A Day In The Park

San Francisco, Calif., earned the No. 1 rank for meeting the need for parks, according to the ParkScore rating system. The city boasts:

▪ 220 neighborhood parks

▪ 179 playgrounds and play areas

▪ 671 marina slips

▪ 82 recreation centers and clubhouses

▪ 72 basketball courts

▪ 151 tennis courts

▪ 59 soccer/playfields

▪ 1 family camp

Trends are pointing to accessibility and simplicity, says Phil Ginsburg, general manager of the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department.

Mission Dolores Park recently welcomed the Helen Diller Playground, built into a hillside and featuring a 40-foot slide, rock-climbing features, swings of all sizes, an ADA-accessible suspension bridge, and custom-made shipwrecked boats.

The renovation was made possible thanks to a donation and funding from the 2008 Clean and Safe Neighborhood Parks Bond combined with general fund dollars.

And like municipalities everywhere, San Francisco has tightened purse strings and seen budget dollars shrink.

“We work hard in this era of declining government resources to design parks in ways that make them easy to replace and maintain,” Ginsburg says.

In reality, park departments just don’t have the funding to take on expansive projects, and instead put dollars into renovating older sites and installing new features to attract a broader audience.

In Boston—another top-ranking park system according to ParkScore—many parks are designed around the existing neighborhood, says Jacquelyn Goddard, external affairs and communications director for the City of Boston Parks and Recreation Department.

Celtic, African, Native American, European, and contemporary symbols were integrated into the fencing around a passive park in the Boston neighborhood of Roxbury.

“No two parks in Boston are alike since no two neighborhoods are alike,” Goddard says. “We see park redesign as an opportunity to showcase culture and a chance to build features which will encourage community-building and encourage exercise by people of all ages.”

Goddard says that Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino challenged the Parks and Recreation Department to develop more creative offerings to get teenagers and adults exercising outdoors.

In keeping with the request, the department installed outdoor exercise equipment at Laviscount Park on Humboldt Avenue. There are eight HealthBeat family exercise stations for users 13 and older, featuring Tai Chi Wheels, Balance Steps, AB Crunch/Leg Lift, Plyometrics, Pull-up/Dip, Cardio Stepper, Chest/Back Press, and Squat Press.

“These stationary exercise machines, designed for outdoor use, allow adults to work out while watching their children play on playground equipment within 10 to 20 yards away,” Goddard says.

“In addition, teenagers can use these machines, which is wonderful since traditional playgrounds never had equipment for older children. Future plans call for opening up the fence around the Laviscount Playground by the adjacent mass-transit stop to allow commuters to use the equipment while waiting for the bus.”

At Gertrude Howes Park on Moreland Street, a “rocking bench” was installed, along with shade structures, picnic tables featuring built-in checkerboards, and a passive seating area, containing a rock garden and plants, away from the playground.

To attract even more park users, the department is also partnering with businesses to offer programming.

At Geneva Cliffs Urban Wild, an inner-city site featuring walking paths, a professional artist hosted a free watercolor workshop. Supplies were donated by Blick Art Materials.

Several parks have also hosted free photography workshops, Goddard says.

When it comes to park design, perhaps the greatest trend is in cash flow. City budgets have taken huge hits, and robust project dollars just aren’t there.

“The budget is always the biggest challenge,” Floura says. “Many clients have restricted budgets. Our challenge is to be as creative as possible while staying within budget.

“Another challenge is reusing materials in a different way to create exciting, aesthetically pleasing design for less. It’s about creating a nice design that accommodates the client’s goal and meets the budget.”

Meeting the needs of both the community and the park operators is equally important, Floura notes.

There is a big trend in incorporating the natural environment into children’s play areas. Equipment is manufactured to look natural, designed to resemble tree houses and logs.

Children are also being exposed to sustainability practices, demonstrations, and interpretive signage in parks.

Keeping up with the needs and values of park users is the top priority.

“Our challenge is to design for the needs of today, and allow for enough flexibility for tomorrow.” Ginsburg says.

Sara Macho is the editor of Landscape Architect Business (LAB). She can be reached at sara@northstarpubs.com or 866-444-4216 Ext. 225.

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