Create A Hub In Parks

At the new 11-acre Elk Ridge Park in Castle Pines, Colo., the gathering plazas in the hub are connected directly or by sight lines to a playground, mazes, a 50-foot-tall climbing wall, a tube slide, a sprayground with a waterfall that people can walk behind, a synthetic-turf sports field, and multiple picnic shelters.

Quarter-mile walking loops with activities such as geocaching and scavenger hunts radiate from this gathering place like the petals of a flower.

Parents who want to jog or read a book are always within 200 yards of their children, even though they are all engaged in separate activities.

The design for Civic Center Park in Centennial, Colo., adapted the hub idea by including a “coffeehouse,” a favorite hangout venue for many Americans. This comfortable setting features a shelter with skylights, a fireplace, Wi-Fi, and a variety of seating, including built-in stone “couches.”

Visitors can commune with each other or their laptop while viewing the climbing wall, playgrounds, waterpark, nature area, picnic pavilion, amphitheater, and grassy meadow.

A Successful Design

The hub concept can be adjusted for any site size and shape. Here are some planning and design considerations:

• Design the hub to connect with a variety of activity areas. Place as many activities as can be accommodated compatibly in close proximity to the hub. The gathering space should have open access or views to the playground, athletic field, amphitheater, or other major elements.

• Provide comfortable places to hang out. Create a “room,” such as a pavilion, an overlook shelter, a great lawn, or a terrace surrounded by a grove or garden in which people can sit and socialize. Provide comfort elements, such as skylights, a fireplace or fire pits, and a balance of enclosure and openness.

• Design multiple loop trails of different lengths that circle back to the hub. Walking is the number-one fitness activity of Americans. Providing a variety of walking paths that loop around activity areas allows people to walk a little or a lot, and maybe walk all the paths. Walkers can exercise while keeping track of family members in the activity areas. Loop trails, as opposed to out-and-back trails, provide continually changing views and a sense of spaciousness, even on smaller sites.

• Provide reasons to explore trails and multiuse paths. Some paths will have functional purposes, such as connecting parking areas with the gathering space. Paths with inviting entries can pique users’ interest and encourage exercise and exploration by providing a sense of discovery, as well as access to a spectacular view or contemplative place. Trail signage, kiosks, and games along the paths can educate visitors about plants, geology, the cultural history of the site, and other subjects. Multiple crossings in the loop-path system provide opportunities for neighbors to meet.

Linking people to each other by providing a place to socialize in parks is an important part of helping create that opportunity to share time with others. That keeps us and our neighborhoods healthy.

Axel Bishop is a founder and principal of Design Concepts, CLA, Inc., an award-winning community and landscape-architecture firm in Lafayette, Colo., whose focus is on master planning and design for parks, communities, and school and university campuses throughout the Rocky Mountain Region. Design Concepts’ projects have been featured in Landscape Architecture, Parks and Recreation, American School and University, and other national publications. For more information, go to www.dcla.net.

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