Designing and Revitalizing for the Community

Authored by HGOR Principal, Lauren Standish

Parks define communities and places, whether they be neighborhood, regional destination, athletic complex or urban parks. From an aesthetic perspective, they artfully meld architecture and horticulture into original, inventive, and inspiring visual concepts. From a practical perspective, they are central to the well-being of a community and its citizens, encouraging active living and providing a crucial connection to nature. Human interaction isn’t just needed to make a popular and sustainable park, new research demonstrates that people with strong community ties also live longer healthier lives. Parks provide the space for communities to form.


New parks can sprout up in the unlikeliest places. Low-income, inner-city communities are characterized by hardscapes – asphalt surfaces. When a community organizes and creates a plan for a new park, local governments can respond and purchase asphalt-covered areas like parking lots and transform them into public community parks. The average neighborhood park can run into the millions but including a park budget in the initial master plan helps ensure local governments will finance it, and even partner with developers, local foundations, or conservancies to get it built. These types of projects can also come about if they are part of broader public-private urban redevelopment schemes aimed at providing housing, improving access to transit, and investing in the local environment. Transportation infrastructure like boulevards, rail lines, and trails can be expanded, greened, and designed to become easily accessible parks. In addition, even landfills, rooftops, reservoirs, and cemeteries can be turned into parks.

Park design needs to be compelling, so people visit and forge community ties there. Parks that are designed for local residents and include them in the design process often do the best. Elements of the landscape design should be made subordinate to an overarching design purpose and should allow the landscape experience to ring organic and true. The composition should subtly direct movement through the landscape. Amenity’s are critical to the overall design and should not only protect the heritage, cultural and environmental values of an area but they should build upon the special attributes of an area, with focus on comfort, safety and manageable maintenance. Ensuring accessibility and unique features for the residents, multi-modal paths, and transportation is crucial as well as allowing the park’s connection to a broader open space network throughout the area.

Successful parks have many usability and often include flexible and functional areas, including game fields, gardens, skating rinks, a boating lake, and winding paths that offer different types of experience and connectivity and accessibility to the park. The key to success for Parks is not just the design or redesign of the physical infrastructure, although it is critical to make physical changes to make the park more accessible and welcoming. Along with strategic programming a park’s revival can also come from a creative line-up of events and high-profile, high-quality management of the space, which reassures people that a park is safe and fun around the clock, and in all seasons.

Lastly, a sustainable park made to preserve natural resources and promote quality of life for the people and our community around it has long term viability and promotes existing native plants and allows geographic features to be more efficient. HGOR’s current park designs have integrated many sustainable features and park placemaking principals to the success of many parks around the world. Following are highlights of some of our recent park developments.

 Katheryn Johnston Memorial Park

HGOR engaged residents, foundations, corporations, and government partners to ensure a broad coalition of support that delivers environmental, economic, and social justice outcomes for the local residents to reclaim and restore the urban land and transform into an accessible community park that has long been neglected. The park combines green infrastructure with passive and active recreational elements and provides approximately 40,000 cubic feet of storage capacity for stormwater.

Westside Park

Westside Park  by HGOR

Master plan the entirety of what will be Atlanta’s largest park destination, providing Atlanta its largest gathering space, highlight the new quarry lake and showcase expansive views that connect through a carefully designed system of walkways and trails. HGOR’s design looked at this project as an opportunity to design and implement an ambitious greenspace that is cohesive with and accentuates the quarry-turned-reservoir as well as the community surrounding it. Supporting the importance of water, the surrounding park will feature significant elements of green infrastructure, enhancing water quality and ground water infiltration.

Grant Park Gateway

HGOR’s design focused to enhance park experience and pedestrian circulation by minimizing vehicular interference and creating meaningful greenspaces and connections that complement the existing features of the park. Sustainability infrastructure includes native plantings, as well as reuse of stormwater for irrigation. Mature trees removed in the process are being replaced with native species that will ensure long-term forest canopy health for the future of the park.

Brookwood Hills

Brookwood Hills  by HGOR

Master plan and design widens ramps and staircases to provide more park better accessibility and ADA compliance. Additional staircase and entrance were added to reconnect and integrate the park to the neighborhood. HGOR’s design detail for walls, columns, and architecture was done specifically to compliment the architecturally significant and historic neighborhood. Because of the park’s low elevation and the existing flooding issues, HGOR proposed an extensive re-design of the park drainage system which included grading, walls, raingardens, and sub-surface water quality and detention devices, all of which are aesthetically integrated into the park.

Source: “Urban Green: Innovative Parks for Resurgent Cities,” Peter Harnik, Island Press, 2010 and “Addressing Health Disparities and Park Inequalities through Public Financing of Playgrounds, and Other Physical Activity Settings.”

Magdelina Falk