The Purpose of Park Strips

Visit our Etsy shop for park strip planting plans made for the Intermountain West. These astrology-themed designs are drought-tolerant, pollinator-friendly, and a unique useful gift for any occasion.

With the ongoing drought in Utah, park strips are really starting to feel the heat (literally and figuratively). Increasingly hot and dry summer temperatures, as well as general water conservation fervor, are causing many a park strip to transform from grassy oasis desert rockscape. But park strips are not necessarily better just because they use less water—there’s a right and a wrong way to go about it from an urban design and ecological standpoint.

“Bad decisions made with good intentions are still bad decisions” – James C. Collins

So before you go mucking with your park strip, it’s important to understand the purposes that they serve. Why do park strips even exist?

  1. Pedestrian Buffer— Park strips, especially park strips with trees, exist to provide a physical and visual barrier from the vehicular traffic on the road. Think of an experience walking down a busy street with no park-strip, completely exposed to the elements and feeling the whoosh of cars speeding mere feet away from you—it’s not pleasant! By contrast, a sidewalk set back from the road with the physical barrier of trees, providing cool shade and a sense of enclosure, is a much more comfortable experience. The vegetated surface of the park strip also provides a distinctive visual break between the road and sidewalk surfaces. Well-designed park strips encourage people to walk more—which is good for our health and the environment.
  2. Urban Forests— Park strip trees make up the majority of the urban forest green infrastructure, providing a number of ecosystem services to urban areas including the following:
  3. Reduction of urban heat island effect— By shading large swaths of concrete and asphalt, trees help to reduce the amount of heat that is absorbed into these surfaces during the day, thus reducing urban temperatures and the amount of energy required to cool buildings.
  4. Wildlife habitat— Small mammals and many species of birds depend on the urban forest for forage and shelter.
  5. Stormwater infiltration— Paved and to some extent rocked surfaces tend to create more stormwater runoff, which in major storm events can overwhelm drainage infrastructure and result in flooding—not to mention that all of those paved surfaces are covered with contaminants that end up in our streams and rivers. By contrast, soft-scape or green surfaces (by virtue of their root structures) create less runoff, allowing for more water to infiltrate into the ground surface, where vegetation can help to break down contaminates. This is especially true for park strips that are designed as bioswales that intentionally intercept and retain stormwater runoff – but regular green/non-paved park strips also provide some benefits.
A really great park-strip doing all the great things that park strips do!

I could go on about the visual cohesiveness and general curb-appeal that park strips provide to a neighborhood. All this said however, it is true that the traditional park strip design, consisting of mostly water guzzling Kentucky bluegrass, is no longer serving our communities or the environment. So when you are re-thinking your park strip design please consider saving and/or planting trees and swapping out traditional lawn for low growing and low-water vegetation!

If you want to expedite this process, visit our Etsy shop for beautiful and low-maintenance park strip designs.

I’ll talk more about the design principles for flipping your strip in the next post: