The Anatomy Of A New Park

By Aaron Zych
Photos Courtesy Of ILT Vignocchi, Inc.

“Traditional beginnings, beginnings of traditions” is how the design team began to describe the new park. Located only a block away from historic downtown Libertyville in Illinois, the park had its origins with the village’s inception in the 1830s.


As envisioned, the park is open green space with a small children’s area on one side and Milwaukee Ave.—a four-lane road—bookending the other. Used primarily by the adjacent church during its school recess, village officials wanted to transform the park into a multi-functional space that could host several annual village events. The intention was to help relieve the congestion and overuse of the historic Adler Park Square—the center of downtown—and be the beginning of new village traditions.

Phase 1: Functional-Use Diagram
As with any new park design, it’s critical to start with a Functional-Use Diagram (FUD) to consider the long-term goals for a park. This FUD prevents the inclusion of random elements, and helps connect all of the required components seamlessly. During initial meetings, it was clear that village officials had a clear vision of what they wanted for this park; a farmer’s market, an Out to Lunch event, the Pumpkin Fest, and a stage (amphitheater) for concerts were just a few of the program elements to be included. After years of hosting these events at AdlerPark, overuse had caused substantial ground compaction, which in turn led to the decay of many key trees as well as stress to the lawn.

With the program elements considered and long-term goals in place, the FUD discussed two major concerns—green space and an amphitheater. These two elements needed to be tied together to allow the green space to act as the overflow seating for the amphitheater performances. It was decided to place the amphitheater at the west end of the park. This not only allowed for optimal green space, but also provided the opportunity for an eye-catching park entrance from the village’s main thoroughfare, Milwaukee Avenue. The focus then turned to the additional need for hard surfaces. The park was already surrounded by sidewalks, so the new hardscapes were pushed to the edges of the park to tie in with the existing walks. The village also requested a water feature, and its placement on the east side of the park was not only to help anchor that end, but also to allow parents a pleasant place to sit while watching their kids at the existing playground.

Phase 2: Context
With a completed FUD, the next phase was a consideration of the style of the park. How was it to fit in with the greater context of the area? The key was to tie in existing elements found around the village—building materials and colors—to the new park to create visual unity. In this case, the historic downtown, with its wrought-iron gates and details, brick buildings, and a charming architectural feel, provided a strong context from which to work. Other elements considered were the people in nearby residences. When making changes to any open space or park, it is imperative to persuade people to believe in those changes.

Prior to conceptual plans for the park, designers met with the beautification committee (made up of village residents) to obtain their ideas and feelings on not only the new park, but the move of traditional events from AdlerPark. Discussions were held with the local Rotary Club, whose members have a strong involvement in park maintenance. The upbeat tone during initial village meetings and the final park design would not have been as strong without various groups buying in to the new ideas. Form and function, as my father constantly reminded me, must go together. Two concepts were presented to village officials—one rectilinear and the other curvilinear.

Phase 3: Functionality
Functionality was a key. For example, the amphitheater stage had to be large enough to hold the high school band for summer concerts, and also provide a cozy feeling if there were only four performers. However, the most important concept was the idea of multi-use spaces. For this reason, paver areas were to widen existing sidewalks to allow both vendors and pedestrians plenty of room during the farmer’s markets. On a different day, that same space could be used for tables and chairs for the Out to Lunch gatherings. For this event, local restaurants could set up tents or food trucks so people could enjoy an outside lunch while listening to music from a local band. The parking area on the perimeter of the park was also to be used for this event.

To make the park even more multi-functional, the large green space was separated from the paver walkways through berms and stone seat walls, allowing various activities to take place on the walkways while creating a separation for students to still use the park during recess.

After several revisions, a combination of the rectilinear and curvilinear concepts was accepted. In the end, the park design had a strong context, an inviting entrance, an amphitheater, plenty of seating, multi-use spaces, a fountain, and open green space. As the park design neared completion, the economy began to tumble and the village experienced a change in leadership. Although the park is yet to be built, there is still a strong need for this additional area to help relieve the use of Adler Park and to add a fresh new venue for its residents.

Aaron Zych is a Registered Landscape Architect and Certified Arborist for ILT Vignocchi, Inc. a Landscape Architecture Design Build and Maintenance company located in the greater Chicagoland area. Reach him at .