Redesigning Lake Lorna Doone

By Phil Hissom reprinted with permission from Polis Institute

Lake Lorna Doone Park, which is owned and managed by the City of Orlando, is being redesigned. Improving this historic park, which sits in the shadow of the Orlando Citrus Bowl, is a top priority for area residents as reported in surveys completed by Polis Institute in early 2014. As the year progressed, an action plan was created, initial funding was secured, and the design process got underway. In January of 2015, the first formal design plans will be unveiled for additional comment.

The redesign process was initiated and funded by LIFT Orlando. Florida Citrus Sports has pledged an additional one million dollars towards the project and is providing leadership as it progresses. It is being facilitated by Polis Institute. Jacobs Global Buildings is drafting the physical and architectural plans. Key contributors include residents who live near the park, regular users of the park, and the City of Orlando.

The truly collaborative effort makes this redesign unique. The partners are working together at the same table. This is rare. Collaboration is one of those words that everyone likes to say but no one likes to actually do. It takes more time. You hear more complaints. You entertain more ideas. You include more voices.

More voices means more opinions. Different opinions. Each time a new opinion is voiced it represents another person that is not going to get exactly what they want. But it’s these very differences of opinion, when voiced in the context of a healthy design process, that become integral strands of a strong and sustainable solution.

Human Centered Design (HCD) is just such a healthy design process. HCD sets a stage where these myriad voices converge at the harmonious intersection of desirability, feasibility, and viability. What do people really want? What is technically and organizationally feasible? What is financially viable? (Human Centered Design Toolkit)

The bulk of the work thus far has been centered on answering the desirability question. In many ways, that’s the fun part. The work is now transitioning into the feasibility phase and will conclude with viability. Answering these questions is not strictly linear but it does help to allow each question to take center stage for a season. Maintaining focus and making steady progress keeps collaborators more engaged.

Long-term resident Tangia Smikle hopes that her teenage daughter will get to really enjoy the park like she did in her youth and that the park will be fully accessible to people with disabilities. Thomas Frazier, who walks the perimeter of the park several times a week, hopes that a paved walking path will one day undergird his trek. The five walking clubs in the immediate area share his interest.

Eugene Leach, a lifelong advocate for youth recreation, longs to see a first-class playground and well-maintained sports amenities like basketball courts. Margaret Hill envisions a beautiful fountain on this historic lake. Many others share her vision. Doug Head wants people to be able to learn about the ecology of the lake and the rich cultural history of the neighborhood as they enjoy the park.

Amidst these hopes for the future, there are also concerns. Many current regular users of the park, who range from organized athletic teams to pickup basketball groups to the ever-present dominoes crew, fear that their interests won’t be preserved in an updated park. The City wants to make sure that anything that is put in place is sustainable, safe, and helps them meet demands from across the region for park amenities. Many people who do not currently use the park but would like to, express concerns about safety and not feeling welcome.

The greatest uses of the park currently are large, informal social gatherings that happen each week. The park is a regional gathering place for the African American community. Most of these regional visitors have a very personal, local, connection to the park. Many share stories of running through the park during football practice when they were at Jones High School or recall playing in little league games on the currently absent baseball fields. Still others go way back and talk about swimming in the lake that is now only suitable for fishing.

The common denominator of these stories is connection. “This is where I can always catch up with my family and friends,” said Rod Faulk. “That’s important.” He wants to see a nice fountain in the lake too. He’d love it if the there was another basketball court. But most of all he wants that sense of connection to the place itself, and the people who have woven their story with it, to remain regardless of any changes.

Allowing all of these voices to inform the design for the park will result in the best park possible for this place at this time in its history. That is the benefit of collaboration. We are far better together than we are alone.

Additional info:

Lake Lorna Doone Park – Desirability Sessions Report (9/15/14 – provides detail for each session held over the summer)

Lake Lorna Doone Park – Action Plan (10/22/14 – summarizes the initial design work and drafts a plan)