Open space can mean a lot of different things to different groups of people. However, as far as land uses go, it does not receive as much attention as those associated with residential and commercial uses.
Where zoning codes contain requirements for the minimum allocation of open space in new development, the spaces offered by developers often are the residual “leftover” spaces that are non-developable land due to topography, soil conditions or poor accessibility. At best, those open spaces reduce to green buffers between various developments.
Thankfully, suburban developers are becoming aware of the benefits of providing open spaces for the residents to enjoy. Suburbs can be one of the most challenging places to live a green lifestyle, as they often have little access to services and public transportation.
Repeatedly, we find suburbs located away from the convenience of urban amenities, such as parks and plazas. Still, the good news is we now see more and more green suburbs that incorporate urban amenities and multi-use open spaces within a five to ten-minute walking distance.
The question then is whether these open spaces ultimately fail or succeed in enhancing the suburb. For many developers, open space is an investment that attracts residents and ensures financial longevity for the neighbourhoods. For homeowners, accessible open spaces allow them to live a green lifestyle and protect their property values.
How does open space become more than an afterthought and act as a catalyst and spatial organizer for development? What are some of the ways to weave open space seamlessly into suburban development?
There are several that come to mind:
Just as the leading role of governments is to make cities better for people by enhancing the pedestrian experience, so is the developer to create walkable and green suburbs for residents. The overarching vision is to promote an active lifestyle and opportunities that typically involve a network of pathways and park connectors.
An example of a connected suburb is in Winnipeg’s Bridgwater neighbourhoods. The developer incorporated visitable pathways along the drainage area behind accessible homes with no-step entries (“visitable homes”).
These pathways connect to parks, public sidewalks, and Active Transportation routes. Active Transportation describes all human-powered forms of travel, such as walking, cycling, in-line skating, skateboarding, and more.
According to the City of Winnipeg, active transportation systems have many benefits to both people and cities, including:
Building a diverse active transportation network involves creating several safe and easy to use pathways and lanes designated for cyclists, pedestrians and motorists. Some of these include:
A successful open space design should be attractive, inclusive, and interactive.
The absence of these qualities renders the open space unsightly, inaccessible and a waste of resources (both land-wise and financially).
Having a qualified landscape architect or urban designer at the early planning stage can mitigate any potential issues and ensure that the open space is well-designed and provides a myriad of passive amenities and recreational facilities for all ages. Designing for the new suburban culture means creating a community-oriented neighbourhood that appeals to all ages—from young millennials to senior baby boomers.
Design considerations include critical fall height of a playground surface, child-friendly fountain plazas, outdoor fitness equipment for seniors, good surveillance, and structural integrity to withstand extreme weather and deter vandalism.
To access the remaining chapters in this guide, please download Delivering the Vision VI - Creating a Greener Suburb: How to weave open space into your suburban developments here. If you have any issues accessing the downloadable content, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.