Guide to Planning Urban Parks: Approach, Strategies, and Steps

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“Architecture and city planning has an enormous impact on patterns of life in the city. Yes, we form the cities, but then the cities form us.”- Jan Gehl.

New York City, London, Barcelona, Lisbon, and numerous other cities around the world have a park that is central and essential for the lifestyle and working of the city. These iconic urban parks are not only iconic to the city, but they also function as the lungs. With skyscrapers crowding the skyline, the parks act as pockets of fresh air.

Urban parks serve as recreational areas with users engaging in exercising, meditation, playing outdoor sports, and having picnics. 

Urban parks are also used for social events such as plays, fashion shows, fundraisers, fairs, and concerts. For example, Central Park in NYC is equipped with an amphitheater for theatrics.

Shakespeare in the Park, Central Park, NYC
Shakespeare in the Park, Central Park, NYC

Now that the general idea of urban parks has been discussed, it is important to learn the planning of such parks, as architects, to optimally use the available urban space and to provide city dwellers with planned open spaces.

The first step to planning an urban park is to note down the key aspects of the project. These are the elements that must be present in the project.

Project Aspects: 

Some of the common architectural features of Urban Parks are:

  1. Children's Play Area
  2. Recreational Area
  3. Didactics
  4. Pedestrian Pathways
  5. Seating

1. Children’s Play Area:

  • The park must contain a play area dedicated to and designed for children.
  • The design must impact children positively in terms of physical, physiological, and psychological development.
  • The area should be accessible and promote activities for children of all ages and all physical abilities.
Children’s Play Area in a Park
Children’s Play Area in a Park

2. Recreational Area:

  • The area is to be used for exercise sessions, meditation, picnics, etc.
  • These can be in the form of open lawns, walkways, paved floor areas, or even sheltered areas.
Acupressure Walking Track with Garden Patches
Acupressure Walking Track with Garden Patches

3. Didactics:

  • Signages, notices, activity areas, and street furniture to promote learning.
  • These elements should help in educating the public and users about the significance of the park, the features of the park, and the city.
  • This is to instill a sense of duty and respect for the society a person lives in.
Sign Displaying Information about the Park
Sign Displaying Information about the Park

4. Pedestrian Pathways:

  • Park must be equipped with separate pathways for pedestrians, and for light motor vehicles.
  • This is to prevent accidents and congestion.
  • Furthermore, in the context of parks, pedestrians are the primary users.
Broad Pathway for Cyclists and Pedestrians
Broad Pathway for Cyclists and Pedestrians

5. Seating:

  • A vital aspect of a park, seating is a must.
  • The seating is to be given at intervals and should be comfortable for all.
  • Anthropometrics are to be used here.
Seating in a Park at Intervals
Seating in a Park at Intervals

While designing urban parks, bye-laws must also be kept in mind. There are various guidelines that can be referred such as the National Building Code (NBC), and the state-wise building laws. Smart City Mission guidelines are to be followed too, for a holistic approach.

Once the guidelines and bye-laws are at your fingertips, the design process can begin.

Design Process:

Step 1: Identify the site

  • The site is usually decided by the local governing bodies, or by the community if they feel open spaces are required in their locality.
  • The site is in an area where there is a high density of concrete structures, and relief is required from that.

Step 2: Data Collection

  • This would involve a user survey, site mapping, climate analysis, and observation.
  • The data collected will later aid in coming up with design solutions.
  • The survey gives an idea of what the local users feel is needed in the park, which is crucial for a user-centric design.

Step 3: Ideation

  • A concept is drawn up, that acts as a basis for the design.
  • Specific solutions are ideated based on feedback, and with the help of additional data collected.
  • These ideas are then compiled and composed to form one singular design proposal for the park.
  • The ideas should also include the above-discussed above aspects.

Step 4: Proposal

  • Since urban parks fall under the public development board, a detailed proposal must be submitted.
  • This should include drawings, materials, and important aspects.
  • A timeline and a budget must be proposed.

Step 5: Implementation

  • Once approval has been granted, the design can be implemented on-site.
  • Upon completion, as architects, we can see the fruits of our labor.

The next time you take a stroll through a park, observe, understand and appreciate the beauty it adds to the concrete jungle we live in. As Jan Gehl said, a planned city with the right balance of open spaces and structures will leave a footprint on us, that stays with us forever.

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