Poorly designed spaces limit the number of people who can use them – they might look great, but that is not enough. Everyone should benefit from great civic space. The American Society of Landscape Architects has a great guide to Parks and Plazas. The online guide includes good case studies and easy to follow tips. Here are a few of the points covered. See the online guide for the rest.
Connections to the street: Parks and plazas should meet the street at grade, ensuring that anyone can enter the space. When a grade change must be addressed, integrated ramps and stairs create a unified experience regardless of ability. Safe materials that are, tactile, not slippery when wet, and provide high contrast should be chosen.
Clear identity:While maintaining a seamless entry from the street is important, creating a space separate from the street gives identity to the space. Trees can buffer noise and other sensory information from other areas.
Providing options: Public places serve many different groups of people, with differing needs. One solution is not going to accommodate everyone, but the scale of many public places creates room for spaces that give visitors different choices and opportunities.
Ease of access to restrooms: Bathrooms that are easy to locate allow families with children, people with disabilities, and older adults to readily use facilities that everyone needs. Placing bathrooms near streets and along major pathways of parks makes locating restrooms easier if the need arises. Restrooms should be clearly indicated on multi-sensory signage throughout parks and plazas.
The arrival of Liberty Swing showed that children with disability should be considered in play spaces. But play space design has come a long way since their introduction. To help people with the design of inclusive play spaces, NSW Government has devised Everyone Can Play guideline. This document takes inclusive thinking a step further and considers parents and grandparents. Convenience for carers are key for getting children to the play spaces and the amount of time they spend playing. There are three key elements that must be considered in an inclusive play space: Can I get there? Can I play? Can I stay? These three elements basically sum up a universal design approach to almost anything. The short video sums up the concepts.
See also the post on Camp Manyung for the ultimate in inclusion. Children like to play together and it was the Touched by Olivia Foundation that started a grass roots movement to move from isolated and exclusive equipment to designs where all children could interact. ABC News has more on this story.
Public parks can work their magic only if they give what people they need. People use green spaces in cities in different ways depending on their community’s historical experience and cultural standards. Access to parks is strongly linked with better health outcomes so it is important to design them in context. But the mere existence of a park does not ensure a community benefits from it. In an article for The Conversation, Thaisa Way covers the history of parks, importance of easy access and cultural relevance. Lots of links to research papers within the article titled: “Parks work for cities, but only if people use them”. And that is a question of design.
Some major cities have neighbourhood lots that lay vacant for some time. It seems that a small investment in a fence and some grass can make quite a difference to the people that live nearby. The article,The case for building $1,500 parks, reports on a new study shows that access to “greened” vacant lots can reduce feelings of worthlessness and depression, especially in low-resource neighbourhoods. Using radomised control trials, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania observed cause and effect between access to green vacant lots and improved mental health. There were other benefits too such as decreased violence. The picture shows the before and after effect – simple and cost effective solutions. To find out more go to the article on the FastCompany website by Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan. The original research report can be found in JAMA Network Open. Looks are everything.