From playgrounds to picnic areas, community parks have long been valued for the recreational opportunities they provide. However, the potential for these public spaces to help make communities unique and vibrant places is often underutilized. To help attract residents, businesses and visitors, many communities are using placemaking strategies that focus on the social, cultural, environmental and economic benefits of parks. Wade Trim is helping communities improve their overall quality of life by designing parks and other public spaces that provide ease of access, linkages, multiple uses and activities, comfort and sociability.

The concept of placemaking is based on the principle that people want to live and work in places that offer the amenities, resources and opportunities that support thriving lifestyles. Parks are a highly-visible asset that help communities create these lifestyles along with other public places such as squares, plazas, sidewalks, green spaces and waterfronts. Placemaking occurs in the planning and design of these specific spaces and their integration with the overall community. The goal is to create public spaces that offer a community more value collectively than their individual uses.

When the Charter Township of Brownstown, MI, set out to redevelop their existing park and municipal campus they intended to attract people by creating a place that balances development and green space while providing recreational uses for all ages and activity levels. The campus is home to Township offices, public works facilities, a community center, two softball fields, a children’s play structure and a small pavilion. Wade Trim prepared a master plan for the entire property as well as detailed construction plans for project implementation. Funded by the DDA, the master plan seeks to leverage a campus full of well-developed public amenities as a way to generate residential and commercial growth. It also acknowledges that unique facilities can be paid for, in significant part, through rental and use fees.

Improvements focus on enhancing the usability of the park and surrounding property while creating a regional recreational attraction. Recreation objectives include upgrades to and expansion of sports field facilities, a water play facility, more interesting and expansive play opportunities for children, and more opportunity for walking and health-related activities. Social objectives include a wider variety of opportunities for older adults, encouragement of family-oriented and mixed-age activities, settings and facilities to accommodate private and public social functions, and development of community gardens. The improvements are being constructed in phases through Fall 2013.

The City of East Jordan, MI, recognized the placemaking potential of its waterfront Tourist Park facility. A camping facility on Lake Charlevoix, Tourist Park includes a beach front and an abandoned small-boat marina. Adjacent to the park are Murphy Field, a youth baseball facility, and a softball field used primarily for women’s leagues, as well as two tennis courts. These individual facilities are used heavily on a seasonal basis by their constituent groups, but overall, Tourist Park is not widely used by the community. The City wanted a plan that would transform Tourist Park into a more diverse and dynamic place that would attract visitors and residents while leveraging its waterfront assets.

The master plan prepared by Wade Trim focused on how the interface between the campground and the waterfront could be used to enhance access, diversify uses and activities, and promote sociability. The same focus was applied to developing connections between the ballfield areas and the greater site. Walking paths and pavilions were used, for example, to create common gathering areas and promote exploration of the entire park. The next step in this process will be to more thoroughly assess management and financial aspects of park operation to determine how physical improvements and economic considerations can be mutually sustainable.

The grounds around Otsego County’s Courthouse in downtown Gaylord, MI, are rarely used except at the height of summer when people can be seen having a picnic on the lawn or when there is spillover use from events at an adjacent street-spanning pavilion. Recognizing the placemaking potential of this small but key space to provide a park-like experience for users, the County embarked on a master plan. The plan focuses on inviting people to use the space by improving linkages and access, enhancing opportunities for the number and types of activities, and promoting sociability.

The master plan proposes that the existing clock tower be updated and moved out to the street edge where electronic signs can easily inform passers-by of upcoming activities and the tower can serve as an information kiosk for pedestrians. A central plaza is proposed that includes an interactive water feature. The water elements are set flush with plaza paving and without a raised basin so the feature can be turned off and the space can be used for any number of civic and social functions. Easily-accessible paths lead into the plaza and to the front door of the courthouse. Lawn areas are still part of the plan but combined with a mixture of spaces, increased seating opportunities, more gracious settings for public memorials, and an enhanced textural palette of plantings.

A placemaking approach is also being used by Grandvue Medical Care Facility in East Jordan, MI, to improve this long-term health care facility’s campus. Wade Trim prepared a series of interconnected master plans that added assisted living facilities, specialized care facilities and a recreation and activity terrace. An important part of Grandvue’s mission and of residents’ well-being is to promote contact with people. The terrace provides a key placemaking opportunity to promote recreation, exercise, gardening and socializing. It is intended to draw together residents, staff, visitors, children, and the larger community. It will include an activity barn with pens for animals, gardening areas, strolling paths, ponded and running water, a pavilion, horseshoes, a putting green, and play equipment for both older adults and children. With its park-like amenities, the terrace will be accessible, comfortable, promote sociability, and provide for multiple uses and activities.

Parks and park-like public spaces can contribute to their surrounding communities in innumerable ways. Parks that are easily accessible, linked and connected make it easy for people to get there. Parks that offer diverse uses and activities give people more reasons to come. Parks that are perceived as places of comfort and beauty that promote social interaction encourage people to stay. Recognizing and acting upon opportunities to create public spaces that offer these placemaking elements will make our communities more interesting, viable and sustainable places to live and work.

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Several new features including a dog park, event barn, splash pad, soccer fields and sledding hill will help make Brownstown’s Recreation Campus a unique place within the southeast Michigan region.