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Pandemic Prophecies: future of parks

Editor’s note: The Foundation’s magazine, Currents, includes a cover story in which experts offer ideas and predict the future after the pandemic. This piece is part of the cover story, which you can read in its entirety at this link.

By Kinder Baumgardner
Kinder Baumgardner, SWA Group
Kinder Baumgardner, SWA Group

The view from my front porch is a Pandemic Parade of anxious work-from-homers, bored homeschoolers and shocked hospitality workers. They walk, bike, stroll, run, and amble down my now carless street—waving at porch sitters as they gauge the proper distance to stop and say hello to a friend.

It’s not just streets—parks are busy too, but not all of them. For the past 20 years, American park design has largely been about hyper-programmed public space. These parks are well-organized affairs with a rich variety of spaces designed to accommodate an assortment of very specific uses and users. A market here, a concert there, ice skating on the toy boat pond, and bespoke Instagram moments brought in on weekends for a fee. These parks require a frenzy of activity for users to feel at home—right now they feel empty and disorienting.

But there is a different kind of park that is calling to the concerned, but socially distanced masses. The “old school” strolling, viewing, picnicking, touch-of-nature park. These parks take their cues from the human need to be surrounded by sweeping drifts of shade trees, rolling lawns, streams and wetlands. While this style of park design was established in the 1860s as a response to cholera and plague, modern manifestations of these parks have seen a design renaissance. With the application of metrics that guide the cleansing of water, sequestration of carbon, reduction in heat island effect, habitat corridors and health and wellness offerings, these parks have become an integral part of the infrastructure of our cities and are needed now more than ever.

As Americans quickly adapt to accommodate the coronavirus reality, I am seeing a huge desire to use pubic space in new ways. Families are going outside to exercise and feel comforted by nature; desk-bound office workers are taking strolling meetings through visually inspiring landscapes; and our streets have taken on a new life. These longings have been growing for some time now; maybe the pandemic will be the catalyst for a new type of public space and a newfound interest in the health and wellness that a well-designed park can bring.

Mr. Baumgardner is the lead designer of the Baton Rouge Lakes master plan, which was led and paid for by the Baton Rouge Area Foundation. The plan is in the implementation phase, though delayed a bit because of the pandemic. More at