Activating Open Space

May 26, 2015 Uncategorized

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.

The Abbey Gardens include many places to rest.

The Abbey Gardens include many places to rest.

Access parks along the 606 are simply and beautifully designed.

Access parks along the 606 are simply and beautifully designed.

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.

This could be a site that appeals only to history buffs but it is much, much more

This could be a site that appeals only to history buffs but careful design ensures it offers much more

A playground at the Abbey Gardens broadens the appeal

A playground at the Abbey Gardens broadens the appeal

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.

Under construction at the time of visit, the 606 will accommodate runners with a special padded lane

In addition to a multi-use trail, there are places to “pull over” and take in the view along the 606

Formal gardens share space with pick-up games of soccer

Formal gardens share space with pick-up games of soccer

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.

The Abbey Gardens has a scale model of the site's ancient ruins

The Abbey Gardens has a scale model of the site’s ancient ruins

The 606 includes mile markers and public art that has a sustainability influence

The 606 includes mile markers and public art that has a sustainability influence

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.

The 606 offers a commuting route, a leisurely stroll, or a special day out

The 606 offers a commuting route, a leisurely stroll, or a special day out

The formal gardens at Abbey Gardens are free and open to the public- whether you arrive on foot or by charter bus

The formal gardens at Abbey Gardens are free and open to the public- whether you arrive on foot or by charter bus