watering the lawn with the help of automatic spray systems

Smart Irrigation Starts with Design: How to Maximize Water Conservation Efforts

by Gordon Lemmel, Landscape Architect, WSB

Outdoor water consumption is a pain point for many individuals and communities, and as a landscape architect that designs both the sites and irrigation systems, I wanted to present my approach and the water savings strategies that can be used.

Limiting water usage is often much easier said than done. Properties in arid western climates for example, require some level of irrigation to keep looking nice throughout the year. They need a functional, drought-tolerant, and water-efficient landscape without compromising aesthetic values.

Planting strictly native and drought-tolerant species is an option many choose, but it’s not always practical in all situations. Using a combination of water-saving strategies is the most practical approach that landscape architects can use. We keep the big picture in mind – from initial concept to final construction documents – by focusing on strategies centered on site conditions, efficient irrigation design & technology, & efficient irrigation management.

Site Conditions

Evaluating the existing and proposed site conditions is a critical first step to water conservation on any project.

Is the site facing the hot southwest sun? Are there predominant winds that will dry plants out or carry irrigation water away? Can the soils retain water for use? Does the site slope in a way that runs water away from the plants?

Soils

Starting from the bottom up, amending soils, or using topsoil that has compost is directly correlated to long-term water reduction. Compost is spongy and absorbent, and it facilitates the soil’s water-holding capacity and moisture dispersion.

Soil scientists from the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service report that for every one percent of organic matter present, each cubic foot of soil can hold an extra 1.5 quarts of plant-available water (Gould, 2012). This increased water retention capability and plant-available water reduces the frequency and intensity of irrigation water.

Drainage Patterns

Understanding existing and proposed drainage patterns inform both plant selection and placement, which can be helpful for reducing water consumption. Plants that prefer wetter areas, for example, can be placed at the bottom of a slope where water collects, and vice versa.

Temperature and Solar Exposure

Both temperature and solar exposure are also important for guiding plant selection and reducing water use. Plants that are selected for projects should be either hardy or adapted to the region. These plants can survive the average high and more importantly, the average low temperatures for the region.

Light conditions (the amount and length of exposure to sun or shade) directly correlate to soil moisture. Correctly placing plants based on solar exposure helps to reduce water consumption by removing the need for supplemental watering (e.g. providing extra water to moisture-loving plants placed in drier, sunnier areas).

Efficient Irrigation Design & Technology

Irrigation efficiencies in the form of design, product selection, and technology are integral to landscape water reduction.

Design

Drip irrigation is the most popular method to efficiently deliver water directly to the root of the plant and unlike broadcast irrigation methods, it reduces applying water to areas of the planting beds that do not require water – like the spaces between plants.

However, many properties have that nice green lawn that is great for recreation. While there are below ground drip irrigation options that can eliminate water waste from evaporation and wind, they are not always possible or the most cost effective. The more common above-ground systems must be designed to reduce overspray, watering of hardscape surfaces, and excessive runoff.

Products

Water conservation efficiencies can also be gained through product selection, such as using pressure-regulated and matched-precipitation sprinkler heads. Pressure regulation is crucial to an irrigation system because it reduces water waste caused by high pressure operation that results in fogging or misting. Pressure regulation also ensures the nozzles run at maximum efficiency and helps support proper distribution uniformity and precipitation rates. The use of match-precipitation sprinklers helps to ensure a uniform application of water over an area and reduces excessively wet and dry areas.

Technology

The water saving technology on most modern irrigation systems uses an Environmental Protection Agency WaterSense “smart” controller that optimizes the timing, quantity, and frequency of water applied to the landscape. One important feature of “smart” controllers is seasonal adjustments. This feature allows the controller to make automatic adjustments to the daily watering schedule based on the season and geographic location.

The irrigation design may also include a variety of sensors to further fine-tune the efficiency of the system. A rain/freeze sensor shuts off the irrigation system during rain and freeze events – not only protecting the irrigation system from potential damage or safety issues, but also preventing the unnecessary application of water during (or directly after) rain events. Likewise, a soil moisture sensor will help the controller make automatic adjustments based on the moisture levels of the soil.

Flow sensors and master valves are often employed to shut off a system with “unscheduled flow events” or “high flow events.” These events are generally caused by some type of damage to the irrigation system. So, rather than letting it run until there is a noticeable issue, the sensor detects abnormal operation, shuts the system down, and can alert a user to it. Some systems can even be designed to help pinpoint where the problem is.

Efficient Irrigation Management

The final part of water conservation comes down to efficient management practices. On particularly nuanced projects, I will work with the contractors or maintenance staff on deploying efficient management strategies, such as cycle and soak irrigation. Cycle and soak programming increases infiltration and reduces runoff by breaking up water applications into shorter time periods.


This article discusses many of the methods that reduce water consumption, but there is much more!

Sites and projects greatly vary, so I always approach water conservation and reduction by being intentional and considering the what, where, and how of a project. There is no single silver bullet, but any of the methods discussed in this article are a great starting point for increasing efficiency, saving water, and saving money.

Gordon’s diverse background is beyond those of a typical landscape architect and allows him to view projects through many different “lenses.” As a former non-profit executive director, he was responsible for land management and acquisition, fundraising, volunteer recruitment and management, and working with a board of directors. This experience feeds into Gordon’s 14-year career helping organizations envision their preferred future, navigate change, lead and facilitate diverse teams, and develop relevant, inclusive, iconic, sustainable, and achievable strategies.

glemmel@wsbeng.com | 701.214.9315

Gateway Center

New Mississippi Gateway Regional Park Will Connect Community and Nature

By Jeff Feulner Senior Landscape Architect, WSB

Originally published in the Minnesota Recreation & Parks Magazine Summer 2022 issue

Design work is taking place this year on an exciting project that aims to help people connect with the Mississippi River and nature.

Mississippi Gateway Regional Park, operated by Three Rivers Park District, includes 160 acres of parkland on the western shore of the Mississippi River in the City of Brooklyn Park. Coon Rapids Dam has spanned the river at the location for more than a century; in 1969, Northern States Power Co. gave the dam and 225 acres of surrounding land to what became Three Rivers Park District to establish a regional park on the Mississippi. Three Rivers operates the park on the west side of the river; Anoka County Parks and Recreation owns and operates Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park on the eastern side of the river in the City of Coon Rapids.

For five decades, the park has been a staple in the community, attracting visitors from across the Twin Cities region. Although the park is one of the most unique in the Three Rivers Park District system, it had not undergone significant investment in several years. To revitalize the park and to build better connections with the surrounding communities, in 2017 Three Rivers Park District embarked on developing a new vision for the park.

Nestled just across the road from the park is the city of Brooklyn Park’s Environmental Nature Area, a space full of opportunities to connect with nature. With the parks located adjacent to each other and only separated by West River Road, Brooklyn Park and Three Rivers Park District realized that they could provide better service to residents and park guests by working together.

The agencies developed a joint park master plan to avoid duplication and to provide a greater array of offerings for the public. Combining the park with the nature area would allow for a broader recreational experience for users. The planning process purposefully targeted equity markets that have historically been underrepresented in the visitor base for nature-based parks: minorities, non-English speaking households, new immigrants, low-income households, and people ages 45+. Throughout the master planning process, the project team engaged community residents in many ways – at community events, cultural gatherings and through user groups. The public identified features and amenities that became the basis of the vision for the park. This process made it possible for the park to truly reflect the priorities and values of the people who use it, and the resulting master plan described how together the two parks could be combined to create Mississippi Gateway Regional Park. In December 2020, Three Rivers and the City of Brooklyn Park formalized their partnership by approving a cooperative agreement to design, construct and operate Mississippi Gateway Regional Park.

“This project is the most significant capital investment in a park in the Park District’s history, and it fits perfectly with Three Rivers Park District’s vision that every person can connect with nature every day,” said Three Rivers Park District Commissioner Jennifer DeJournett, whose district includes the park. “Mississippi Gateway will welcome all individuals, whether they’re new to Minnesota or have been here for generations and will offer free and affordable programs to encourage everyone to explore the outdoors.”

With a comprehensive redesign of both areas, and a number of planned new features, the new park was born. Mississippi Gateway Regional Park will bring the vision to life: to connect the community, families, and residents to nature. To develop a strong vision that would cement this iconic park’s legacy, Three Rivers Park District and the city of Brooklyn Park consulted with WSB, a Twin-Cities headquartered design and consulting firm. Through a robust public engagement plan, master planning and design services, a vision and strategy to update the park for current and future generations to enjoy was created.

Connecting New Audiences with Nature

At the heart of this project are people. The goal is that people of all abilities and cultures have access to a fun, welcoming park where they can connect with and explore nature and the river in many ways. The location of Mississippi Gateway Regional Park provides a unique natural environment within the diverse, urban area where it lies. For children and adults alike, parks are a place to learn, exercise, grow and celebrate all Minnesota has to offer. 

A major natural feature of the park is the Mississippi River and the unique landscape and habitats that surround it. People may come to the park for a variety of reasons, but all are drawn to the beauty and power of the mighty Mississippi that forms the natural eastern border of the park.

The park means something different to every user, and it will remain a significant landmark that is safe, accessible, convenient, unique and fun for those looking to experience the beauty and wonder of nature and the Mississippi close to where they live. 

Commissioner DeJournett added, “We anticipate that the new Mississippi Gateway Regional Park will be a jewel of both the Three Rivers and Brooklyn Park systems and will be a favorite place for residents of the Twin Cities Metro Area as well as visitors from Greater Minnesota and around the country to connect with the Mighty Mississippi and enjoy the outdoors.”

What’s Coming to Mississippi Gateway Regional Park 

Meaningful updates and one-of-a-kind experiences will attract visitors and provide significant benefit to the community and region. A new Gateway Center building will offer exhibit areas with learning opportunities focused on the Mississippi River and the park, classroom areas for school groups and park programming, and a space for equipment rentals, allowing further exploration of the park through the use of snowshoes, skis or bikes.  A treetop trail, which will be an elevated walkway through the canopies of existing mature trees, will be developed near the Gateway Center. In addition, a nature-themed play tower and nature play nodes will connect to the treetop trail to create exciting play opportunities for all abilities. During the design process, staff from Three Rivers and WSB are engaging with students from Champlin-Brooklyn Park Academy for Math and Environmental Sciences to garner students’ input on the design of the nature play features. A “Mini-Mississippi” interactive water feature will provide a unique opportunity for users to access a stream channel, get their feet wet and manipulate the flow of water to further understand the dynamics of a river. These elements will provide unique perspectives, hands-on experiences, and exciting play opportunities for everyone to explore nature.

Beyond the core development area, Mississippi Gateway Regional Park will provide enhanced trails, gathering places and shelters, nature connection nodes and additional accessible fishing opportunities along the edge of the river. The western part of the park will also include a reservable shelter, playground, off-leash dog area, and an enhanced archery range. 

Even with all the planned renovations, keeping a natural feeling in the park is still an achievable goal. The focus will remain on creating accessible opportunities to connect with the natural environment. Native plantings will be included with the restoration efforts throughout the park, while other proposed elements will be nestled within the existing vegetation and terrain. 

Throughout the master planning, schematic design and design development phases of the project, the design team was careful to provide solutions that are equally engaging in all seasons of the year. The treetop trail and other trails are designed for year-round use, while cross-country ski and snowshoe trails also weave throughout the landscape.

This is an exciting project that will continue to connect the community with nature. The project is currently transitioning into the construction document phase of design, with a grand opening targeted for 2026. Mississippi Gateway Regional Park will be an inviting, welcoming and vibrant place for everyone to discover nature and the Mississippi River. 

Jeff is a landscape architect with over 21 years of professional experience. He has worked on projects of various scales and scope both in private and public sectors. He has significant experience as a project manager directing installations and overseeing project implementation. His experience has led to creative design solutions which acknowledge varied user perspectives by collaborating with private developers, landowners, and business owners, as well as municipal staff. He embraces collaboration to ultimately bring the original vision into functional reality.

JFeulner@wsbeng.com | 612.328.6682

The Intangible Values of Master Planning

By Jolene Rieck, Director of Landscape Architecture, WSB

The author of The Art of War, Sun Tzu, is quoted as saying, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” The quote originated in the 6th century BC, but the wisdom can be applied to many modern endeavors. It is easy to dismiss the need for planning because the outcome of a plan usually lacks a tangible outcome. But even in today’s materialistic society, leaders who take the time to plan before execution will achieve their goals faster and with the clarity that your team and constituents deserve. The following five reasons are why you should invest in master planning:

  1. Engagement. Planning is a collaborative way to engage and connect with your constituents. People create a sense of ownership and pride when genuinely asked about their opinions. Invite diverse perspectives to the table, including those who may not be in favor of your goal. By eliminating the curtain on “the government,” or “the (faceless) man,” and interacting with your constituency, you create social entrepreneurs who will become your most effective advocates.
  2. Momentum. Dreaming of “what can be” is energizing and uplifting. Appreciative planning starts from a strengths-based perspective of focusing on things that are going right and using that momentum as a springboard to your desired future state. A well-facilitated planning process can get you past the airing of the grievances and focus on what you really need: a shared vision of what good looks like and a roadmap to get there.
  3. Vision. If you can visualize it, you can achieve it. Spend time defining the purpose and desired outcomes. Often people have a gut instinct of what they want or is needed but fall short it being able to articulate that feeling to others. A professional planner listens to all the feedback, eliminates the noise, focuses on the key themes, and clarifies the need. The vision is often expressed in words and imagery — the simpler the better.


    A hand sketch provided a vision for a new entryway bridge in Bozeman, Montana. The aesthetic won a local award for design.
  4. Accountability. An outcome from planning is that it creates an expectation — a promise to deliver. Continued momentum and credibility are outcomes of a successful plan. Failure to deliver contributes to apathy. A vision that is realistic and achievable creates a sense of shared purpose that empowers people. A plan that includes tactical objectives creates accountability for people, policies, and processes. Include measurements of success or key performance indicators (KPIs) to track implementation.
  5. Growth from Experience. Use the master plan as the litmus to identify blind spots and learn from them. Reserve the right as the gatekeeper to course-correct the plan when unexpected influences appear but use professional judgment when deciding on the power of the influence. Spend time at the conclusion of the planning process to review and note what went well. Finally, celebrate early and often the accomplishments that are tied to the plan. This demonstrates the intangible value in the time and funding spent to create the plan.

American Legion Park, Hamilton, Montana was able to quickly move from concept to built product based upon a shared vision developed from a master plan process.  The park is now the focal point of several community events and increased pride and continued momentum in the revitalization of their downtown.

Jolene brings 22 years of experience practicing landscape architecture and planning to the WSB team. She is focused on helping empower clients to advance their economic competitiveness, inspire creative placemaking and implement smart infrastructure to improve quality of life. She helps build business while providing leadership to WSB’s growing landscape architecture team.

jrieck@wsbeng.com | 612.201.7193

Landscape Architecture Month | Q&A

To celebrate World Landscape Architecture Month, members of our Landscape Architecture team reflect on their time in the profession.  

JA: Jason Amberg – Director of Landscape Architecture

CA: Candace Amberg – Senior Landscape Architect

SN: Shaunna Newton – Landscape Architectural Designer

JG: Jordan Gedrose – Landscape Architect

What led you to a career in landscape architecture?

JA: I truly ‘found’ landscape architecture during my second year of exploring both architecture and engineering in college. I was intrigued by the opportunity to utilize my creativity to design outdoor spaces through grading design, colors, textures, site elements, circulation, and other systems to meet the unique needs of users.

SN: I was first inspired by the idea of becoming a “steward of the land” as originally coined by Frederick Law Olmsted’s iconic work and establishment of the field. It was through painting landscapes and studying horticulture that I then became inspired by the possibilities of the landscape becoming its own canvas. I then went on to pursue a Master of Landscape Architecture degree.

JG: Growing up I loved being outdoors, playing sports in my neighborhood parks, and spending time along the Missouri River. I also enjoyed sketching and admiring all the different styles of architecture while traveling on family vacations. I found landscape architecture to be a wonderful blend of natural environments and built architectural features.

Why are you passionate about landscape architecture?

JA: Growing up on my family’s multi-generation farm gave me a strong appreciation for land and nature. My parents encouraged me to find a career path that I enjoyed and luckily, I found landscape architecture to blend form and function in an artistic way that the users will enjoy for years into the future.

CA: It’s hard to not be passionate about projects that truly improve the health and overall well-being for people of all ages and abilities.  

JG: I am passionate about partnering with clients to create parks, trails, and outdoor amenities that provide recreational opportunities for communities. Designing spaces that reflect the existing landscape and honor natural features provide unique opportunities that inspire and challenge me.

Which project are you most proud of?

CA: The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park playground project. This was truly a community led project from its initial inspiration to create a playground that would commemorate the efforts of Dr. King, the American Civil Rights Movement and the contributions of so many African Americans that were not previously acknowledged. Working with public artists and residents highlighted how a community came together to create a fun and meaningful playground project that also started the process of healing previous wounds.

SN: The Ohuta Beach Project in Lake City, MN. It was true team collaboration that pushed the limits of creative design solutions.

JG: Woodhaven Park in Eagan, MN. The park includes a large inclusive playground and a Bankshot basketball course. The inclusive playground provides a safe and inviting space for kids of all abilities to play and interact with one another. The Bankshot basketball course is a play feature that has a series of stations (think of a mini golf course, but with basketball hoops) that is fun for many ages. I am grateful that I could be a part of a project that will provide so many opportunities for the community!

How does landscape architecture benefit our communities?

JA: Landscape architecture is a profession that focuses on creating outdoor spaces, which shapes the look and feel of the world we live in through principals of design and sustainability. Some of our most cherished memories are created in places designed by landscape architects.

CA: How does it not? We work to mediate or correct damages that others have inflicted on our environment; we create meaningful places for reflection and healing; we create opportunities to improve our physical and mental health; we create places to play and have fun; and most importantly, we bring people together.

SN: Landscape architecture responds to social needs, creates social connectivity and gathering spaces, increases the health and wellbeing of our environments for not only for ourselves but wildlife and natural resources. Landscape architecture is adaptive and continually leading to opportunities in our ever-changing environment.

What is something most people don’t know about landscape architecture?

JA: This question makes me laugh because most people falsely think that a landscape architect’s main role is to tell them what kind of tree they should plant in their yard. Realistically, the selection of plant materials represents just a small fraction of the time we spend designing spaces.

CA: Thankfully people’s knowledge of Landscape Architecture has come a long way since I first began. Most of my career was spent trying to get people to understand that yes, I do in fact work during the winter months, and no, I don’t just do planting plans for people’s yards. I explain that architects design structures and Landscape Architects design sites. It’s a mixture of planning and design with a solid understanding of engineering, science and math combined.

SN: I still find myself explaining that landscape architecture is not just garden design, it’s so much more. Landscape architecture originally started as a painting term and has now become a unique skillset to improve built and natural environments.

JG: Landscape architecture has a wide variety of project types and scales. Projects types can vary from residential landscape design to a wildlife land bridge over a busy highway. The profession also requires an understanding of large-scale systems, such as pedestrian circulation patterns throughout an entire park while also needing an understanding of small scale detail, such as how to construct a retaining wall within the park.  

25 stories for 25 years | Bryon Amo

On October 5, 2020, WSB will celebrate our 25th year in business. Since 1995, we’ve added new service areas, expanded our reach and served our communities.  Throughout our tenure, our dedicated staff has been a constant.

In honor of our 25th year, we’ll be highlighting 25 stories of the people behind the projects.

Story 9 of 25

Bryon Amo, Sr Engineering Specialist | Joined WSB in 1996

What has been the most memorable moment in your career at WSB?
I often think back to our second summer as a company. There were not many of us and we had a lot of projects going on. I remember an average day consisted of covering construction projects in St. Cloud, Monticello, Laketown, Richfield, Inver Grove Heights and Rosemount. All this work throughout the state, with three Project Managers! We’ve grown so much since then – in staff, geography and technology.

What is one thing you want to tell the future leaders of WSB?
WSB is about innovation and technology – it always should be, but please do not forget that our foundation is built on the relationships that we develop and maintain. We are a people company and that is what makes WSB special.

What about your work gives you energy?
Every day, I am able to solve problems and approach new challenges. I enjoy keeping our projects running smoothly. Very seldom are any two days alike, and I thrive on that.

How has WSB supported your career goals?
I have been given many opportunities to work on projects and have been placed into roles that have really challenged me. I am very grateful for the trust that our leadership has in me to represent WSB on large, sometimes difficult and remote projects. 

Why do our clients continue to work with us?
I think our clients continue to work with us because we genuinely care and we have since the beginning. We care about our clients, our projects and the communities we live and work in.

25 stories for 25 years | Kory Bonnell

On October 5, 2020, WSB will celebrate our 25th year in business. Since 1995, we’ve added new service areas, expanded our reach and served our communities.  Throughout our tenure, our dedicated staff has been a constant.

In honor of our 25th year, we’ll be highlighting 25 stories of the people behind the projects.

Story 8 of 25

Kory Bonnell, Environmental Compliance Specialist | Joined WSB in 2016

We believe in building what’s next in infrastructure – how do you live that value in your work?

Being bold allows us to continue to grow and bring new ideas to our clients. By continuing to encourage our staff to be creative, bring different solutions to the table and because WSB encourages a no-fear mentality, we are reframing the status quo and the answers of “this is what has always been done.” By harnessing the knowledge of our incredible team, we will continue to be at the forefront of our industry and valued by our clients because we are going to be bringing solutions to the table in a completely different delivery approach.

What WSB value do you connect most with? (Bold, Visionary, Authentic, Passionate, Optimistic)

I would have to say bold. I think that this has been one of the best visions to come out of WSB in recent years. When you hear the word “bold” it is not always met with a welcomed gesture. To be bold is to push the limits, to force yourself to be uncomfortable. To be bold is to take ownership and accountability. Thinking about different ways to do things and not being fearful of trying something new, putting yourself or your business in a new arena; if it doesn’t work out, you forge ahead until the next idea does. Here at WSB, we are constantly looking for how we can better develop our staff to meet the needs of our clients. Being bold allows us to work with clients to develop out-of-the-box solutions that demand creativity and passion.

What is one thing you want to tell the future leaders of WSB?

With the growth trajectory and the way the organization is set up, our staff now has unlimited opportunities for leadership in this organization. Being committed to WSB will allow us to continue to push the limits, think outside of the box, and recognize the work put in along the way. It’s exciting to think that in 25 years, we all could have the opportunity to be an active participant in developing what our business will look like in the future.

Why do our clients continue to work with us?

Our clients work with us because we develop deep relationships with our clients based on their needs. They know that we are here to support them and that they can trust us to provide a solution-based approach. Deep relationships, delivering an excellent work product and offering some of the best minds in the industry is what keeps our clients coming back. They understand that they are our top priority.

25 stories for 25 years | Jeff Feulner

On October 5, 2020, WSB will celebrate our 25th year in business. Since 1995, we’ve added new service areas, expanded our reach and served our communities.  Throughout our tenure, our dedicated staff has been a constant.

In honor of our 25th year, we’ll be highlighting 25 stories of the people behind the projects.

Story 7 of 25

Jeff Feulner, Sr. Landscape Architect | Joined WSB in 2015

What do you think is special about celebrating 25 years as a company? 

Twenty-five years is a major milestone for any organization but being able to maintain a constant presence and continuing to grow within a competitive industry is truly impressive. To me, what is more significant than the number of years, is all the accomplishments that WSB has achieved during that time.  Starting small and growing to become an industry leader with over 500 employees, while not losing focus of the original values and culture, is remarkable.  While 25 years is an impressive milestone, I feel that the best is yet to come as we continue to innovate, explore new opportunities and expand our service areas.

In what ways have you been able to grow professionally at WSB?

One of the reasons I came to WSB was to work on different types of projects, expand my knowledge base and become more well-rounded as a landscape architect. I felt like I was getting one-dimensional in my previous position and knew that WSB could offer the variety of challenges that I needed.  WSB has given me the opportunity to work on exciting projects in park and recreation design, natural restoration, transportation, urban design, solar energy and many others.  The variety of projects and wealth of experience found within our organization is amazing and increases my excitement for the profession every day.

What WSB value do you connect most with? (Bold, Visionary, Authentic, Passionate, Optimistic)

While I feel that I connect with all WSB’s core values, the one that rises to the top for me is optimistic.  I know that any project or task has an effective solution, and I enjoy working collaboratively with everyone at WSB to put those answers together.   I’m positive that we can help our clients each and every day, and I look forward to those opportunities and challenges.

Why do our clients continue to work with us?

In simplest terms, I believe our clients choose to work with us because we get “it” done.  Every client has a different “it” that they bring to us, but I think they recognize that WSB has the skills, knowledge, experience and curiosity to consistently deliver creative results.  As we continue to perform with positive outcomes, our clients know that they can trust WSB to help them in any capacity.

Changing Perspectives

By: Candace Amberg, Sr. Landscape Architect, WSB

Navigating recreational engagement efforts in a post-pandemic landscape.

The importance of parks and trails has become much more fundamental to our communities’ wellbeing since COVID-19 hit and stay at home orders were issued throughout the country. As an escape, many of us have explored parks, trails and green spaces near our homes more than ever before. How will this moment in time affect the value we place on these spaces? How will this change the way we design moving forward? How are perspectives shifting and what is the next recreational trend? While there are still many unknowns, as planners and designers we have a unique opportunity to better understand how we can create recreational opportunities while still accounting for safety measures through creative design.

A quick glance at the news or social media has the ability to instantly highlight differences in opinions, and I feel many of the issues that seem to drive us apart are based on a lack of understanding of the varying perspectives behind them.  As I am writing this article from my home office, I gaze out my window and see the colorful crabapples blossoms against a lush green landscape that is now exploding with life, something I have anxiously awaited all winter. Others may see this as a full-blown attack of pollen ready to aggravate their allergies and altering their ability to breathe or taste for the next few weeks. Same event, different experience and therefore, different perspective.

I also see a neighborhood that, much like the trees coming out of dormancy, is full of life and activity. I see families playing with their kids out on the street, I see more bikes on the roads than vehicles, and I see people flocking to the open spaces to get some piece of normalcy back into their daily routine, as well as for stress relief and a respite from home schooling. How is this changing the perspectives towards our parks, trails and open spaces?

I grew up on a farm in North Dakota and had ample open space all to myself. I didn’t fully understand the value of this space until I moved to Minneapolis. Here, I found dense populations with shared outdoor spaces, but I also found an abundance of renowned public parks, trails and scenic settings like I had never seen before – and trees! Have I mentioned we don’t have many trees in North Dakota?

I discovered that these thriving spaces were the direct result of devoted leaders who worked endlessly to develop high quality parks and trails, expanded recreational programs for diverse populations, built successful community centers, and preserved the natural resources that are fundamental to our Minnesota character. We can attribute many of the quality spaces we have today to their visionary work. Places to socialize, play, exercise, take in a walk, or just sit and watch the world go by.

Our collective group of designers and planners see this “time-out” as an opportunity to reach out to our community members and let them know that not only are we are here for them, but that we can work together to improve their quality of life. Now is the time to be the visionary leaders for the next generations and in order to do so, we must better understand the changing perspectives of the community through meaningful engagement.

While COVID-19 has made our engagement efforts slightly more challenging, we are starting with a great toolbox of methods to keep communication efforts strong. These methods will become even more important as we continue to navigate the challenges brought on by COVID-19.

A few examples include:

  • Interactive Project Maps: Interactive maps, such as Social Pinpoint, are not only convenient and easy to use, they also gather very detailed and relevant information that, in some instances, have aided our design process much more significantly than other engagement methods.
  • Story Maps: ArcGIS and ESRI Story Maps provide a visually appealing method to catch a user’s attention while portraying useful information, including tours, maps, and visual displays.
  • Social media: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook are a few examples of social media platforms that are being heavily used to reach audiences. They are a great tool to highlight awareness, bolster engagement, and gather quick ideas.
  • Videos: Anyone with a teen understands the TikTok and YouTube phenomenon. We have found success developing project videos as well as promoting them through social media spending to reach a broader, more targeted audience.
  • Virtual Meetings: Virtual meetings and presentations provide a great method to interact with task force groups, commissions, councils, etc., and can also reach a more flexible audience who can engage when and where it’s convenient for them.
  • Engagement Events: With a significant increase in park users during almost all days and times of the week, in-person engagement events that follow social distancing recommendations remain a valuable opportunity.

Let’s keep moving forward and take this moment to reach out to the community members, understand their perspectives and work with them to create tomorrow’s next successful project.

Candace is a registered Professional Landscape Architect in the states of Minnesota, North Dakota and Texas. She has been directly involved in a variety of landscape architectural projects related to parks, trails, system planning, streetscaping, natural resource management, and community engagement since 1996.

camberg@wsbeng.com | 763.231.4848

This article originally appeared in the Summer issue of Minnesota Recreation & Parks Magazine, https://issuu.com/designertp/docs/mrpa_summer_2020_issue_web.

The Top Ten Benefits of a Park System Master Plan

By Jason Amberg, Director of Landscape Architecture, WSB

Communities can better plan for their future by developing a system-wide comprehensive park, trail, and recreation master plan. Public engagement, intentional planning, and aligning needs with recreation trends are challenges communities may face when planning future park systems. Acknowledging these challenges is crucial for creating a successful park system plan that meets the needs of its users.

1. Establishes a long-range vision

Establishing a long-range plan helps ensure that resources are used effectively, and priorities are based on the greatest community benefit. Aligning the vision of a community to the system plan helps meet the needs of the public and establishes a clear plan of action.

2. Prioritization and budgeting for Comprehensive Improvement Plans (CIP)

Priorities are established through a park system planning process. From high-level budgets to determining a proposed timeline for implementation, developing priorities provides a better perspective of what is possible. As populations grow, the park system should develop and grow as well. Communities can make a strong impact when aligning their priorities and investments across the system.

3. Filling gaps and reducing redundancy

When preparing a system plan, analyzing the distribution of parks and bike/pedestrian connectivity is essential to gain a better understanding of existing gaps and overlaps. Changes can then be better implemented to serve residents that may be lacking proper access to recreation and reduces overlap where similar recreation opportunities exist. Analyzing the distribution and connectivity of parkland in a system develops opportunities for active and passive park options that can include unique playgrounds, courts, plazas, sports fields, picnic areas, overlooks, etc. 

4. Community support

There are many ways to engage stakeholders, both in-person and virtually. Open houses, community events and online engagement methods create opportunities for public involvement. Not only does public engagement generate community support for funding, but it also provides relevant perspectives from the broader community to ensure the system plan accounts for diverse users, improves transparency and builds trust. Increased public engagement is leads to increased future community support. of community members.

5. Potential for and promotion of partnerships

System plans also identify private and public partnership opportunities. These partnerships may include school districts and private educational facilities, fitness centers, associations, townships, watershed districts, state agencies, and other municipalities. This collaborative effort helps communities build and deepen existing or new relationships.

6. Grant application tools

Many grant funding applications require a public engagement process and an adopted plan. From trails to park development, the system plan shares a clear vision and budget estimates that are based on public input. As public engagement becomes increasingly important, organizations are looking for park planners who connect with community members through a variety of methods. The system plan provides the necessary background information, community perspective, priorities, budgets, and exhibits necessary for grant funding applications. 

7. Opportunities for future development

System plans may recommend communities set aside open space and preserve land to accommodate population and spatial growth of the area. Census data, demographics and regional trends all help determine the amount and type of land needed in the future. The system plan is meant to help cities work with developers as growth occurs to ensure future recreation needs are met.

8. Establish a plan for the park amenity life cycle

Park systems in many communities were established using a ‘cookie-cutter’ approach to park development. This occurred over a short period of time when development was booming through park dedication dollars. While recreation needs may have been met for several years, this approach led to many parks looking nearly identical. It also created the need for simultaneous rehabilitation requirements as many parks reach the end of their lifecycle at the same time. Establishing a strategy for completing upgrades that allow park spaces to be unique and complementary to one another will reduce the future likelihood that several parks require a full replacement simultaneously. This also allows cities to budget for replacement costs not funded by park dedication dollars. 

9. Aligning investment with needs

Proactive consideration of recreation trends reduces the need for further investment in downward trending park features. Current and projected recreational trends should be considered before investing into rehabilitating existing park amenities. As demographics continue to evolve, the needs for park and recreation program offerings will change.

10. Physical and Mental Health Benefits

Parks, trails and natural open spaces provide residents with both physical and mental health benefits. Whether it is a walk on a trail, connecting with nature, playing outdoor sports, or interacting with play equipment, data indicates that recreation improves health, interaction with others, and enhances community pride.  

Jason is the Director of Landscape Architecture at WSB with more than 25 years of experience in public space planning and design. From small-scale neighborhood park improvements to comprehensive park and trail system plans, Jason has worked with park boards, municipalities, governing agencies and community residents.

Jason Amberg | jamberg@wsbeng.com | 763.231.4841

This article originally appeared in the Greater MN Parks & Trails April Newsletter.

Hyatt House-Civic on First Groundbreaking

Community leaders and local residents gathered in downtown Rochester yesterday to break ground on the Hyatt House-Civic on First project. Referred to as the “new gateway to the city”, the $46 million project features a 172-room extended stay hotel.

Formerly the home of the beloved community watering hole, American Legion Post 92, the Hyatt House has a large footprint to fill. The over 30-year-old downtown establishment bid a bittersweet farewell to Civic Center Drive and its loyal patrons, but remained optimistic for future development efforts. The Hyatt House hotel is expected to connect the Rochester community and Mayo Clinic campus and spur economic development growth in the area.

Our Land Development team assisted EKN Development Group, PEG Companies, and HKS as the Planning and Entitlements Lead. We completed the planning and entitlement process, civil engineering, geotechnical, survey, and landscape architecture work. Completion for the Hyatt House project is anticipated for summer 2020.