Activating Open Space
Successful, active open spaces don’t usually happen by accident. I was reminded of this recently when I was fortunate to visit two very special parks. The two parks couldn’t be more different- The Abbey Gardens in Bury St. Edmunds (UK) and the 606 in Chicago (opening 6/6/15); however, success for each is dependent upon a thoughtful design that encourages active use. Here are a few things I observed from a planner’s point of view:
Design for the ages: Both parks have multi-generational appeal including accessible entrances and places to rest. They also possess clean, simple designs that will stand the test of time.
Expand the appeal: The Abbey Gardens primary function is as a church grounds and ancient ruins; however the grounds include a cafe, formal gardens, a playground, a stream, and a bird sanctuary. The 606 is a linear park where you can walk (with or without a leashed dog), stroll, run, or cycle.
Don’t forget the unprogrammed space: In the spirit of “third places”- those special spots that are neither home nor work- each of these parks has land set aside without any programming at all. This encourages a range of activities including sunbathing, picnicking, and playing games.
Include interpretive signage: People are naturally drawn to understanding history and context even if they don’t think of it that way. Interpretive signage helps to “tell the story”- important for education AND fund-raising.
Make it attractive to locals AND tourists: An easy way to expand the activity of open space is to consider both every day and occasional visitors. Visitors come to Abbey Gardens by the busload yet it is equally welcoming and interesting on a regular basis. The 606 is a park and trail system worthy of a special visit but will also serve as a commuter route and local walking path.