A Day In The Park

Park design, like any other task, involves some give-and-take.

In these tough economic times, low-maintenance projects top the trends in park design. Photo Courtesy of Paul Hyso, CABQ Parks and Recreation

Landscape architects, members of parks and recreation departments, and vendors face emerging environmental standards, shrinking budgets and municipal belt-tightening, evolving needs of stakeholders and users, and dwindling plots of green space in dense urban areas.

Joan Floura of Baltimore-based Floura Teeter Landscape Architects (FTLA) spoke recently on best practices in park design. Three components take center stage, she says.

“The trend is toward low-maintenance design,” Floura explains. “Many clients just don’t have the funding or the manpower to maintain an intense environment.

“Secondly, use of native plant materials assists with that. There is less maintenance once the landscape is established, and native plants tend to be more tolerant of drought conditions.

“And lastly, in Maryland, there are stormwater regulations which require ESD, or environmental site design, calling for creating smaller controls to capture and treat runoff. It gives us more opportunity to put planting throughout a park. There is some maintenance, but the idea is to break these facilities up. Aesthetically, it looks good and it treats the stormwater.”

Along a similar spectrum is efficient irrigation design. In Albuquerque, N.M., water is very much a political issue. Historical conflicts, negotiation processes, and governmental compromise surround the precious and scarce resource.

“I think park users and people here have become much more aware of sustainability in parks,” says Judith Wong, senior project coordinator and registered landscape architect for the City of Albuquerque Parks and Recreation Department Division of Strategic Planning and Design.

“Parks are not buildings in which you can control the atmosphere; parks are responsible to the context in which they are built—climate, geology, planting patterns—our big dilemma is how do we ask people to conserve and then how do we provide this amenity that provides some relief. Water problems here are more complex.”

After all, residents there are living in an extremely dry desert environment. Newer parks have more drought-tolerant, large shade trees, and irrigation is always integrated.

Wildfires, decreased stream flow, insects, and absent snowfall all play a role in park design.

In spite of the landscape, constituents are generally well-served with parks and open space, Wong says. The City of Albuquerque earned a nod from The Trust for Public Land ParkScore project, which evaluated how well the 40 largest American cities are meeting the need for parks.

The Albuquerque park system received top-rank scores in acres of parkland as a percentage of city area, acres of parkland per 1,000 residents, and a No. 10 rank for dog parks per 100,000 (Albuquerque has 13 dog parks), according to information posted on the official city web site.

Back to nature and accessibility are two top trends in playground design. Photo Courtesy of Paul Hyso, CABQ Parks and Recreation

The city has 300 park sites, more than 120 median and streetscape sites, and 113 miles of urban and soft trails.

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