Park Design

One of the major objectives for this project is to develop a physical design for the park.  There are a number of considerations that must be made during the design process.  The first is to consider the overall feel or theme of the park.  Thus far, the majority of our research suggests that a more natural, landscape based approach is the ideal design tactic.  This is in favor over the more traditional equipment based playgrounds which can be described as “consisting of a kit of ?xed play equipment, with a fence surrounding it and a carpet of rubber surface—a Kit, Fence, Carpet (KFC) playground” (Woolley, 2007, 2008) Experts suggest that these KFC playgrounds provide children with little creative stimulus and primarily support only physical development.

Park Design Pic

Herrington and Studtmann (1998) hypothesized that “if landscape interventions are made in the existing play yards using a `landscape based’ approach, different and varied types of development would be encouraged.” In their study called “Landscape Interventions:  New Directions for the Design of Children’s Outdoor Play Environments”, Herrington and Studtmann describe several natural landscape designs that support social, emotional, and cognitive aspects.

The first of these designs consisted of temporary interventions where the landscape was altered so that it reflected any changes in the season.  The goal of these interventions was to encourage the students to interact with some of the natural elements like water, wind, and plants.  Some features that were added include ice sculptures, wind chimes, water sculptures, chalk, natural materials (pinecones, day lily stems, etc.), and others.  The second design plan consisted of a number of permanent installations; these included 23 new types of plant material and 20 stepping stones. The plants and stepping stones were then placed in such a way as to create different enclosures and create more specific paths of movement throughout the play spaces.

Three important observations were made after these interventions were put in place.  The first is that stepping stones successfully altered the paths of movement.  Before, the children would run directly to the prefabricated playground structures and spent the majority of their time moving between these structures.  The stepping stones were placed specifically to draw the children into the unused space in the yard where they would stay and play.  This demonstrates an increase in spatial and cognitive awareness.  The stones also provided a physical challenge, as they were placed just far enough apart such that a child needed to jump to get from one to the next. For these reasons, our team will consider stepping stones or similar concepts in our own park design.

The second observation was a perceived change in the children’s social structure.  Before the interventions, social hierarchy was essentially based on a child’s physical prowess; whether they were stronger, faster, or could climb higher than the other children.  However, the new designs created so called ‘vegetation rooms’, which were essentially spaces strategically enclosed by plant life.  Woolley and Lowe also recommend the used of vegetation to create these dens or ‘vegetation rooms’, and suggest that they may also be used as an educational tool when teaching children about the environment and seasonal changes, (Woolley & Lowe, 2013).

The final observation made, was the naming of the two ‘vegetation rooms’.  Without any help or encouragement, the children deemed one space as the ‘Princess Palace’ and the other as the ‘Eagle’s Nest’.  The names appeared to dictate the type of play occurring in each area.  The ‘Princess Palace’ tended to be more for girls engaging in quiet fantasy play.  While the ‘Eagle’s Nest’ was more of an active adventure play space for both boys and girls.  This naming was seen as an attempt by the children to control their environment through language.  This observation is relevant because it demonstrates that children can develop in ways that may be unexpected if given freedom and an environment that supports creativity.   These researchers demonstrate that natural landscape designs foster the social interaction, creative achievement, and intellectual development attributes of the SPICE model.

This tool created by Woolley and Lowe creates a solid foundation for which to design our park around.  They give specific parameters for what should be in a well-designed park, and how those elements explicitly relate to the development of children.  Our team can use it to evaluate different park designs, and to assess existing parks to gain a better understanding of how these recommended elements can come together in a single design.  This study also confirms that a natural, and landscape based park is superior, and provides the greatest play value for children.