When Jacksonville, Illinois, won first prize in the national 2015 PetSafe Bark for Your Park Contest, the City Council released a request for proposals for a dog park design that would incorporate about seven acres of land along the Mauvaise Terre Lake. The winning proposal was submitted by the Office of Recreation and Park Resources (ORPR), the service unit of the Department of Recreation, Sport and Tourism (RST).
Engaging Local Communities In Real Ways
ORPR’s leadership team—director Robin Hall, community services and education coordinator Jarrod Scheunemann, and landscape architecture specialist Lara Browning—was committed to making the project an outstanding learning experience for students while also producing a top-notch design for Jacksonville. They interviewed students in RST and Landscape Architecture and assembled a team that capitalized on the strengths of both disciplines. “The RST students focused on the management side, doing background research, creating a design checklist, and working on budget issues,” Ms. Browning said. “The landscape architecture students engaged in the actual design work.”
Additionally guided by information from site visits and community input, their efforts resulted in two concepts. The “natural” design focused on the natural flow of water through the park to the lake and incorporated prairie grass, rustic walking trails, and natural play equipment and benches. The “contemporary” design incorporated more amenities, including high-end agility equipment and modern park furniture.
The students presented the two concepts at a community meeting in Jacksonville in January. The final approved design blends the two original concepts into a dog park that employs a contemporary design on the street side of the acreage and becomes more rustic and natural as visitors approach the lake. Phase I of construction begins this spring.
Giving Students Real World Experience
Although her academic focus is on Tourism, RST student Farzan Rostam-Abadi says the park planning experience will help her achieve career goals. “I am passionate about community development,” she said. “Understanding all the small, often unseen details that go into creating a community asset, as well as the psychology behind it, will help me tremendously in the future.”
Students obtained real-world experience, Ms. Browning said, but Jacksonville also benefited from working with an academic team rather than a private firm. “Our students did a lot more research than is typically done, produced two options instead of a single concept, and provided the city with perspectives and images that can be used in fundraising and marketing,” she said. Each student contributed to a final report to Jacksonville that is more comprehensive than the standard project report. “The students created something they can be proud of,” she said, “something that will be valuable as they join their fields as professionals.”