APWA Book Review

Designing Small Parks: A Manual for Addressing Social and Ecological Concerns
224 pp * 2005 * Wiley and Sons * Ann Forsyth and Laura R. Musacchio

Small parks are a key part of most neighborhoods, but they typically provide mostly recreational benefits. With demographic and cultural changes and an increase in ecological awareness, those involved in designing, redesigning, and maintaining parks need to understand the multiple roles that parks can play as part of the public space and ecological networks in the metropolitan landscape.

By definition small parks have limited areas, so they cannot meet all the potential demands for space for varied human activities and multiple natural processes. Helping those involved in planning, designing, and managing parks to understand where it is easy to serve multiple purposes and where it is more difficult is an important aim of this manual. Designing Small Parks: A Manual for Addressing Social and Ecological Concerns draws on a wide range of knowledge to provide a one-stop reference to building better parks.

Integrating design criteria with current social and natural science research, Designing Small Parks presents landscape architects, park designs, park departments, planners, scientists, and civic groups with a broad palette of design options. Beginning with an overview of key issues and terms, this accessible manual is arranged around twelve topics that represent key questions, contradictions, and tensions in the design of small parks.

The first four topics in the manual—on size, edges, appearance, and naturalness—deal with fundamental issues for small parks. They are small and can only accommodate a limited number of activities; they likely have more edges than larger parks with both problems and benefits. These issues are magnified because people differ in their preferences about park appearance and the experience of being in a park.

The next four sections—on water, plants, wildlife, and climate and air—deal with topics where natural systems are key and where small parks can play a role in a larger open-space and ecological system. However, these natural features also form part of the human environment, providing pleasure (e.g., watching wildlife) and comfort (e.g., moderating air temperature).

The final four sections focus more squarely on human aspects: for example, the kinds of activities small parks need to accommodate; management of inevitable conflicts over use; issues of personal safety; the very real problems of park maintenance and management; and the potential for public involvement in parks.

Five design examples apply these guidelines to actual cases, and a set of issues sheets and a checklist of guidelines summarize the main implications of the manual in formats useful in participatory-design processes and in plan evaluation. The manual concludes with reflections on how small parks can contribute to sustainable communities by providing ecological resources, nearby nature for people living in higher-density communities as well as more energy-efficient dwellings, and social gathering spaces.

For more information on purchasing this book and other American Public Works Association books, please visit the APWA Bookstore online at www.apwa.net/bookstore or call the APWA Bookstore at (800) 848-APWA, ext. 5254.