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Parks are essential to enhancing our communities and keeping them strong and healthy. As communities grow and change, the role of parks and greenspaces has evolved into a more complex element of urban and rural landscapes. Whether providing a specific function or simply an aesthetic appeal for its residents, a successful park can positively influence quality of life, economic development, and public health while also providing environmental benefits. For example, parks can positively impact communities through increased tourism, increased retail potential, greater property values, and environmental conservation.
This primer provides information that can be used in the development and improvement of parks in the Houston-Galveston region. The information presented is a synthesis of best management practices employed in parks and greenspaces around the United States and can be viewed as a successful park’s toolkit, used to address park creation and improvement in the realm of planning, design, maintenance, and programming.
Park planning is vital to the success of any effort to afford recreation opportunities, to conserve habitat or to develop and improve a community’s parks and green spaces. Planning is good for building consensus and for integrating the expertise and specialties of complementary groups. Data should be collected and an assessment of current parks and land uses should be conducted. This will strengthen final results by helping inform the decision-making process, justifying actual needs, and establishing performance standards. It is also important to define a park’s mission, vision, goals, and objectives. A strong plan will form the foundation of successful recreation programs, park management, and park performance.
Sustainability is the paramount quality of a prudently designed park. Sustainable park design ensures responsible environmental practices, while also developing social benefits and reducing the cost of maintenance and management. Sustainable design practices enhance public health by employing active design techniques that encourage physical activity. Sustainable design practices also consider a park’s natural systems within its surrounding context. Landscapes should be treated as interconnected spaces that share water, soil, vegetation, and topography systems. By viewing these systems together and using a holistic approach, parks can be designed in a way that helps repair ecosystems, provide green infrastructure, and improve maintenance efficiency. Thus, sustainable park design should ultimately strive for connectivity of ecosystems within a community’s park system.
Secure Design (Safety)
Interconnected Park Systems
Enhance Accessibility and Social Equity
Protect and Maximize Natural Systems and Culturally Significant Places
Maximize Maintenance Efficiencies
A successful park cannot thrive on sustainable design practices alone, but must be bolstered with adequate maintenance. Commitment to effective stewardship and sufficient funding for park maintenance is vital to a park’s longevity. Effective park maintenance and operation extends beyond landscape management to include safety, scheduling, and sustainable operation of the park.
Prudent, carefully-tailored park programming and activities should work with all citizens of the community to improve park use and enjoyment, and will have rippling effects on community perceptions about the safety and attractiveness of parks. Programs can be designed for various seasons and functions and should appeal to people of all ages, abilities, and financial resources. The planning and implementation of an interesting, well-managed and properly marketed set of activities can ignite new energy and improve the reputation of a city’s park system, sparking increased park usage, improved safety, and greater visitor experience.
Download a copy of this primer, the Parks Best Management Practices white paper.
Receive updates from the H-GAC Parks and Natural Areas Roundtable.
Houston-Galveston Area Council