give your new park a unique and distinct identity.

New Farm Park
New Farm Park in Brisbane has a strong personality


7. Parks should connect people with place

This concept really extends from the last point. The most memorable parks are the ones that offer something unique and different. The great parks are not only memorable because of their uniqueness, but are able to allow their visitors to make an emotional connection with that place. If you understand the “personality” of your park, you will understand how people will emotionally relate to your park.

Clues often lay in the site’s unique elements that you may retain or the bespoke introduced elements that represent and interpret a site’s history or natural assets. It is often these embellishments that reinforce your future park’s personality, identity and character. Think hard about how your park will make an emotion connection with its users and what memories thay will take away from spending time there.

8. Parks should promote a sense of community

A sense of community is achieved by a feeling of belonging and connectedness, inclusion, collaboration and positive relationships. Parks help foster these communities by providing a place for people to come together, interact in ways they would not normally do.

The way you arrange a group of picnic tables, the location of communal barbeques, the scale of flexible open spaces, the location and intersection of pathways, the collection of seats with areas for prams adjacent the playground, the location of a tree, a drink fountain, a dog park; the careful design of these spaces and elements with each other can foster connection between people.

picnic in the park

If we provide places that people feel comfortable, places that visitors can personalise, places that people will call their own and take ownership of, places where people will connect, we will create great community places.

9. Parks should be sustainable at every level

When we use the term sustainability, we often think of environmental sustainability. Yes, our parks must be designed in a way that will ensure they positively contribute to our environment. The retention of existing vegetation, consideration to drainage lines and flooding, the planting of native species, the use of materials that come from sustainable sources. But when we talk of sustainability we must also think of social sustainability and economic sustainability.

Parks in China are highly valued community places that people gather, interact and engage with each other, parks in China are fundamental to the  social health of their communities.


Our parks should encourage appropriate social interaction, promote community ownership & pride, bringing people together. They must also consider both capital investment costs and ongoing life-cycle costs. The cost to maintain and operate our public parks can be expensive, when designing and developing our public parks we must consider ways to minimise and offset these costs. We give an insite to how our future parks will address these economic challenges in our post on “what is the future of our community parks”.

10. Great Parks are Forever

The best parks are those that will last the test of time. Parks should get better with age and are embraced by the community for generations. Great parks are places that appreciate in value, they are not seen as a liability for a city, parks high in community value do not have to cost lots of money to build or maintain if designed appropriately.

Great parks are able to evolve as communities grow and demographics of a community change, without compromising function, safety, comfort, identity, and that special sense of place. The best parks are those that get better with age and leave a legacy. As designers, a lot of our work is complete once a park is opened to the public, but good designers understand that this is only the beginning, a great park will get better with every year.

The Final Word

Our parks are precious to our way of life in Australia and the health of our cities. As density increases our public parks are increasingly important to our thriving communities. There is always a lot of discussion about the quantity of open space that we need to be planning for, but equally as important, but often underplayed, is the QUALITY of the open space we provide. Consider the 10 tips above when master planning and designing your next parkland or public realm and you will leave a legacy that the community will embrace and love for a long time to come.

David Hatherly