Bring Storytelling To Life

Some items to watch for include rounding sharp edges, minimizing entrapment areas, omitting exposed bolts, etc. Fall zones and play equipment must be free of any foreign objects or elements that can cause injuries.

Indian Creek was designed as a “walk-to park” for the local community, but it became a popular playground and attracted visitors from miles away.

This created a problem because there was no parking near the playground. Therefore, cars were parking in random fashion, and some actually started to slide down the adjacent steep shoulders toward the playground equipment.

Guardrails are now being installed to keep the play area safe. This is just one item to consider when designing a play area.

Community Participation

Landscape architects design to satisfy the needs of people; however, the success of the project is dependent on community participation.

In order to succeed, a designer must meet several objectives:

  • Produce a design that the community needs
  • Meet the approved project budget
  • Stay within the construction schedule timeframe.

During the early stages of the Indian Creek project, both informal and formal meetings were held, providing the opportunity to listen to the community and hear its vision for the play area.

Drum up some fun with unique features!

In return, landscape architects were able to share several design concepts, such as a tipi play structure with tree stump and climbing ropes, a footbridge, and a custom swing set with Indian rug graphics (made from poured-in-place rubber surfacing). This created a lot of excitement among residents.

Meanwhile, formal meetings broadcast over the local cable channel were used to inform the larger community about the project.

Understanding how community participation affects the design, budget, and construction schedule is necessary. The designer must realize that the community requires certain elements to be included.

However, this can sometimes lead to the design exceeding the project budget or completion date. But the more satisfied the community is with the design, the more likely residents are to take ownership and thereby create a “community watch” over the playground that can discourage vandalism.

Environment And Existing Conditions

On-site factors are not to be ignored because they often determine the ultimate success of a project. Considering site conditions can help determine design amenities for a project.

For example, at Indian Creek it was possible to retain numerous large trees as a source of shade. Further, an arborist recommended removing several trees because their cores were rotten, which could create a potential safety hazard.

Another problem that was not apparent until construction was the use of the engineered wood fiber (EWF) near the base of the existing trees. The depth of the EWF mulch safety surface (12-inch compacted) would have suffocated the tree roots, so tree wells were added with 10 inches of large rocks with only 2 inches of EWF mulch.

Another possible problem was the linear drainage swale along the edge of the playground. Children liked to stack rocks over it so they could cross the stream to access the playground for a quick route, so a footbridge was added.

This bridge also serves as a link to connect the eastern and western portions of the area, increasing the play value of the space. The western portion was then designed to include a picnic area with seating for parents and children.

Brenda J. Iraola, ASLA, is the Landscape Architect Supervisor for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. Reach her at (301) 699-2480, or

Robert Kwao Nketia, Jr., is a Landscape Architect intern for the commission. For more information, visit

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