The City of Burlington is Vermont’s cultural capital and a regional destination for tourists and neighboring communities. The diverse system of parks, trails, open spaces, and recreation opportunities serve myriad roles for the city. Waterfront parks serve as a source of pride for residents, community gardens as a gathering space for new members of the community, and the urban wilds as a reminder of the city’s commitment to sustainability and environmental ethic. Sasaki recently completed the Burlington Parks, Recreation & Waterfront (BPRW) Master Plan, the first comprehensive parks and recreation plan for the department. The plan, which includes all of the city’s 43 parks, specifically emphasizes improving access to amenities, increasing department visibility, creating regional connections, and fostering sustainability in parks maintenance and operations. A collaborative and engaging process ensured that community input influenced the ultimate vision and recommendations.
BPRW is poised at a moment of change and transformation, seeking both to build on the park system’s strong legacy and to create a fresh start that aligns with twenty first century goals and ambitions. With recent momentum around innovative city planning initiatives and a collective, community appreciation for the richness of Burlington’s parks, the BPRW Master Plan creates an achievable set of actions to guide the parks system into the future. The plan is intended to help the department efficiently maintain its assets, strive for sustainability, and set design aspirations to create better social spaces for Burlington’s role as the urban heart of the state. The master plan focuses on a set of seven system themes: People: recognizing culture, community and partnerships; Wellness: enhancing recreation opportunities and programming; Connection: linking parks to people, Stewardship: protecting and preserving our environment; Community: creating inclusive social spaces; Service: streamlining operations; and Impact: motivating the local and regional economy. The plan guides policy development, prioritizes demands and opportunities, and generates a strategic action plan for future development and redevelopment of the city’s parks, recreation programming, waterfront, open space, trails, and facilities.
The planning process began with an in-depth analysis of the city’s park system, including a comprehensive inventory and assessment of park amenities. The community was engaged by intensive public outreach, including a statistically valid survey which yielded exceptionally high levels of participation. Other methods included an online mapping tool, a community bike ride, and community-wide public workshops. Additional neighborhood-specific outreach was conducted through staff presentations to Neighborhood Planning Assemblies. The process concluded with multiple visioning sessions which informed the final framework for the master plan. Throughout the planning process, the team worked to identify and support opportunities for interdepartmental collaboration within BPRW and capacity to implement the plan. The success of the master plan has led to several subsequent collaborations between BPRW and Sasaki. These included proposals for public funding; developing a new brand and wayfinding system for the department; and designing a series of small parks along the City’s iconic bike path.
Concurrent with the master plan, Sasaki helped the city pursue public funding by drafting concept plans and illustrative renderings for several capital improvement projects, called PIAP proposals. Along with visualizing the projects, Sasaki generated cost estimates and phasing plans for each proposal. One of these projects, which included infrastructural upgrades to the City’s Waterfront Park, received funding and has been implemented.
BPRW Graphic Identity
Sasaki worked closely with BPRW to develop their new brand guidelines. The goals of the branding process were to update the department’s image, to better capture and celebrate the breadth of their work, and to grow awareness of the department within the Burlington community. Additionally, the brand needed to be adaptable to all of the different needs of each division: parks, recreation and waterfront. The new identity represents each division in one unified logo mark. The mark which features a stylized letter “b” formed by three colored lines, each representing one of the department’s three divisions. The overall logo was inspired by tree rings and water drops, conveying a sense of natural growth. Since its implementation the brand has been quite successful, due in large part to the department’s commitment to consistently implementing the recommendations throughout their facilities. As an anecdotal measure of its success, the department has even been prompted by the public to begin selling hats and other clothing featuring the new logo.
Following the roll-out of the new brand, Sasaki was engaged to develop a guidelines manual for the department’s signage and wayfinding program. The purpose of the process was to incorporate the new graphic identity into BPRW’s signage and wayfinding. Sasaki worked with BPRW to first identify all of the sign types that exist throughout their system, as well as new signs that would be needed. This line-up became the basis for testing design iterations. The final design features the department’s refined logo, typography and colors, juxtaposed against elemental materials such as wood, board-form concrete and steel, a pairing intended to reflect the dual nature of Burlington: a refined cultural center set against a rugged, natural backdrop.
Bike Path Pause Places
The Burlington Bike Path is a 7.5 mile recreational bike path running along the Lake Champlain waterfront from Oakledge Park to the Winooski River. This path is a vital amenity for both residents and visitors alike, offering recreational opportunities as well as scenic views of the waterfront and the Adirondack Mountains. The path is a key circulation route within the City, linking to regional trails, 6 major parks, the Downtown District and several neighborhoods.
As part of the City’s holistic rehabilitation of the bike path, Sasaki worked with BPRW to develop design guidelines for 14 new landscapes along the path, called Pause Places. These spaces are designed to provide opportunities to rest and enjoy the environment without blocking the flow of traffic on the path. The pause places include a range of amenities including seating, water access, informational kiosks, artwork, and planting. Sasaki’s design guidelines provide recommendations for materials, furnishings and architectural elements, all of which are coordinated with BPRW’s brand and wayfinding guidelines, to insure a cohesive experience along the bike path.
In addition to developing a master plan for the 14 Pause Places, Sasaki developed schematic designs for three specific Pause Places: the Waterfront Park Gateway, Texaco Beach, and the Urban Reserve. The latter two were constructed during 2016. The design at Texaco Beach creates a gently sloping lawn oriented toward a lovely, layered view of Burlington’s northern shoreline, the lake and the mountains. The space was designed to support occasional gatherings with a boardwalk overlook that doubles as a stage for performers. The design creates an ADA accessible connection from the bike path to the beach below, which in the past had been a popular, but precarious footpath. At the Urban Reserve, a simpler connection is made to the water with large granite blocks forming a stair and series of seat walls. The connection formalizes a popular connection among dog owners that historically brought their pets to swim in the lake from the adjacent dog park. Both sites include seating, bike racks, signage and other amenities.