March 2019 🍂
Land Connections 4 Part Planning Series
Part 1: Trends in Recreation Planning
Author: Alison Kelly, Landscape Architect
A quick stroll down memory lane during a leisurely stroll through a modern park will highlight the amazing changes and differences between the parks of today and those built only 20 or 30 years ago. The world of parks and recreation planning is constantly changing to reflect popular trends, cultural changes, demographic shifts, and fiscal realities. Over time designers have witnessed these changes through ongoing discussions with municipal partners, clients, and the voices of the public. Keenly aware designers also experience these shifts personally, as they navigate public spaces near their homes, and as they use parks alone, with their children, with pets, or with sports and fitness groups. 
In this, the first of a four-part recreation planning series , the focus will be turned to spotlight notable trends in parks and recreation planning.  The goal of this series is to highlight best practices, current trends, and challenges specifically related to parks and recreation planning.  The next three installments of the Land Connections Parks and Recreation Planning Series will address public outreach, inventory and analysis, and financial management strategies.         
Non-Traditional Sports
We have seen an uptick in public desire for less traditional park sports facilities (think, softball/baseball fields, tennis courts) and more non-traditional sports, such as pickleball and futsal. Pickleball has been increasing in popularity over the past several years. Played with a paddle on a court striped similarly to a badminton court with a tennis net, pickleball players often adapt tennis courts for their use where no pickleball courts currently exist. This can create tension with tennis court users, so municipal parks and recreation departments should be particularly aware of the needs of the community if strong enthusiasts of both sports are known to use the same facility. In the case of waning tennis court usage, municipal departments may find it productive to add pickleball lines to existing tennis courts to appeal to a greater number of potential court users. 
Futsal is a popular court version of soccer, played on a smooth court roughly the size of a basketball or handball court. Like pickleball, the potential dual-use with basketball courts means that underutilized basketball courts may be double-striped to appeal to both futsal and basketball players. Old tennis courts that are no longer used can also be repurposed in areas where futsal has become the more popular sport. At the same time, futsal does require some specific adjustments for optimal court conditions. A kick-plate installed at the base of the court’s perimeter fencing is one important element for inclusion in a futsal court, as it provides player safety and reduces long-term fence maintenance costs.
Canine Recreation
It’s not just the State of California that has seen a surge of demand for public dog parks. In fact, public entities and private developers across the country have been finding creative new ways to integrate off-leash dog parks into recreation areas due to massive public enthusiasm. With pet ownership in the U.S. on the rise, many pet owners wish to take their canine companions to enjoy recreational opportunities outdoors. Dog parks can in fact be an excellent way to increase use of a municipal park, and contribute positively to a sense of community among local dog owners. Dog parks can also help reduce other public safety issues associated with dog ownership, such as off-leash violations and noise complaints due to under-socialized and under-exercised dogs.  
Despite the many positive effects of implementing municipal dog parks, there are several risk management considerations to consider prior to breaking ground. First, as with all public parks and recreation amenities, public dog parks should be sited equitably to provide equal access to all residents.  Ensuring adequate separation of uses is important when incorporating a dog park into a municipal park, as immediate adjacency to features such as playgrounds or sports fields may create opportunities for direct conflict between user groups.   
Inclusion & Sensory Integration
While inclusive design and sensory integration should be common-place practice and every-day conversation in design firms, these approaches have only been gathering momentum over the past few years. Major play equipment manufacturers now have product lines dedicated to encouraging inclusive design and stimulating users’ sensory needs. A solid example of this is the Awesome Spot Playground, planned for Modesto, CA. The Awesome Spot Playground concept was spurred by a local family after visiting The Magical Bridge Playground in Palo Alto, called the most innovative/inclusive playground in the United States.   
It is important to recognize that inclusive design and integration of sensory features in a public recreation space needs to be neither expensive nor the focus of the space. Rather, these features can and should become part of all parks, integrated seamlessly into the design. Simple exercises in thoughtful analysis of site layout, careful materials selection, and intentional design of play spaces make a world of difference to individuals and families who need these resources most.  
Senior & Intergenerational Recreation
The rising popularity of spaces that cater to senior recreation and intergenerational recreation opportunities is a worldwide phenomenon. Here in California, we have seen firsthand the enthusiasm for well-designed parks that include active and passive recreation alongside non-traditional programming. Studies on designing for the senior population highlight the importance of creating sensory opportunities and quiet places for respite and socialization. This may be as simple as adding a paved meandering pathway with interesting plantings, and including plenty of places to sit in the shade.  
Methods of creating opportunities for intergenerational recreation are increasing in popularity as well. Simple design decisions such as placing outdoor exercise equipment stations in close proximity to a playground provide the opportunity for caregivers to recreate alongside young people. Additionally, designing for passive recreation opportunities such as community gardens encourages a sense of community among strangers and those of all ages.   
Programming and Facilities
Along with sensitive design of outdoor recreation for senior and intergenerational recreation, an overall increase in municipalities’ and the public’s desire for robust senior and teen programming is also apparent. Senior centers offering diverse programming are often listed during our public outreach events as high-priority to local residents. This type of programming performs a vital public service in engaging the senior community and demonstrating public investment in recreation for all ages.  
Particularly in the San Francisco and San Jose greater metropolitan area, the public is increasingly aware of the importance of technological education opportunities for youth. Tech and coding programming at teen centers is not only a great way to provide productive educational content for local youth, but it can also contribute to tech literacy in marginalized and disadvantaged communities  
While every project is unique due to context, location, and the needs of the public, these rising trends have been identified from among recent projects in California and surrounding regions. These are just a few highlighted trends in the large and diverse practice of parks and recreation planning. More facets of planning for today’s communities will be discussed over the next three installments of Land Connections features, as we continue our four-part planning series.  
About the Author
Alison Kelly, PLA, LEED AP ND, is a Landscape Architect with O’Dell Engineering. She is the Co-Chair of the ASLA Women in Landscape Architecture Professional Practice Network and Chair of the ASLA Archives & Collections Committee. 
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The Earlimart Neighborhood Park Project received a 2018 Award of Excellence from the California Parks and Recreation Society (CPRS). The California Park & Recreation Society's Awards Program recognizes the outstanding achievements of agencies and individuals in the areas of community improvements and programming, facility design and park planning, marketing and communications, and professional and citizen leadership.
Funding Opportunity - Due 4/5/19
People for Bikes: Community Grants Program
PeopleForBikes accepts grant applications from non-profit organizations with a focus on bicycling, active transportation, or community development, from city or county agencies or departments, and from state or federal agencies working locally. PeopleForBikes only funds projects in the United States. Requests must support a specific project or program; they do not grant funds for general operating costs. For more information on this and other funding opportunities, please visit our Resource Center.
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