October 17, 2008

How to involve your community in playspace decision-making

By Todd Redenius and Deb Dyar
City of Ankeny

Residents of Ankeny, Iowa get a unique opportunity to contribute and become involved with the city’s decision-making process when it comes to new parks and playgrounds.

When planning a new park or playground, we first mail a conceptual plan and a letter announcing a park development neighborhood meeting to each property owner within a four to six block radius of the park that is being developed.

At the park development meeting, neighbors review the plan and give their input on the process, and we invite people to leave their name, address and email address, which provides a great volunteer base for landscaping and fundraising.

During the neighborhood meeting, we discuss people’s desired amenities for the park playground, including play equipment, colors and styles. We take that information and use it to create three to four conceptual playground designs, all of equal size and value, which we display on a specified election day, where we let youth and parents vote on which design they want. To encourage people to turn out for the election day, we hold it in the evening and offer treats, and often a visit from the mayor and local press.

To allow small children to vote, we give each design a specified color and the ballots are made of corresponding paper colors. Once all votes are cast, they are counted and the winning design revealed to the neighborhood and the community the following day.

Our park development projects are usually phased over a one to two year time period, with playgrounds one of the first amenities installed. When the park is completed, a neighborhood dedication event is held -- complete with prizes, games, food and music. The mayor, city council and park board are present and are often seen leading a pick-up game or playing on the playground with the kids!

This two-way communication and problem-solving results in better decision-making by the City; decisions supported by its residents. And in Ankeny – it can be fun too!

playful city usa, action, kaboom! national campaign play, play