April 01 2013

Urban Parks Affected by Time and Light

How does time and light affect our urban parks?

During the day, Spokane, Washington’s Riverfront Park is filled with children and their parents on the giant “Radio Flyer” statue/playground equipment piece, cyclists and runners on the paved paths, elderly folks watching the geese in the Spokane River which runs through the middle of the park, teens playing sports in the open fields, and a plethora of curious tourists.

Radio Flyer Playground during the day, Riverfront Park, downtown Spokane, WA, USA

However, after sunset, the park attracts a multitude of teen groups of two to eight individuals each. Some stroll and chat about the movie they just saw together at the theater across the street, some show each other skateboard tricks, and some simply loiter, as teens tend to do in downtown areas after dark.

Typically, parks in America “close” for all practical purposes at sunset. However, this informal closing time finds fluidity through the seasons and rarely detracts headstrong visitors.

This population shift in Riverfront Park, and hundreds of thousands of parks across the world, is directly related to time and the presence of light. But this crucial presence of light is not limited to just natural light. Mindfully placed artificial lights can welcome visitors to parks after dark as well, as they have in NYC. You’ll notice in the article’s photo that the walkway is well lit in NYC, while the entire park is eerily dark in Spokane (below).

Radio Flyer Playground after dark, Riverfront Park, downtown Spokane, WA, USA

These photos were taken in precisely the same place just 2 hours within each other. The park went from vibrant to dismal as soon as natural light diminished and there was no artificial light to support the visitors’ safety.

Perceived safety is just as important as factual safety, as oftentimes perceptions and opinions are all a tourist or new resident has to rely upon when choosing to take the long way around a park, or to simply shortcut through.

The U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services has created a fantastic guide for identifying, improving, and managing both dilapidated and thriving urban parks. A free PDF document, “Dealing With Crime and Disorder in Urban Parks” by Jim Hilborn defines the signs of a perceivably safe park in this short list:

  • Parents take children there;
  • Females go there as often as males;
  • Elderly people regularly visit the park;
  • Workers have lunch or take breaks there.

Hilborn suggests these as signs that a park is considered risky:

  • People go through the park as quickly as possible;
  • Drunken people hang out there;
  • Young males dominate the setting;
  • It is littered with syringes and beer bottles;
  • Younger children don’t play there.

Heavily reminiscent of Jane Jacob’s thoughts on urban parks in her widely cherished book, “The Life and Death of Great American Cities,” Hilborn describes the importance of who he calls, “natural guardians:”

“Natural guardians can help to ensure park safety. These guardians are just ordinary citizens going about their daily routines in the park. A guardian is someone whose presence serves as a reminder to potential offenders that someone is noticing.

At times, the power of anonymity can turn ugly when a city-dweller witnesses something illegal or immoral taking place without interfering. Be it at a park, bus stop, or grocery store – we should all be looking out for one another.

Do you agree with the attributes Mr. Hilborn suggested? In what ways does your nearest park excel or fall behind?

Credits: Data linked to sources. Photographs taken by Aascot Holt in Riverfront Park, downtown Spokane, Washington, USA.

Aascot Holt

Aascot Holt is an undergraduate at Eastern Washington University, pursuing a major in Urban and Regional Planning and a minor in Geography. She will graduate in the spring of 2013. She is from Stevenson, WA and currently lives in Spokane, WA in a brick 1936 kit house. She is most intrigued by small-city and small town planning, parks and recreation planning, long-range planning, and historic preservation. She hopes to continue her habit of being involved with many planning projects at a time, and fears being pigeonholed. Aascot maintains the “Being A Planning Student” Tumblr as well as her planning-centric blog, The Comprehensive. She is currently writing Cheney, WA’s entirely new comprehensive parks, recreation, and trails plan, completely pro bono. More can be learned about her endeavors via LinkedIn.

This entry was posted on Monday, April 1st, 2013 at 9:12 am and is filed under Community/Economic Development, Content, Environment, Infrastructure, Land Use, Landscape Architecture, Social/Demographics, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


3 Responses to “Urban Parks Affected by Time and Light”

  1. joe Says:

    How come parks dont use solar powered lights?

  2. Rural Parks: Homes to Passive Community Depreciation | The GRID | Global Site Plans Says:

    [...] we discussed urban parks and how cities can mitigate issues created by time and light circumstances. This week we’ll be examining rural [...]

  3. Urban Parks v. Rural Parks | The GRID | Global Site Plans Says:

    [...] we discussed urban parks and how cities can mitigate issues created by time and light circumstances. Then, we discussed passive and active community depreciation in rural parks. The differences, [...]

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