Participatory Parks will Create New Cultures in Communities Choosing to Charter Their Own Destiny

Great cities throughout history were known far and wide for the grand parks that served as their centerpieces. But what do we think about today when we conjure up the image of a park? Fresh cut green grass, trimmed trees, playground for the kids, and perhaps a stream of water running through part of it.

Parks have somehow deteriorated into rubber stamped open space, boiled down to the bare essentials of grass, trees, sidewalks, playgrounds, and benches – nothing memorable, with little to inspire the mind. While there are a few exceptions to the tedium of today’s park culture, like the famed sculpture parks in Loveland, they remain isolated examples of what most would aspire to become.

For this reason, I would like to propose a new approach – the idea of participatory parks where the community decides on a particular theme and becomes integrally involved in creating the distinctive features. Participatory parks will range from active to passive on various community involvement scales, but in each case, the host city will set into motion a long range plan for people to rally around.

Perhaps the best way to explain how participatory parks work is to talk though some of the possible themes and allow you to let your imagination fill in the gaps.

1.) POETRY – “POETRY PARK” – A Tribute to the talented thinkers that have gone before us.

Poetry Park will be a trail of thought. Landscaped in an ornate forest setting, large stones and boulders will protrude along the cobblestone trails. Each boulder will be inscribed with quotations, song lyrics, poems, and words of inspiration.

As the participatory component, individuals, companies, and service organizations will sponsor the carving of the inscriptions, with the sponsoring entity inscribed at the bottom. Ideally the park will have surface areas on the rocks for several thousand inscriptions, capturing the ideas and inspiring words of many generations to come.

Visitors to the park will be able to take leisurely strolls through the knotty pines, flower beds, and maple trees, reading the various gems of wisdom as they go. Much like the hallowed halls of a library, Poetry Park will be steeped in silence, allowing only nature to breathe her lovely words.

2.) WATER SCULPTURES – “RIPPLES OF THE MIND” – A Tribute to the creative spirit that flows through each of us.

The sound of rushing water and trickling brooks will provide a calm retreat from the overly stressful world now occupying our lives. Fashioned around unique walkways and florascaping, the participatory attractions of the “Ripples” park will be the water sculptures, bubbling with pride, spraying for our attention.

Crafted with a combination of fountains, water jets, bubblers, ponds, and trickling brooks, each water sculpture will stand alone as a fine work of art. Businesses, organizations, and individuals will sponsor these attractions, but the artwork itself will be created with the professional elegance endowed only to members of this unique artisan community.

3.) MUSIC – “HARMONY COVE” – A Tribute to the talented musicians among us.

Music and nature have some very important things in common. The natural rhythms, the stirring of emotions, the sensory stimulation, and the overall beauty of a fine composition make the combination of the two an awe-inspiring experience.

With musicians looking for their next stage to perform on, and a community looking to be entertained, Harmony Cove would provide a series of sound isolated stages in a setting of beautiful green grass surrounded by beds upon beds of wonderful flowers. Local businesses and individuals will sponsor each of the artistically inspired amphitheaters and stages.

4.) WIND SCULPTURES – “WINDWALKER PARK” – A tribute to the breeze of inspiration that flows through all of us.

Each gentle breeze will bring this park to life with moving forms and sculptured motion. Wind sculptures are a relatively new artform; designed around an artist’s ability to mesh mechanical movement with the power of the wind in a grace and beauty that captures the mind.

Each visit to this park will seem different. Artworks will exhibit the breathing nature of these artistic lifeforms. Carefully positioned among trees that serve as Mother Nature’s own wind sculptures, individual displays will be folded into the florascape in ways to help the inspirations breath. The winding pathway network will lead guests through landscape features that mimic the transient breezes of the mind and enchant the soul.

5.) GRAFFITI ART – “THE WALLS OF LIFE” – A tribute to the aspiring artists inside each of us.

While most cities abhor the graffiti that mysteriously shows up around towns in the morning hours, and most spend a small fortune cleaning up after the vandals, a better approach is simply to accept the reality that it will always be part of community life, and channel what is now a negative into something very positive.

The “Walls of Life” will consist of a series of large concrete walls positioned near a high profile intersection in a community. Visibility is the key to success for this park. The walls will serve as graffiti walls for anyone so inspired to “paint their mind”. The life of each artwork will remain only until the next graffiti artist comes along and decides to change it.

With constantly evolving art and images, the beauty of the park will be its portrayal of the feelings and sentiments of the city – organic art that changes with the mood of the community.

6.) FIRE SCULPTURES – “FLAMES OF INSPIRATION” – A tribute to the flames of inspiration that burns in each of us.

Perhaps best suited to serve as warming stations on a cold wintry walk, flaming sculptures add a new dimension to the artistry of imagination. This rare form of art requires unique ways of thinking about the flow of energy. Dramatic sculptures become punctuated with flaming lights and the dancing tongues of inspiration.

“Flames of Inspiration” is a park that will bring out the night crowd. As the evening light disappears, the park will magically come to life with burning sculpture images and the voices of people mesmerized by the sights, smells, and sounds of this original walk through the flames of inspiration.

7.) GAMES – “MATRIX OF THE MIND” – A tribute to life’s greatest challenges.

Playing games in a park is not new, and it’s relatively easy to add a checkerboard table next to a playground. But games come in many shapes and sizes, and each has a way of drawing its own players, competitors, and spectators.

Sponsored game features will include a wide variety of tabletop and field sports. Parks that entertain the mind quickly become a magnet for people and the things they enjoy. With businesses and individuals paying for the creation of the games they would like to see, other may choose to sponsor tournaments and events around the games as they evolve.
8.) PERFORMING ARTS – “THE LAND OF SEVEN GAZEBOS” – A Tribute to the talented performing artists among us.

Every aspiring actor is looking for their next stage to perform on, and theater troupes, comedian, buskers, and street performer are always looking for places to test out new material. This becomes the perfect meeting place for the people wishing to be entertained and the performers wishing to refine their craft.

Much like Harmony Cove, the “Seven Gazebos” park will consist of a series of sound isolated stages in a natural setting of trees, flowers, and walking trails. Each of the gazebo amphitheaters will be designed with its own charm and character. And each of these unique stages will be sponsored by local businesses and individuals.

9.) LIGHT – “MOMENTS OF BRILLIANCE” – A tribute to the brilliant ideas that light our road ahead.

The idea of taking an evening walk through a park is a very romantic notion to many. With bright stars and moonlight beaming from above, the notion of taking a brisk walk to fill your lungs with the fresh and cool evening air is very alluring.

The “Moments of Brilliance” park is designed to take the evening walk to another level, with a series of lighted walking trails through a maze of light sculptures and glowing features such as dripping light walls, glittering canyons, abstract lighthouses, and various other light works.

The electric energy of this park will be designed to spark the imagination in unique and different ways. Visitors will feel the silent pulse of new ideas fill their mind as they “plug in” to this unusual park.

10.) HISTORY – “A WALK THROUGH TIME” – A tribute to the giants in history and the shoulder of which we walk on”

Every community has its own story to tell. And many of the best stories tend to get lost among the busy lives we all now lead. The “history” park is a unique way to preserve the heart, and soul, and character of a community.

Built along the winding trails of the park and intersperse among the trees will be a series of “historical features”, each telling its own story through the use of symbols, sculptures and artifacts designed to stand the test of time.

Some trails may be arranged chronologically to describe a series of events that happened over time. Others may consist of statues and engravings of the famous people in the community. And still others may be just be a random trail of quirky historical events to amuse the patrons.

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These are just ten examples, but many more possibilities exist. Other possible themes include Sister City parks, ghost towns, and other types of sculptures. But in each case, the city provides the canvas, and the community creates the masterpiece.

Parks have traditionally been designed top-down with few people having a say in the design or the content. However, communities tend to value most the projects involving the greatest numbers of people. Having the feeling of ownership distributed across a community is a great way to instill loyalty and the feeling of endearment among our ever-growing transient populations.

 by Thomas Frey, Executive Director of the DaVinci Institute

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