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Park developer explains importance of community engagement

Nette Compton, senior director of Park Central and CityPark Development, spoke about local engagement in parks and their impact on people, especially in cities on Feb. 3 at the Cook-Douglass Lecture Hall. – Photo by Edwin Gano

On Dec. 10, 2014, Boeddeker Park in San Francisco, California, was opened to the public after a drastic redesign, transforming it from a hub for illicit activity into a community park promoting healthy living for adults and children.

This is one of the examples Nette Compton, senior director of Park Central and CityPark Development, used to illustrate the effect community engagement has when planning parks.

Future landscape architects swarmed into the Cook/Douglass Lecture Hall before the talk. 

“Parks are a place for people to get together (and) socialize,” said Kevin Chung, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences junior. “Having a space open for people to do activities is really important.”

Compton began by explaining the “10-minute walk” goal, which calls for all citizens of a city to live within a 10-minute walking distance from a park.

The benefits of parks are enormous, Compton said. She introduced the four advantages and purposes of parks — to connect, cool, protect and absorb.

“You have to pay to be every place in (New York City) — except the park," she said.

Parks build a sense of ownership in a city, Compton said. A landscape architect’s job is not only to take the community’s needs and build a park, but to envision a park together with the community.

The landscape architecture students in the room must have had some “transformative outdoor experience” they must have had that influenced them when choosing their field of study, whether it was walking through Central Park for the first time or hiking with their Girl or Boy Scout troop, Compton said.

Catherine Simpkins, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences junior, had one such experience.

“Over the summer, I worked in the park. It’s just a totally different atmosphere than working inside a building or an office, which I’ve done too," she said. "It’s serene, it’s calming, it’s tranquil.”

A landscape architect’s role in making those places and creating experiences for other people begins with designing parks that reflect the unique culture of a neighborhood, Compton said.

“I don’t eat bagels and pizza when I’m in New Mexico — that’s a waste of time,” Compton said.

Compton explained the method of “creative placemaking,” a process that leads to revitalized parks by using community engagement to integrate the local arts and culture.

Creative place-making was an important piece in the rebuilding of Boeddeker Park when Compton helped redesign it. Originally, the design goal of the park was to allow a police car to be able to drive through it, Compton said.

There park had only one entrance and rampant illegal activity surrounding the park before the redesign. The community's wants included preserving the art already in the park, incorporating equipment promoting physical activity for all ages and embracing the local culture.

Following the renovation of the park, Boeddeker became a hub of activity and a safe space for children after school, Compton said. The YMCA and the Boys and Girls Club hosted activities for children in the park as well, emphasizing the importance of healthy eating and staying active.

A safe network was developed to transport children from school to the park and to protect them from the activity surrounding Boeddeker.

Compton also presented the New Freedom Park in Denver, Colorado. Originally, the park was an abandoned lot with a concrete water channel running through the middle, but was already being used for children to play soccer in and as a public garden. The community needed to create infrastructure, Compton said.

The combination of kids, soccer and plants would have been simple, but sometimes the experience of going through a process is just as valuable as the final product, Compton said. While public process could be rapid and result-driven, a slow, community-based approach increased its strength and diversity.

The new park included a community garden, where citizens could grow what they were familiar with from home, resulting in cultures interacting and sharing their farming techniques.

”My mom is from Thailand, and so, here is totally different than where she’s from … the city’s so entwined with nature, it’s calming, it’s way more relaxing than being in the city,” Simpkins said.

Compton explained why parks are linked to strong communities, diversity and culture, and why landscape architects should work with the community, rather than for it.

“I take way more care of the sweaters I knit for myself than the sweaters I buy in the store,” Compton said.


Susmita Paruchuri is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in mathematics and journalism and media studies. She is the design editor for The Daily Targum. Follow her on Twitter @susmitapar for more.


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