Bison’s Bluff, Schaumburg, IL

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Park Landscape Design Trends for 2021

January 11, 2021

The approach to park landscape design has definitely changed due to the COVID pandemic. The recent events have also dramatically accelerated many trends that were already taking root. So what will park landscape design look like in 2021 and beyond? Here are our top five trends:

  1. Technology-Enabled Interactivity
    The integration of technology has become a key component of park landscape design and is rapidly expanding the impact and importance of parks. For example, new technology is creating exciting possibilities for interactive play regardless of age, gender, or skill, and parks are integrating these new technologies more rapidly than ever. Whether for interactive sports and games for kids, music mixing and dance stations for teenagers, or virtual golf simulators for adults, technology is being used to engage, entertain, and stimulate activity. These inspiring environments get visitors playing, moving and above all, having fun. They also often enable year-round activities to take place in colder climates.

    Technology is also being used to create flexible spaces. Aligned with the trend towards remote work, and designed to support outdoor gatherings, the new Jaycees Smart Park in Naperville, IL features a large, comfortable, and shaded area next to the river, with 26 electrical outlets and various charging stations, as well as free Wi-Fi. 161 rooftop solar panels provide energy to power the entire park.

  1. Improved Park Management
    Modern park landscape design approaches use advanced systems to provide data, information and insights on everything from visitor and usage patterns to vandalism and maintenance needs. With better information, parks can serve visitors better and leaders can better plan for future expansion.

    Many parks have seen significant increases in trail traffic during 2020. Counters to track usage will help determine how to best handle these increases and monitor ongoing changes. Dog park access cards provide information on visitor frequency that can be used to improve the facilities. Geo-targeted cell phone data and the ability to contact registered users through push notifications is a great way to keep members updated and create a feedback mechanism that is far better than surveys or other methods. Finally, video cameras and even drones are being employed to prevent vandalism, monitor maintenance issues, and vastly improve the overall safety of visitors.

  1. Nature-Based, Sustainable Spaces
    While parks are integrating new technologies, they are also pursuing nature-based play to stimulate kids and help them grow socially, emotionally, intellectually, and physically. Nature-based elements can even be integrated into the playground itself. For example, parks are using natural stone and boulders for climbing instead of man-made replicas. Wood cookies can be used for hopscotch, and building play structures are being built using long-lasting and rot-resistant Black Locust wood instead of plastic.

    The Schaumburg Park District’s Bison’s Bluff is a great example of the trend towards nature-based play. The park is next to an existing wetland. It provides a very unique experience as it takes visitors through prairie, savannah, and wetland ecosystems with play and learning experiences throughout. The park landscape design has interactive water features, sand, a ropes experience and areas where parents and caregivers can relax. It also includes spaces where sensory-challenged children can decompress, recharge, and reset.

    Rain gardens and stormwater management are also structured to be more natural and sustainable. The landscape employs native plants with deep roots that filter contaminants before they get into streams and ponds. These plants also attract pollinators such as bees and hummingbirds. Signage educates visitors about the benefits of native plants and the importance of pollinators and bee populations.

  1. Inter-Generational and Inclusive Design
    With more adults now working from home, the trend towards families partaking in recreation activities together has accelerated, creating the need for activities and amenities that cater to all ages. Toddlers, tweens, teenagers, young couples, parents, grandparents, and even pets are visiting parks together, and more often than ever they are visiting on weekdays. Providing experiences that cater to a wide variety of ages (and species), especially within community parks, is a consistent park landscape design trend. Fitness stations catering to both active adults and seniors on the move, skate parks, sports fields, obstacle courses, gardens, paths, and relaxation areas are all trending amenities.

    An example is the Colts Canal Playspace in Indianapolis, Indiana. This innovative, engaging and versatile space, sponsored by the Indianapolis Colts, is the first destination park and play space along the canal walk in Indianapolis. It’s flowing design is an art form that integrates perfectly within this urban fabric. While at its heart it is a playground, the playspace was designed with visitors of all ages and abilities in mind. Modern parks such as this are being designed with wheelchair accessibility and ramp systems, protective spaces for the sensory-challenged, and a variety of physical activities and games that can benefit all children, regardless of age and ability.

  1. Physical Distancing
    The newest park landscape design trend is a direct result of the COVID pandemic. With many gyms limited or closed, the use of outdoor fitness equipment has increased dramatically. Fitness stations are being added along trail systems and within parks but with a more spread-out design. Playgrounds are also being adjusted. A recent trend toward enclosed towers is changing as designers rethink play structures and adjust designs to be more open and spread out.

    Programming is another area that has been changed overnight. With the lockdowns and stay at home orders in 2020, the demand for virtual programs with virtual participation has increased dramatically. Virtual and augmented reality programming drives activity but still allows for distancing and is being implemented in park master plans. This trend should continue post-pandemic as it is a new approach to engagement and interaction and a new way to connect more people across distances than ever before.

The Growing Importance of Park Landscape Design

Park landscape design is ever evolving, and these latest trends show that parks are becoming more important and valuable than ever. Our goal at Hitchcock Design Group is to help our clients maximize the potential of their outdoor spaces. We bring a holistic approach and deep experience collaborating with park districts, foundations, and various public and private venues to deliver on that promise. To see more innovative, creative, and beautiful park landscape design examples, visit us at our website.