June 2, 2017

Building Capacity to Design and Engage Community in Thomasville

Angela Moreno-Long

The city of Thomasville, Georgia (population 18,700) hosted their Citizens' Institute on Rural Design™ workshop at the Thomasville Center for the Arts and Scholars Academy on October 27-29, 2016. The goal of the workshop was to develop preliminary design concepts to inform a master plan for MacIntyre Park that would address stormwater runoff challenges in the park, while transforming it into a recreation destination that encourages active lifestyles among the city’s residents. MacIntyre Park is the oldest park in Thomasville and is located in a residential neighborhood that borders downtown.  The city of Thomasville sought to develop a design that maintains and enhances the unique open and natural qualities of the park, while mitigating severe erosion caused by the three creeks that run through it. Thomasville residents also expressed a desire to enhance accessibility to and within the park.

Redesigning MacIntyre Park – a community gem

Over the course of the two-and-a-half-day workshop, participants engaged in visioning sessions, design charrettes, and on-site evaluations. Participants also learned about green infrastructure, park planning and recreational facility design from members of the CIRD resource team. The resource team was comprised of four professionals representing the fields of architecture, landscape architecture, urban design, and civil engineering:

  • Élise Cormier, Principal, Smart Landscapes, Atlanta, GA
  • Jonathan Ford, Senior Project Manager—Community Design, Horsley Witten Group, Providence, RI
  • Tom Low, Director, Civic by Design, Charlotte, NC
  • Wade Walker, Principal, Complete Streets Regional Leader, Alta Planning + Design, Davidson, NC

This workshop implemented a collaborative, community led approach to revitalizing the park with a strong history and cultural heritage in the community, and brought city-wide partners together to tackle the design challenge. In addition to completing an extensive master plan design vision that can be incorporated into the upcoming comprehensive plan update, this workshop built the capacity of the planning department to host and facilitate similar public workshops and to engage the community in a meaningful way.

Dr. Richard Jackson, a Professor at the Fielding School of Public Health at the University of California, Los Angeles, a Physician and author, kicked off the two-and-a-half-day MacIntyre Park Community Design Charrette on Wednesday, October 26th with a lecture presentation, sponsored by the John D. Archboldhospital, highlighting the relationship between public health and the built environment. Dr. Jackson presented statistics demonstrating the rising rates of obesity and diabetes in the United States and emphasized that simple daily activity like walking and biking are important steps in slowing these epidemics. Jackson’s presentation demonstrated that a key element of building healthy communities is designing a built environment that encourages healthy choices and makes walking and biking safe, easy, and accessible.

The presentation generated excitement and conversation among workshop participants about the importance of high quality, accessible green space and pedestrian friendly areas in Thomasville.

Building on Jackson’s inspiring presentation, residents returned to the Thomasville Center for the Arts and Scholars Academy on Thursday, October 27th for the workshop opening. The evening began with the “Walk the Park” event where a group of about 50 neighborhood residents gathered in MacIntyre Park, engaged in discussion with resource team, and provided their observations and knowledge about changing conditions in the park.

Informal Community Engagement with a Tailgate at the Park

On the evening of Friday, October 28th workshop participants, the resource team and residents joined in MacIntyre Park for the “Tailgate in the Park” event. For several hours before the Thomasville High School Football game, students, families and neighbors gathered in the park for a cook-out and party and were given the opportunity to comment on drawings, and the initial master plan concepts both for the park and a re-envisioned high school campus. This pop-up workshop afforded a casual setting and the drawings and notes were hung on one side of a school bus parked in the park. The Thomasville school children, who had the initial idea to redesign MacIntyre Park, talked to the resource team and were excited to see their ideas come to life in drawings.

Resource team member Jon Ford walks through the park with residents identifying assets and challenges.

City representatives from the school district, city council, engineering department, and planning department convened at the workshop alongside residents and engaged in productive conversations with the resource team and participants. The dialog and conversations illuminated the opportunity to align multiple activities that are underway, yet uncoordinated, including school facility planning, design, and construction efforts taking place in proximity to the park. Resource team member Tom Low demonstrated the possibilities for a master plan that couldcoalesce these seemingly disparate projects into one larger cohesive integrated plan for Thomasville. Using the feedback gathered during the workshop process, the resource team developed a master plan vision that incorporates city bike trails, new gathering and plaza areas, traffic calming measures around the park, better connections to the adjacent school campus, renovated playground features, and treatments for the creek banks to prevent further erosion.

Post Workshop Next Steps:

The master plan vision has served as a framework for ongoing developments since the conclusion of the workshop. The city has contracted resource team member Élise Cormier to design a nature-based playground in MacIntyre Park on the site that was identified in the master plan. The construction documents are complete for Phase 1 of the project and will be sent out to bid for construction in June 2017. The playground has $50,000 of SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Options Sales Tax) allocated for implementation of new playground equipment and plantings to stabilize the creek banks from further erosion.The master plan vision incorporates a citywide multi-use trail that is currently under construction. Construction on the MacIntyre Park portion of the trail will begin at the end of 2017, and will be complete in 2018. The planning and zoning commission has also started a Parks and Open Space Committee that continues to identify and apply for additional grant opportunities to fund further work on the park, this committee includes residents representing the community.

One of Thomasville’s goals for the CIRD workshop was to develop city staff capacity to carry out similar work on the larger park system. The open, community-based public design and planning process throughout the CIRD workshop demonstrated to city officials how to best facilitate public dialog and discussion. The project also informed the community on the steps and best practice for a collaborative design and problem solving process. The successful MacIntyre Park workshop created enough momentum and positive feedback that city council allocated a budget to fund community outreach and design activities for Thomasville’s historic Westin Park. The Westin Park charrette was held in March, 2017 and work is ongoing.  

The workshop successfully sparked enthusiasm and initiative not only in city residents, but also among local leaders. There is a renewed energy and capacity to engage all Thomasville residents and continue improving infrastructure and the parks system for the community. It is the city’s hope that the CIRD workshop processcan serve as an example not just for Thomasville, but also for other neighboring communities facing similar challenges.

A list summarizing desires and visions gathered from the community during the workshop is displayed on the school bus in MacIntyre Park during the tailgate event.