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Photo by Ben Cleeton

Photo by Ben Cleeton

Photo by Ben Cleeton

Photo by Ben Cleeton


Onondaga Park Family Activity and Children’s Play Area
Syracuse, New York

Onondaga Park is located in Syracuse’s Southwest side. Including Kirk Park to the east, the park encompasses 228 acres and straddles the Strathmore, Southwest and Brighton neighborhoods of the city. The two main sections of the park, Upper and Lower Onondaga Park, are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Many areas of the park are loved and used heavily by the surrounding neighborhoods. Although created as an interconnected park system, over time the upper and lower sections of Onondaga Park and Kirk Park began to be perceived as separate parks and disconnected; the same is true for the neighborhoods that surround the park.

The CCDR was contacted by the Syracuse Parks Department to facilitate the community engagement component for a new Family Activity and Play Area in Lower Onondaga Park. As part of that process the CCDR would work with community members, stakeholder organizations and the Parks Department to prepare conceptual design studies that would serve as the foundation for the preparation of detailed design and construction documentation by a professional landscape architect. The Family Activity Area was identified in the Onondaga Botanical Garden and Arboretum Master Plan completed in 2004. The Master Plan provides a vision for the park, with the goals of promoting environmental education, neighborhood revitalization and economic development.

Topic Areas: Urban Parks, Natural Play Area design, community engagement

Project Scale: Master Plan and Site Design

Accomplished by: Maren King and the Spring 2013 Community Design Thematic Studio (Marshall Allen, Amanda Bischoff, Matt Dennis, Ryan Fogg, Dan Maher), with assistance from graduate students Kiva VanDerGeest, Sarah Krisch and Emily Handelman

Partners: Syracuse Department of Parks, Recreation and Youth Programs Baye Muhammad, Commissioner; Glen Lewis Coordinating Planner; Yasmin Guevara and Josh Zuppola, project staff

Questions Explored

  • How can a shared vision for an urban park be created among diverse residents and stakeholders?
  • What type and extent of information is necessary for participants to contribute most effectively in this park design project?
  • What role do urban parks play and what form do they take in contemporary urban neighborhoods?

Project Description

The initial community design process for the Onondaga Park Family Activity and Play Area occurred from December 2012 through May 2013. It began with introductory and planning meetings with an advisory committee composed of local residents, representatives of non-profit organizations and departmental staff that helped organize and provide outreach for the process. The process was accomplished through series of events, including three workshops, each designed to progressively build upon and confirm information and ideas expressed by community members. Community members were also invited to participate in educational events that explored the park master plan, history of the park, and natural play. Over 60 community members participated in the workshops and other events.

The process and outcomes of the project are documented in a final report titled Onondaga Park Family Activity & Children’s Play Area Community Engagement & Conceptual Design Process. The outcomes included final conceptual designs that illustrate alternative ways to achieve the community’s goals for the project and incorporate elements and activities expressed by community members. In addition, there are many participants who have expressed interest in continuing to be involved in the project through implementation and future programming.