What to expect from the park creation process

Whether you have been invited to provide your insight on the design of a new park or have taken it upon yourself to begin the process of improving your neighborhood’s greenspace, building a park is a long (but worthy) process. This article offers a schedule which represents the typical park building stages involved in TPL projects, which varies relative to a park’s unique timeline, size, and stakeholders. These stages are adapted from the Trust for Public Land’s participatory design approach.

 Image: Schedule of  the parks creation process

Phase 1: Plan

1. Begin with partnerships and meaningful community engagement

Forming partnerships with strong community organizations who share your values, bring a unique skillset to the team, and are determined to get a park built is vital to a project’s success and will help kick-start building relationships with the community. Partners typically include: landscape architects, City departments, and local neighborhood organizations.

  • Partnerships are often formalized through a Memorandum of Understanding

2. Choose a location

You can strategically locate a park to maximize how many people it serves, and what benefits the park can provide through GIS data, specifically ParkServe; consultations with partners; and engaging the community.

  • At this point, it might emerge that the site envisioned may not be the ideal space for long-term success.

3. Tap into partnerships to raise funds

The vision for a park project is made stronger with partners and community members. With that strong vision, partners with a lens to fields such as climate, arts, or health can tap into unique public and private dollars.

  • Budgets for parks depend on the size, amenities and much more, but for a benchmark, green schoolyards typically cost $1-2 million.

4. Engage the community in participatory design

This very important phase is all about building relationships and trust. Regular community meetings, pop-up events, site visits, artistic prompts, and surveys are useful mechanisms for shaping the design of the park with the community. It’s valuable to have project partners, especially landscape architects, at these events.

  • Without guaranteed funding to a park, there’s risk of disappointing the community that shaped this vision. 

5. Start to plan and fundraise for park stewardship

Funding for maintenance and stewardship of a park is just as important as the capital to build a park. Diverse funding is available from federal, state, local, and philanthropic sources that can be leveraged through established partnerships.

  • Often communities with the greatest need for a park have access to the least funds to maintain a park.

Opening celebration and ribboncutting at the green schoolyard at PS 115K in New York on November 9th 2020.

Image credit Alexa Hoyer

Phase 2: Build

6. Plan and design park specifics with local authorities and architects

Partners with expertise in site building include landscape architects and city agencies and are necessary to the completion of park vision. They should be brought on to the participatory design process to coordinate feasibility with aspiration.

  • Sometimes you need your design complete to access all necessary funding. 

7. Building and construction of park

At this phase, construction contractors and architects will take the lead in converting the site to a vibrant park. This is a good time for stakeholders to organize around sustaining the park.

  • Unforeseen construction stalls are common

Kiwanis-Methow Park

Image credit Mike Bonnicksen for The Wenatchee World

Phase 3: Steward

8. Park opening

Hold an opening celebration for the community and project partners to see their park vision come to life. Park opening celebrations tend to be where relationships for stewardship ramp up.

  • Park opening celebrations often happen weeks and months after the official day the public can use the park

9. Maintain a safe and clean park with and for the community

To ensure parks continue to be valuable and safe for the community, there must be a budget, staff, and strategy for keeping the park clean and up-to-date.

  • For parks that cannot afford periodic major repairs, it’s important to select the correct materials and equipment for appropriate durability. 

Image credit John Bilderback