Learning Adventures in Citizenship
Episode 6
Plan a Park
New York's Central Park is one of the greatest pieces of park planning in American history. At a time in the 1850s when most of Manhattan was rural, city leaders looked to the future. They saw that the city would one day cover the whole island. They knew they had to set land aside. If they didn't, there would be no open space in the city. They also wanted more than open land; they wanted a beautiful and useful park. They hired one of the finest architects of the day to design it: Frederick Law Olmsted.

Olmsted made the park a retreat. He believed city residents needed a quiet place to experience nature. He made many rules to keep sports, entertainment, and noise out of the park. Many people at the time complained. They said his park did not serve working people who wanted to have fun on their day off. In the years since, the rules and activities of the park have changed a lot. There is more music, sports, and entertainment there. Last year, more than 30 million people visited Central Park.

Thinking About Parks
Park 1
What about your community? Does it need another park or square or public space where people can come together? Perhaps you would like to plan one or maybe even work to get one built. This activity will offer suggestions on how to do both.

To begin, there are very important things to think about. Who is going to use your park? What are they going to use it for? Where is your park going to be?

What kind of public space do you want to create? A park for sports? A square or plaza for sitting or strolling? A river or oceanfront walk?

Is there available space in your community? Where is it located? How big is it?

Getting Community Feedback
Park 2You should note all of these things as you begin to plan your park or public space. But before you begin designing it, there is the most important thing of all to consider: parks and open spaces are for the community, so you must learn what the community needs and wants.

(Remember: a community can mean different things. It can be geographical -- everybody living in a certain area. It can be a community by age -- little kids, teenagers, adults. Or it can be an activity community -- bicyclists or softball players.)

To learn community opinions, it is best to talk to people. You can do this one-on-one or by holding meetings. Getting community opinions will help in several ways. It offers useful ideas, spreads the word about the park, gets people to help you, and makes people feel that the future park belongs to them.

Finally, it doesn't hurt to learn from what others have done. Visit parks in your area. Note the things you like about them and the things you don't like.

Designing the Park
Park 3
With your own ideas--and those of the community--in mind, it is time to design your park or public space. Now comes the time to get more specific. There are so many things that go into the design of a park or public space. But remember to keep in mind the most important things: the people who are going to use your park and the space it is going to fill. Here is a list of some of the things to consider:


How are people going to get to your park? Drivers need parking, and bicyclists need racks.

ACCESS: How are people going to get into and around your park? Will there be paths for walkers, bicyclists, skaters? And don't forget the disabled--make sure your park is accessible to them.


This can include trees, gardens, flowers and other living things. But it can also mean rocks and hills and lakes. What about art? Do you want fountains or sculptures? What style of architecture should the buildings be?


Restrooms, trash cans, and water fountains are essential. Tables and chairs are nice. So is protection from the sun and rain, as well as lighting for nighttime.


Will there be softball diamonds, soccer and football fields, basketball and tennis courts, a swimming pool, or skateboarding places?


Would you like to have concerts in the park? If so, think about a bandshell. Maybe you would like to have a snack bar or outdoor cafe.


Every public space has to have rules. Some things to think about: hours, activities, noise.

Now, it's time to put it all together. Draw a map of your park; draw pictures or describe the park in words; list park rules and regulations. You can make this a poster project or put it into the form of a report.

Getting Your Park Built
Park 4
Maybe you want to take your park from a plan to reality. It might seem impossible, but it's not. Check out these Web sites about young people who have gotten things done:

GreatKids Network
A Web site about kids around the world making things better.

This is a Web site that includes stories about projects other children are doing.

While it is not impossible for young people to get a park or playground built, it takes a lot of hard work and organizing. The most important thing to remember is: don't try to do things alone. Gather as many people together as you can; approach the people whom you asked for ideas. Spread the word at school or in your community. Set up an organizational meeting. Then announce it by posting flyers, publishing a notice in your school or community newspaper, making phone calls, and sending email notes.

Now that you have a group together, it is time to divide up things to do. Any community project -- such as building a park -- depends on three things: money, community support, government approval. Committees should be set up to handle each of these things.


There are two parts to the money question. First, you have to figure out how much your park is going to cost. It is probably best to find a volunteer -- like a businessperson or architect -- who understands the costs of building a large project like a park. Second, you need to think about how to find the money to build the park. Most likely, it will come through either community contributions or government money or both. Fundraisers -- like carnivals, barbecues, carwashes, etc. -- are useful in two ways. They raise money and they spread word of the project. Getting money from the government means talking to community leaders -- both one-on-one in their offices or at community board or city council meetings. This is where your design plan can be very helpful. Give officials a copy of your report before a council or board meeting or display posters at the meeting.


Get prepared first. Memorize the reasons you think a park is needed and how your park will meet that need. Then go out and spread the word. Hand out flyers on street corners or door-to-door; get stories published in your local newspaper or on your local TV and radio station; hold parades or rallies on the site of the future park (remember to clear all parades and rallies with local police).


Again, be prepared first--even more than with the community. This is also where your design plan can be very helpful. As with the money question, give officials copy of your report before a council or board meeting or display posters at the meeting. Remember, government officials sometimes move slowly. They must think about everybody in the community. Be patient and persistent.