"Multigenerational Parks": a Model for the Future?

Christian Loderer (plancontext gmbh landschaftsarchitektur bdla)

The increasing individualization of our society is particularly evident in changes to recreation and athletics: fewer and fewer people are involved in organized group sports. It is increasingly rare for individuals to focus on one main form of athletic activity; they prefer, rather, to try out something new here and there. As a result, options for recreation in public spaces need to be functional for everyone at any moment, without added expense when it comes to money and time.
In order to accommodate these changing circumstances, landscape architecture and recreational space planning are constantly coming up with new trends and approaches. Following the "slim down" movement of the 1970s and the barefoot paths of the 1980s, recent years have seen an increase in the amount of adult fitness equipment from Asia in the German marketplace. The use of this equipment in special trails has not yet gained acceptance in this part of the world.
The challenge of physical fitness initiatives for the elderly in particular led to the provocative idea of "senior's playgrounds" at the turn of the century. However, instead of monofunctional, separate sections for the elderly in public spaces, there is a desire for activity and exercise options that are accessible to people of all ages. This resulted in the idea of "multigenerational parks", or "multigenerational playgrounds".

The model project for this new type of park was the "Wiley Multigenerational Park", which opened in Neu-Ulm in 2008 for the State Horticultural Show. The City of Neu-Ulm and the State of Bavaria made some 2.8 million Euros available to the redesign of the 18.5 hectare area. At this point, five years after the official end of the horticultural show, we want to consider the following: whether or not the investment has paid off; whether or not the concept is suited to everyday use; and if and how the citizens have benefited from it. We will start, however, by summarizing how the concept came to be along with the original planning objectives.

Our Vision of a "Multigenerational Park"

As a result to the new and growing district that bordered the park, and the recent construction of a college, there was an increasing need for a multifunctional recreational and social space.
Instead of following the usual rules of the game, our concept had the fundamental idea of a smooth transition among the activity options. Through the immediate proximity and combination of various options for sports and play, the intention was to create a differentiated range of recreation and exercise options, the individual elements of which functioned independently and as a part of a connected whole.

US American Series as Inspiration

The grounds of the current multigenerational park were inaccessible for a long time, since the US American "Wiley" barracks had been located on the site for some 40 years. With the departure of the US Army in 1991, the city had the unique opportunity to redevelop the area.

The park's design and facilities were meant to keep the history of the location alive. For this reason, the play areas were named after popular American television shows from the previous decades and decorated in the distinctive colours of the American flag, red, white and blue.

The "Bonanza" playground embraces the theme of cowboys and Indians and is located in the transition to the landscape area. Here, the concept of play in and with nature is a central element. In the natural space, several "artificial" play elements were added as an intentional contrast: a "cow spot field" with rodeo riders, stainless-steel climbing totem poles and canoes to play with on the "dried-up river". The idea of a "multigenerational playground" was implemented systematically: pasture plants provide spatial delineation for the play options for various age groups. The result are "play territories" with natural boundaries. A barefoot path for young and old people winds through the pasture areas. Parallel to this is a "play path" with an obstacle course, which gives the children a playful challenge. There is a wheelchair-accessible path for those in wheelchairs and parents with prams. A sand pit is located at the northwest entrance with a water pump for the little "gold panners". ("Bonanza" is a term from the American gold rush that refers to striking gold.)

The "Baywatch water playground" is another popular area. The colours and equipment recall a swimming pool. There is a "sand island" in the middle of the blue asphalt surface with a mud area dominated by a bright red, climbable "Baywatch tower". The area has water pistols, showers and water nozzles in various designs. The surrounding lawn areas invite visitors to a relaxing "day at the pool". The activity on the water playground can be monitored easily from the adjacent seating area. Generous asphalt islands around the benches also offer space for prams and wheelchairs. A Kneipp arm bath provides for cooling on hot days.

There are two sports fields at the centre of the park: a grass playing field and an asphalt field, which is also used for open-air events. The fields are recessed by about 1.5 metres so as to maintain the openness and expanse of the park. The edges make for natural stands, and there is no need to add additional ball-stop fencing.
There is a 750 metre asphalt track around the sports fields. It offers visitors the opportunity to use and test trendy, mobile sports equipment. After this, a skatepark was added, developed in conjunction with the Swiss company Bowl Constructions. Instead of using a combination of finished components, the facility was modelled on-site according to the desires of the local "skate scene" and covered with a multi-layered structure of shotcrete. Along with sections aimed at beginners, there is an almost hazardous-looking bowl for advanced skateboarders.
The "athletes' meeting point" is located between the two sports fields. Situated under old chestnut trees, this location is ideal for watching the activity on the fields.

A "stuntman's playground" expands these areas, equipped with springboards, trampolines and other facilities. The neighbouring beach ball area reflects the current trend of combining fun with exercise. Despite being far from the ocean and beaches, there is a sense of being on vacation, nonetheless. Organically shaped, blue seating islands and benches are arranged around the beach ball area. Apart from a place to play, it is also a meeting place for young people.

Balance between Action and Relaxation

The park has "quiet" walking paths and "active" paths that serve as rapid bicycle connections. In this way, it combines options for action and for relaxation. The calm circular route offers space for relaxing activities like taking a walk in the fresh air, Nordic walking or jogging. These paths have many options for sitting and relaxing, meant to encourage communication among visitors. The active paths offer action and sports activities for all age groups.

As a counterpoint to the activity areas, we added a few garden sequences to a recessed meadow between a historic defence structure (part of a federal fortress) and a tree-lined wall. This resulted in contemplative spaces consisting of hedgerows of various heights, with bushes and ferns to provide shade. The gardens appeal to basic human emotions and encourage self-reflection. The ring of trees by the fortress is closed in by a simple wooded trail, which also offers a space to jog that is easy on the joints.

The Wiley Multigenerational Park Today

Looking back, Neu-Ulm considers the horticultural show to have been a huge asset. It enabled the city to step out of the shadows of the neighbouring city of UIm and present itself as a young and attractive counterpart.

From the beginning, it was the express intention of the municipal administration to maintain the multigenerational park for the long run. It was conceptualized in close collaboration with the Green Spaces Department, which still takes care of the maintenance and development of the area. This close collaboration paid off: the park is in very good condition. Even more intensive gardening areas like the "Hidden Garden" have been maintained to a reduced extent. The basic structure of the greenery was conceptualized so as to be robust and resistant to overgrowth.
The more maintenance-heavy areas, such as the water playground with its water nozzles, water pistols and sprinklers, function without issue, apart from the expected wear and tear. We avoided standing water due to maintenance costs. Water only flows when people are using the area.

The bordering, newly developed area of Wiley has become an attractive and lively district in recent years. Some 1,250 living units and three student dormitories with a total of 280 rooms have been built in the meantime. In the opinion of the Project Developer, the success of the quarter lies in the successful combination of centralized options for living, work and play. Investors touted the attractive location by the former "Horticultural Show Park" and all its inherent advantages.

For Neu-Ulm's Mayor Noerenberg, the inclusion of citizens in the process was a decisive factor in the successful development of the area, along with the well-made plans. From the very start, the process sought a high degree of acceptance for the plans.
The idea of a "park for all generations" is still alive and well thanks to the continued, enthusiastic involvement and support of sports associations and interest groups. The incorporation of these parties as early as the design stage led to a strong sense of identification with the park as well as "custom-tailored" solutions, which are still in intensive use today. This affinity of the users with the park likely also plays a role in the lack of significant problems with vandalism.

Neu-Ulm had the great opportunity to create such a park in the context of a State Horticultural Show. From our experience, however, it is clear that the conception and creation of such public spaces is worthwhile for other cities and municipalities, as well.


Project Information:
State Horticultural Show, Neu-Ulm 2008
Concept and implementation competition, 2001; 1st Prize
Completion: Spring 2008
Principal contractor: Landesgartenschau Neu-Ulm 2008 GmbH
Commissioning: Work stages 1 through 8
Total area: approx. 30 ha of core area
Total construction volumes: approx.11 million Euros investment; approx. 6.8 million implementation
Wiley Multigenerational Park area
Area: approx. 18.5 ha
Construction volumes: approx. 2.8 million Euros investment
Further information: plancontext gmbh landschaftsarchitektur, www.plancontext.de


Photos: plancontext gmbh, Grün Design München, Lichtschwärmer Berlin



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