Listening Topic: Environmental Studies – Interview about planning public parks

A. Listen to the interview. As you listen, check the three features that are discussed.

___  activities

___  trees and plants

___  seating

___  entrances and paths

___  monuments

B. Read the questions below. Then listen to the interview again. As you listen, note your answers to the questions. Listen again if necessary.

 How does Mr. Ong describe an unsuccessful public park?

 What attractions in Central Park does he mention?

 Why is it a good idea to connect activities to each other?

 What always attracts people?

 What kinds of users mean that a park is successful?

 What problems with seating does Mr. Ong mention?

 Why should the interior of a park be visible from the outside?

 What kinds of paths does Mr. Ong not like?



a ✓   c ✓   d ✓


 A park that is not successful is not used or is for criminal activity, is usually empty, has litter and graffiti, or is just a green space with nothing to attract people

2   Museums, a zoo, an outdoor theater, a skating rink, playgrounds

3   To provide more reasons for people to go to a place

4   Food

5   Women and elderly people

6   There’s not enough seating, or it’s uncomfortable, or it’s out in the wind or the sun

7   So that people can see what’s inside and don’t feel afraid to enter

8   Paths that don’t lead anywhere, or don’t go where people want to go


A = Host, B = Charles Ong

A:   Public spaces are the places where we interact with other people in our community: streets, shopping malls, public parks, and so on. Public spaces have a huge impact on the quality of life of the people who use them, especially in cities. Today we’re going to talk about parks. Our guest is Charles Ong from the Parks Planning Association, and he’s going to tell us what makes a good public park. Welcome to the program.

B:   Thank you.

A:   First of all, is there such a thing as a bad public park? I mean, aren’t all parks good?

B:   Well, no. I think if you think about it, some parks just don’t work for one reason or another. They’re not used, or they’re used for criminal activity. They’re usually empty. They’ve got litter and graffiti, or they’re just a green space put there with nothing to attract people.

A:   Now that you mention it, I can think of a few places like that!

B:   A good public park or any public space – doesn’t have to be a park – is above all, attractive. People want to go there.

A:   Give me an example of a public park that works.

B:   Oh, there are lots. Central Park, in New York, for example, is a great park. There’s a lot to do there. You’ve got several museums right around it, and in the park itself you have the Children’s Zoo, you have an outdoor theater, you have a skating rink, lots of playgrounds, community centers, and so on – all of that brings people in. Same kind of thing with Boston Common, Balboa Park in San Diego, the Lakefront in Chicago. I could go on.

A:   But what about smaller parks? You can’t always have an art museum or a zoo.

B:   No, but the principle is the same. If you’re designing a smaller park, you still need to provide enough activities. And what you want to do is connect the activities to each other. For example, let’s say you have a park with a playground in one corner, and a fountain in the middle. Well, that’s nice, but there’s not enough there to attract people. But if you link the two together – say you make a water feature in the playground, or you make the fountain safe so that kids can play in it in the summer – and if you add some good seating where people can watch both areas, then you provide more reasons for people to go there. And if you add a food stand, then you’re getting somewhere. Food always attracts people

A:   Right, I get it.

B:   You want to have it used by different kinds of people. You want children, and older people, and women – and that, by the way, is often a good indicator of how successful a city park is.

A:   What? Women?

B:   Yeah, women and elderly people. Women are generally more aware of their surroundings. They’re much less likely to sit down or relax in public area if they feel uncomfortable.

A:   Right. Now that I think of it, some places don’t even provide places to sit.

B:   Yeah, seating is a big thing. A lot of parks don’t have enough seating, or it’s uncomfortable, or the seats are out in the wind or the sun. Ideally, people should be able to move the seats around. You get that in some parks in Europe. People can pick up a chair and move it wherever they want.

A:   But that raises some security issues.

B:   Yes. It’s only possible where there’s a fairly good security presence.

A:   What about access to a park? You know when you spend ages trying to find the way in into a park? I’ve had that experience.

B:   Yeah, when you’re walking around and around looking for the entrance.

A:   Yeah.

B:   That’s a problem sometimes. But it’s not just that. Even if the entrance is visible, the interior has to be visible too. You have to be able to see what’s inside. You don’t want people feeling afraid to go in there, like they’re going to be mugged or something. It has to be welcoming.

A:   You need to see where the paths go too, right? So you can say, “Oh, I’ll take a shortcut through the park, and that will take me over there, or over there”?

B:   Right. And one thing that drives me crazy in public parks is paths that don’t lead to anywhere, or that don’t go where people want to go. They’re just there for the sake of it. You want paths that attract people and pull them along.

A:   It seems so obvious.

B:   You’d think so, wouldn’t you? But a lot of parks are put in with very little consideration of how to make them work.

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