Recreating (or Recreating!) World Landscape Architecture Month

by Steph Sanders, PLA, ASLA

Playground
RiverLakes Ranch Community Park, phase 1 completed playground. / image: Steph Sanders

As we cross the year-threshold of a topsy-turvy life-changing event, recreation and parks have continued to persist and provide for our communities in ways not ever explored before. When people were told to isolate themselves in California, our recreation and park districts asked our communities to come outside and play in our open space safely. Our parks have experienced increased foot traffic even while our agency wasn’t able to offer our typical sports and recreation programming. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the case nationwide. We’ve continued to evolve recreation programming away from team sports, camps, and gatherings to virtual 5ks, grab-and-go activities, park scavenger hunts, and online recreation. As one can imagine, after recreating recreation for 365+ days, creativity wanes, and new ideas are becoming sparse.

Enter World Landscape Architecture Month. Our profession’s month-long international celebration is a perfect time to increase awareness about our profession, the environment, and spaces many people hold dearly. Parks have always been a place of celebration, reflection, activity, learning, reverence, and so many other feelings, nouns, and verbs that one blog post cannot contain. Still, few grasp what goes into the design and development of these and other landscapes. North of the River Recreation and Park District (NOR) is hosting a month-long virtual series honoring landscape architecture within the world around us.

Virtual recreation website screenshot
NOR’s webpage transformed into a virtual recreation source with virtual recreation programming / image: Steph Sanders

Each week in April, a video will highlight a different aspect of our profession, starting with what exactly landscape architecture is. The idea stemmed from a virtual recreation need, a couple of curious kids, and a wonderful online book by Bolton & Menk titled Green Eggs and Sam (a print copy is published as Sam the Landscape Architect). Working in the public sector with both adults and children, I struggle with describing what landscape architecture is because it is so broad and what I am accustomed to daily rarely involves design. My young children always put it so simply: “My mom draws parks and playgrounds and builds them and then plays on them with us!” We all know what we do is so much more than that, but through a child’s eyes, that sounds like a pretty fun job, and yeah, it is!

Drawing on a park landscape plan
Rendering the second phase of RiverLakes Ranch Community Park…for the 4th time (and counting!) / image: Steph Sanders

Focusing on youth education, our series will follow STEAM education principles—Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math—to cultivate an interest in the design of our outdoor spaces and the role landscape architecture plays in our daily lives. One week will highlight the design process for a public park, incorporating the arrangement of park elements. Each element will have a value associated with it, depending on size and cost, but only allowing a quantity of 10 to demonstrate spatial relationships and budgeting. These will be available as a printout and a pick-up activity if local COVID-19 regulations allow. We’ll be giving away prizes for submissions of park designs, including copies of Sam the Landscape Architect, Parker the Planner, and future discounts to recreation programs.

Another week will focus on placemaking and wayfinding; how the LANDscape creates LANDmarks, guides our path of travel, and gives us a place to go. The week of Earth Day will focus not only on planting trees, but knowing about the right tree, right place, and the relationship plants, as living breathing elements (just like us!), have with their environment.

The last week will culminate with a fun Mother’s Day project, with the littles painting a pot and the ever-so-popular “potting parties” with succulents. The kit, just like many of our other COVID programs, will be available via online registration and curbside pick-up before the release of the video. This way, families and participants can construct their creation at their leisure, in the comfort of their own homes, while learning about microclimates and the relationship of plants, water, and soil. It’s also a good test run for us on new programming; if there is great interest, NOR will look at incorporating potting parties as a new community center program post-COVID. Oh, how we can’t wait to get people, sports, activities, and the usual bustle back into our community centers.

There has been good that has come out of the last year and I feel one of the greatest achievements has been the amount of creativity bolstered out of a significant deviation from the norm. As activities, work, and life begin to open and spring forward, there are still many opportunities for us to continue to be #growingtogether, while being apart, for World Landscape Architecture Month. How will your creativity drive your celebration?

Steph Sanders, PLA, ASLA, is the Landscape Architect and Park Planner for North of the River Recreation and Park District (NOR). NOR is a special district in Bakersfield, California, managing recreation and park needs for 215 square miles. Steph oversees the land acquisition, planning, construction, and maintenance for the District.

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