Planning the Perfect Park

On a recent Sunday at the Plaza Branch, two dozen citizens gathered to plan their ideal Kansas City park. Sports fields, petting zoos, ice cream stands, rock-climbing walls, trails – no idea was too big or too small.

Logging the ideas on a dry-erase board in the Library’s ArtSpot was landscape architect Chris Cahalan of Ochsner, Hare & Hare, the 100-year-old Kansas City firm that’s responsible for many of our city’s most famous parks, boulevards, and green spaces.

"Plan-a-Park" was much as you’d expect from a collaborative planning session between landscape architects and community members – except that most of the participants were younger than 12 years old.

“We wanted to see how kids approach the design process,” Cahalan said.

The Plan-a-Park program was developed by Children’s Librarian April Roy to complement an exhibit showing at the Plaza Branch.  The colorful and elegant exhibit, Century of Legendary Places: The Legacy of Kansas City’s Hare & Hare, details the history of the firm that helped shape landmarks such as Loose Park, the grounds of the Nelson-Atkins Museum, and the Country Club District.

Plan-a-Park group
Chris Cahalan of Ochsner, Hare & Hare (far right), led the kids in a park brainstorming session.

When planning a neighborhood park, landscape architects like those at Hare & Hare typically consult user groups made up of parents. But for Plan-a-Park, Cahalan and his colleagues – Kim Sorensen, Judy Moody, and Korey Schulz of OHH, plus a representative from the city’s Parks & Recreation dept. – sought a different perspective.

Among those ideas were a “beach” for building sand castles, a laser show, a tree house, boat rides, and air castles. After their ideas were collected in a citizen survey, the kids set to work designing their parks on table-top-sized park maps.

“As adults, we lose our kid instincts, and some of the simplest and most unique ideas come from kids,” Cahalan said.

At the end of the program (and after a refreshment break), the maps were taped to the walls, and the kids discussed their designs.

Plan-a-Park show and tell
A young park planner shows off her design.

On the way out of the Library, the kids and their parents passed by the exhibit, which is a rich intertwining of photos, blueprints, and stories of the most celebrated spaces in Kansas City.

Plan-a-Park exhibit
The Plaza Branch exhibit shows the legacy of legendary design firm Hare & Hare

The designs in the exhibit may have been more professional, but they were no less inspired than what the young park planners inside the Library dreamed up.

Century of Legendary Places is on display at the Plaza Branch of the Kansas City Public Library through March 2012. The exhibit, Plan-a-Park, and other related programming were made possible in part by funding from the William T. Kemper Foundation.