11-04-21 | Feature

Participatory Design of Playground/Park

HIP Empowers Students and Community to Help Create

Local artist Timothy Goodman in association with NBA star Kevin Durant's philanthropy, 35 Ventures, created the graphics on the basketball practice courts. The words of inspiration were decided upon by the students. Goodman and his team hand painted all the graphics over a fresh layer of asphalt coated with a base of black paint intended to make the graphics be more vibrant and last longer. Adjustable-height basketball hoops facilitate players of all ages, sizes and abilities. Photo: Timothy Schenck
This outdoor garden setting is one of several outdoor classroom settings provided for the schools on-going STEM education programs. Included in the raised planters are zinnias (the orange and yellow flowers in the front) and a variety of herbs and vegetables such as basil, peppers, eggplant and tomatoes, which are tended by a community garden club, and used by the students and neighbors. The surface material is a permeable pavement of aggregate with a rubber binder. It is bordered by concrete curbing. Steel benches from a local metal fabricator, Custom Fabrication. complete the setting. Photo: Jennifer Nitzky, ASLA.
As part of the design, a custom green roof on top of a gazebo was included to collect and filter stormwater while providing cooling in summer to reduce heat island effect. The green roof plants, a mixture of sedum in a soil bed INSERT" deep, also add texture and color to the steel structure. Photo: Liz Hand-Fry, ASLA
The design called for the efficient management of up to a million gallons of stormwater annually. Synthetic turf, such as on this mounded area, was specified instead of natural turf for a number reasons. The product selected has a porous mat backing and needs no infill as it is "more like a carpet," according to Jennifer Nitzky, RLA, ASLA, ISA, senior landscape architect at Studio HIP. Also, the cost and time needed to maintain natural turf is more prohibitive where weather conditions can be harsh, community budgets are tight, and the turf receives the wear and tear that a school playground/park does. Under the synthetic turf is a drainage system that includes aggregate and perforated pipes, which was engineered by eDesign Dynamics. Photo: Jennifer Nitzky, ASLA
The playground includes several areas with different types of play equipment from rock walls and climbing ropes to slides and ground level elements. Gametime supplied some of the equipment and the safety surface. Wooden structures from Kompan were built from black locust, which, according to Ninsky, is similar in durability to tropical woods but more sustainably harvested. Photo: Liz Hand-Fry, ASLA.

Located in a diverse neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, the old playground at Public School 152/315 was transformed into a dynamic new community park through a distinctive participatory design process that partnered landscape architects and environmental educators with students, teachers and community stakeholders in a three-month design process. The new playground manages a million gallons of stormwater annually through gardens, permeable pavers and a synthetic turf field that captures and infiltrates stormwater.
The participatory approach allowed the neighborhood to be active participants in the planning of their new park, with the added intended outcome of inspiring the next generation of environmental stewards as students learned about sustainable and resilient design.
An Equitable Neighborhood Asset
Central Brooklyn is one of the most diverse areas of NYC. Demographic information for the surrounding neighborhood reveals that the population is 57.2% African American, 29.4% White, 7.33% Hispanic, and 4.5% Asian (the schools themselves represent higher percentages of Hispanic and Asian Americans). Nearly 50% of residents make an income lower than $50K per year and 71% of students are eligible for free or reduced lunch.
Quality parks within a 10-minute walk in this neighborhood are few. As part of the Trust for Public Land (TPL) NYC Playground Program, This project was envisioned to offer a ray of hope and a place of respite through the restorative powers of nature in a dense urban environment.
Designing for Resiliency
Through a public-private partnership with New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYCDEP), the Department of Education and the School Construction Authority, this site is designed to capture at least an inch of rain through green infrastructure to not only manage runoff but mitigate flooding and pollution downstream, improve air quality, cool the city, and provide green spaces that make our cities more livable, beautiful, and climate resilient. Urban trees and other natural areas have also been proven to improve mental health and well-being. This playground design aimed to capitalize on green space opportunities by planting 14 trees, more than doubling the existing garden and adding outdoor classrooms surrounded by plants. Efficient green infrastructure including stormwater infiltration under turf fields, continuous tree beds, rain gardens, permeable pavers and green roofs atop the gazebo and storage shed were key elements of the design and play a vital role in mitigating climate change, capturing stormwater and combatting urban heat islands. Overall, the impervious asphalt pavement was reduced by 50 percent.
Social Equity, Health and Wellness

This site is part of the Vital Brooklyn Initiative, aimed at improving community health through green infrastructure. The upgrade to it addresses physical, social, and environmental health by combining recreation with education and community gardening, improving mental health and well-being. The new playground is open to the community after school hours and serves as a nature-rich hub for community health and climate resilience. The P.S. 152/315 playground creates an equitable elevation of quality of life for this community and strengthens climate change resilience in the urban environment. As a model for community-based design, it provides a healthier, greener place for users of all ages to play.
Student Participation
Landscape architects worked closely with students and community stakeholders to provide community-led, hands-on design that addresses their needs and desires. Including students in the process, from analysis through schematics, made them assistant landscape architects for the three-month process. The experience will hopefully have a lasting effect on students, encouraging them to pursue careers in design and environmental stewardship.
Each member of the student design team was given a notebook, which introduces them to the fundamentals of landscape architecture and allows them to record important information about the existing site conditions, programming goals, timeline, budget, and how they might include natural areas, art and age and gender equity for all into their proposed designs.
Participatory design begins with site assessment as students take a deep look at their schoolyard and surrounding neighborhood. With landscape architects as their guide, students conduct site analysis and have group discussions about the current uses of the schoolyard. They measure the site with measuring wheels, locate existing drains, look at areas of sun and shade and how the ground slopes. This analysis is all recorded collectively on 10 scale aerial maps. A survey of potential site amenities and features is conducted with students, school principals and community members to identify the top items to be included in the final design, then voted on by all students and community members.
Environmental and STEM Education
These were provided by the outdoor classrooms, raised planting beds and the native garden walk, which resonates with the teachers, offering STEM prospects. Our site plan extended three designated outdoor classroom spaces with an additional three to four areas for outdoor lessons in the importance of pollinators, using native plants, promoting urban habitats, healthy eating habits. Using green infrastructure to manage stormwater on site helps to inform hundreds of students on the importance of climate resiliency and promotes environmental stewardship. Engaging the neighborhood in the design process also fosters their on-going stewardship of the park.
A Model Lesson
Students learn about stormwater management through an interactive three-dimensional model of a typical NYC street lined with buildings. "Sewer in a Suitcase" illustrates how NYC's combined sewer overflows - the hardscape areas are sprinkled with glitter representing dirt and debris then water is poured over all surfaces, symbolizing rain. As the water collects the glitter, it flows through the drains and comes out a pipe into a trough that represents the waterways that surround NYC. Students see that the water comes out "dirty". Then a sponge is placed over the drain, representing a turf field. Glitter is sprinkled and water poured - the students are amazed to see that the water was cleaner as it came out the pipe. Students are also introduced to green infrastructure initiatives such as rain gardens, trees, pervious pavement and synthetic turf fields that can help improve NY's waterways.
Using to-scale templates and base maps, teams of students collaborate to decide on what elements to include in the design as well as where to place them. Landscape architects facilitate design decisions to keep in mind site analysis and placement of trees for shade, use zones and circulation and equity of activities for all park users. Equity of park uses is discussed among teams as they ensure there is something for everyone in their designs.
The students take turns presenting different aspects of their playground design. This not only helps to develop their public speaking skills, but it also empowers them to talk about the designs that they created. The plans are then presented to the principals and community to get final input before landscape architects prepare construction documents. Artwork that students design is incorporated into the color seal in each playground to give them a unique identity. Students take great pride in seeing their artwork implemented in the built playground, showing family and friends that they created this playground.
Placing community engagement as the central focus of the inclusive design process ensured that the playground meets the needs and desires of the community it serves, which in turn created a vital, thriving community. The users of the playground became the designers of the playground, building great pride in, and stewardship of it, helping to guarantee the playground will be well loved. The result is a quality, vibrant and healthy new park where the community can grow together. And to help prove the point, the NYC Playgrounds Program was the 2021 recipient of the ASLA Olmsted Medal.
Team List
Client: Trust for Public Land in partnership with New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation; NYC School Construction Authority; NYC Department of Environmental Protection, Vital Brooklyn Initiative
Landscape Architect: Studio HIP: Liz Hand-Fry, Principal, Melissa Ix, Design Principal, Jennifer Nitzky, and Madeline Pursell
Environmental Engineer: eDesign Dynamics - Montalto & Rothstein Engineering, DPC
Surveyor: Leonard J. Strandberg and Associates, Consulting Engineers and Land Surveyors, P.C.
Contractor: MSM Empire Construction Corp.


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