Public space infrastructure is constantly evolving with time; parks and public spaces are never truly complete as they must grow with the needs of the surrounding community – and the infrastructure must grow too. “The finished landscape of today is not the finished landscape of many years from now,” says Landscape Architecture Magazine. But planning for years or even decades into the future can be challenging.
How will the infrastructure stand the test of time and how will it grow with the space?
Use materials that are ‘built for life’
At the core of any piece of infrastructure are the materials that build it. It is imperative that public space assets are ‘built for life’ – they are made to withstand whatever life throws at them. For outdoor infrastructure this means using materials that can withstand the harsh Australian weather (especially the intense sun), can handle the native wildlife and human usage, and stand strong against the general wear and tear of time. An outdoor asset should last well into the future and should not need to be replaced after only a few years. It is also important that these materials don’t become toxic or wear down with age, in particular in the nuts and bolts that keep everything secured together.
The outdoor infrastructure also needs to be able to stand against the natural growth of surrounding nature. From moss and lichen, to growing plants and trees, it is important to understand how the materials used will react to the natural growth of nature, and what effect this could have on the assets.
Depending on the asset, there is an extensive range of materials that can handle whatever life throws at it.
Woodgrain aluminium and composite timber are popular solutions for assets that want the timber-look without the maintenance. Sturdy, durable and long-lasting, they far outlive standard timber and require minimal maintenance.
Of course, stainless steel and aluminium will always be a classic for public space assets. Ideal for outdoor furniture and barbecues, they won’t rust, can handle the Australian weather, and are easy to maintain and upgrade.
In some locations, it is preferable to use natural materials such as organic timber. Not only does it bring a unique and organic aesthetic to the space, but it will grow and adapt with the surrounding landscape and can literally stand with the test of time. This type of solution is very popular in natural playspaces that encourage kids to interact with and build their understanding of nature.
Whenever developing new infrastructure for public spaces, it is integral that it is adaptable to the needs of the future, without incurring too much cost. Many assets these days include features that can be upgraded at minimal cost, according to changing laws and requirements. For example, shadesails can be easily replaced according to the most up-to-date Australian sun protection standards, and barbecues and public seating should be able to accommodate accessibility standards and requirements.
Much modern-day infrastructure can be built in such a way that ensures parts are easily replaceable in order to accommodate changing needs of the space. Accessible equipment, assets that accommodate to the latest standards, or a new and improved feature should be able to be included without trouble or excessive cost.
In preparing for the future, advancing technology cannot be forgotten. The way that public space assets operate in 2021 could be completely different by 2030 and it’s important to be prepared. From underground sensors to AI exterior lighting, smart furniture and more, spaces need to be ready to adapt – as we learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition to changing technologies, public spaces need to be prepared to grow with local communities. From play and fitness equipment that can be expanded to accommodate local demand, to outdoor assets such as public seating and barbecues that can be built up with little trouble, it is important to understanding the needs of the area and predict what they will be in the future.