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Incorporating Resilience in Landscape Design to Mitigate Extreme Weather Events

The Midwest has been experiencing extreme weather events that are unexpected, unusual, severe, or unseasonal. Unfortunately, these weather occurrences are becoming more common, which means that design professionals must find ways to reduce the impact of these catastrophes on the developed environment. Our experts have concluded a three-part series on climate change, where they shared their knowledge on promoting resilient landscape design measures. Tune in and hear their insights on dealing with the vulnerabilities caused by unpredictable weather patterns.

Podcast Agenda

  • Mitigating Flood Hazards (00:20)
  • Designing Recreational Areas with Stormwater Control  (2:02)
  • Comprehensive Planning with Municipalities  (3:29)
  • Characteristics Recommended for Recreational and Stormwater Management Areas (5:11)
  • Scheduling a Project and Minimizing Delays  (6:54)



Tim West Contact Box White Circle Headshot

Tim West, PLA, LEED®AP

Development Business Unit Leader

Tim West, PLA, LEED®AP

Development Business Unit Leader

Master Planning, Project Management, Athletic Design, Park Design, Public Engagement

Clay Schneckloth Contact Box White Circle Headshot

Clay Schneckloth, PLA

Landscape Architect

Clay Schneckloth, PLA

Landscape Architect

Parks and Recreation Design, Sports Fields Design, Green Infrastructure and Native Plantings, Landscape Design

Andy Meessmann Contact Box White Circle Headshot

Andrew Meessmann, PLA

Landscape Architect

Andrew Meessmann, PLA

Landscape Architect

Master Planning, Industrial and Commercial Site Design, Residential Development

Flood Hazard Mitigation

Tim West (0:20)

We all have a concern regarding the frequency and intensity of large rain events that seem to be occurring more and more often. We seem to get more and more requests for design assistance and controlling

flood waters coming over summit lake spillway

Flooding causes Summit Lake to spill over barriers.

stormwater runoff from a lot of our clients. There are also quite a few changing regulations and increasing flood protection ordinances taking effect across a number of areas throughout the Midwest.

We want to talk a little bit about what we’re doing here at Snyder and Associates to address these stormwater challenges, specifically for our park and recreation clients. A lot of park spaces are located in low-lying areas and close to creek and stream corridors. What are some of the challenges you’re encountering in your park and recreation design projects when you’re dealing with localized flooding from these waterways?

Clay Schneckloth (1:06)

One thing I want to talk about is flood hazard mitigation. The idea is that we want to make sure we reduce the severity of flood damage to our parks and waterways. Reducing this risk to structures and experiencing flood damage is an effect that it’s always, “Oh no, what do we do now?” kind of thing. So we want to try and get ahead of that and get some design pulled together before we experience some of these effects.

The flood zone shifts are impacting the communities that we live in. We’ve seen that over the past decade. We’re seeing some of these events that are happening more frequently than expected. We’re getting these questions saying, “Hey, we’re experiencing water in this area where we’ve never seen it before?” When we get these heavy rains, it’s important to understand what we’re going to do with the water, how we’re going to be able to handle it, get the infiltration needed, and still mitigate and reduce the risk and flood damage in these areas.

Designing for Recreational Areas with Stormwater Control

Andy Meessmann (2:02)

There’s definitely a sensitivity in terms of how we’re designing these localized flooding areas. Something that I face pretty much in every project, and especially at the master planning level, is balancing the recreational opportunities that people desire, and sometimes it conflicts with the natural setting that’s supposed to happen there. Or the flood zone and preserving space for that. Really striking a balance between

permeable paver parking lot in front of pond

The parking lot of Armstrong Park is created of permeable pavers allowing stormwater to seep through.

people wanting to get access to a river, for instance, but there are definitely some constraints in terms of the area being prone to flooding. Where do we find that balance? It’s always a challenge as a designer to satisfy everyone’s desires for this public open space that we work on.

Tim West (2:47)

So Andy and the team, what are some strategies for taking a park and designing it to function as both a recreational area and a stormwater management area?

Clay Schneckloth (2:57)

We definitely get that opportunity when we start looking at these areas. We’re trying to reduce the flood damage. When we’re doing that, we’re trying to change and help with the infiltration in these watersheds. How can we provide some storage of that water in our landscape? By incorporating wetlands, stormwater basins, terraces, channel bank stabilization, and buffer strips to help keep and protect the features that we’re trying to incorporate into these public areas.

Comprehensive Planning with Municipalities

Andy Meessmann (3:29)

It’s important as landscape architects, what we do a lot at Snyder and Associates, is working closely with the municipal engineers, city staff, and planners to plan out long-term of what they want to do with their recreational area and how to manage stormwater within it. It’s a very challenging part of the profession.

We’re working closely right now with the Village of Cottage Grove on a Miracle League Field. Working with the municipal engineers on where the water’s going, updating waterfall intensities based on new code, and making sure that works in the long-range plan of the park. It’s really a hands-on type of design when it comes to trying to design for a larger park system to cater to both recreational desires as well as just the passive stormwater management aspects.

 Tim West (4:18)

Another project that we kind of took that same strategy was down in Knoxville, Iowa, at Young’s Park. We were dealing with a park that had a whole bunch of small flat areas that didn’t drain well, almost a bunch of little mini-basins. One strategy that we took was to increase one low area, collect all the stormwater in one low area and utilize some of that cut and shape to create a larger platform, which eventually would be the home to a small skate park and large rope climber element. That allowed us to concentrate many stormwater pockets all over the park into one larger stormwater basin area that could be set aside and utilized for stormwater management. Then we could free up these other areas a little bit higher and drier so that they could operate for different park programming uses.

Characteristics Recommended for Recreational and Stormwater Management Areas

Tim West (5:11)

Yeah, when we get approached about those park site dedications, there’s kind of some minimum characteristics that we like to promote for a general park. Particularly if it’s in a neighborhood and it’s some sort of a remnant property. We like to see some amount of street frontage to allow for some parking or maintenance vehicle access. It also provides a little bit more of an inviting park area and allows the park to be identified a little more clearly than feeling like it’s in the back behind some people’s properties.

We also look for two to three acres of relatively flat area. It depends on the size of the property that’s being conveyed, but a lot of times, they’ll consist of like a stormwater basin or a creek area, and you get a lot of site slope or something that’s fairly unusable. Kind of the last area that we recommend when considering new park spaces is having a clear public access way or multiple access ways if you can. It can be off the right-of-way, but it also needs to feel like it’s part of the public. By providing multiple access points, you can promote park use and the equity of park use. It also provides a more safe connection to any given park, particularly when it’s in a neighborhood, so it doesn’t always feel like you’re in somebody’s backyard. By having multiple access points, broader exposure to the public street, or the right-of-way, all those elements provide a better feel for the park and help to provide a better park space that the city’s going to be more interested in acquiring.

Project Scheduling and Reducing Delays

Tim West (6:54)

It’s getting harder and harder to keep construction projects on schedule due to the wet times of the year and not having enough construction days when we have these connected rain events. Can you guys give some explanation or experiences on how you’ve been able to mitigate these schedule impacts and how you like to approach project scheduling in your park projects?

Clay Schneckloth (7:17)

Communication with the client, parks board, city, or whoever it needs to be; we want to have that communication upfront. Whether it’s a new park or just a piece of a park, everyone’s excited about getting this new space created and open to the public as fast as they can. So whenever, it’s the pressure of like, “Oh, we need to get this park open as soon as we can.” You know what happens, whether steps in and causes a delay, and that’s not a fun topic to try and step in front of a parks board, in front of your shareholder committee, and say, “Guess what? We’re delayed three weeks because it rained, and we didn’t account for it.” We want to have those conversations up front and have weather days built into the completion of this project. We want to have that conversation with the owner and the shareholder group first. We want to be upfront with our clients. They need to know that it’s expected and accounted for. The weather is not going to be perfect for us for this entire project. We know there are going to be some weather delays because of what we’re experiencing and have experienced in the past years.

One option that we’ve started to talk about is the completion date. We need to allow for these additional days due to the weather. But is there a specific grand opening that needs to be met for this piece of the park or the new park? If there is, then we need to maybe start this project a little bit earlier, if we can, to make sure we’re meeting that specific grand opening date. Is it possible to move that completion date back a little bit to give the contractor a little bit more leeway to be able to make this project happen in a specified time?

Tim West (8:51)

One thing that we’ve seen over and over again is a lack of working days in the spring. I think we’ve almost eliminated the opportunity to get a lot of work done in the spring because we’ve been a little scared about how wet the weather is and how few dry days we have. It also makes it pretty difficult to protect some of the work when they open up the site to earthwork, and then it sits there muddy and has to be drained. Spring seems to be one of the most critical parts of the project, and extending those construction dates out into the fall or even into the following year. I think you’re right, Clay. We need to make sure we keep that in mind when we set those early schedules.

Andy Meessmann (9:35)

Something that I’ve learned over many years of designing and administering construction when it’s going on is just to spec local and spec simple. That plays into the well of other conversations we’ve had on these podcasts about sustainability and climate change. The more local you can get for specing products, obviously, there are fewer transit costs and a smaller ecological footprint there. You’re supporting local businesses and really specing simple, specifying simple designs, easier designs to install obviously makes this whole construction process easier, and your designs actually ended up looking better. I’m sure you guys can attest to that, to the years of experience you’ve had on-site and making sure designs are followed through.

Going back to what Clay said about coordination upfront. I think that’s a big element in terms of making the construction process smoother to avoid delays related to weather. Speaking with our clients, they can order amenities upfront. So they have them staged and ready to go is always an important aspect that can really save on time.

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