Student Design Competition: Parks for the People

Parks for the People, a student design competition organized by the U.S. Park Service, Van Alen Institute, National Parks Conservation Association, and financed by the National Endowment for the Arts and Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, aims to “reimagine America’s most spectacular public places — its national parks — by using design as a catalyst to creatively rethink their connections to people and their role as revered natural, social, and cultural destinations.” Parks for the People wants landscape architecture, architecture, ecology, planning, urban design, and social science students and professors to create a “common foundation of design principles” for seven selected sites in different regions across the U.S. so the U.S. National Park Service can move forward with a new toolkit for park design.

In describing the rationale for the competition, the organizers write: “In this new century, America’s national parks are facing unprecedented challenges: shifting demographics, climate change, rapidly changing communications technologies, new transportation prototypes, and economic constraints are but a few of the urgent issues confronting today’s national park designers, planners, and managers.” However, expanding public interest in parks also presents a great opportunity: “How we plan and design our national parks in response to these changing imperatives will have an enormous impact on how successful we are at creating welcoming, meaningful, healthy, and enduring places that last well into the future.”

The competition process will also give students and professors practical experience working with park administrators, and “engage with the Park Service and its rich cultural and historic assets, including access to park leadership, in-depth encounters with park sites, and the chance to build long-term relationships with park staff and resources.”

The organizers want students to answer some bold questions and come up with some big ideas about park design:

  • “How can design enhance the park experience?
  • How can parks become more accessible?
  • What is “preservation” and how can it evolve?
  • What new ventures or partnerships could help connect parks to people?
  • What is “sustainability” and what is its future role?
  • What part can technology play in parks?”

Some design principles, established during a 2008 Designing the Parks conference, are already in place, and may serve as a reference for the new design concepts:

“1. Reverence for place
2. Engagement of all people
3. Expansion beyond traditional boundaries
4. Advancement of sustainability
5. Informed decision-making
6. An integrated research, planning, design, and review process.” 
Any American university can send in a stage 1 proposals due by November 1. Seven studios will then be selected by a high-profile jury, which includes a number of leading landscape architects, to move forward to stage 2. By May, 2012, all final submissions are needed. Winners will be announced on June 1, 2012. While there are no big cash prizes, the organizers say winners will get paid summer internships within parks, be featured in an online exhibition, receive significant media coverage, and get to showcase their designs for park leadership.

Learn more about the competition.

Image credit: (1) Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site / Randy F. Panaramio, (2) Civil War Defenses of Washington / National Park Service

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