COVID-19: The Recovery will Happen in Public Space

Conducting a System-Wide Park Assessment

Dec 31, 2008
Jan 25, 2018

Contributed by Portland Parks & Recreation

The following methods were used to assess the basic infrastructure of 119 parks under the jurisdiction of Portland Parks and Recreation in Oregon. The evaluation of infrastructure is based on a review of several features found in most developed parks, including play equipment, paths, pathway lighting, restrooms, irrigation, roads, and parking lots. Evaluation criteria were developed for each feature and park conditions were rated against those criteria. This data was recorded on assessment forms (you may download and print out sample forms using the links in the right column) and entered into a computer to generate a series of tables. The tables were then tabulated, analyzed, and summarized.

Criteria for Assessing Park Features

Play Equipment

  • Accessibility measures the degree to which the playground is usable by visitors who are physically disabled.
  • Safety clearance assesses whether the playground exhibits minimum clearances.
  • Wood posts are surveyed because they are especially susceptible to wood rot, and may need replacement with structures utilizing metal posts.
  • The presence of a permanent curb is important because it helps to contain soft surface material within the playground. A curb also makes it easier to provide and maintain a sufficient depth of soft-surface material. Furthermore, without a permanent curb, it is impossible to improve the accessibility of a playground for visitors who are disabled.
  • Sub-surface drainage reduces the occurrence of standing water in playgrounds which can be a deterrent in the winter and spring.


Paths are an essential part of developed parks because, when properly designed, they provide routes that all visitors can use for informal strolling or to reach specific attractions. Moreover, they are the principal means by which visitors who are physically disabled can reach the park's features and enjoy the benefits that other non-disabled visitors can.

Paths are evaluated against five criteria:

  • The accessibility criterion assessed surveyed the presence of obstacles or conditions that affected use for visitors who are disabled.
  • Two criteria - hard surface and cracks - address the physical condition of paths.
  • Two other criteria - connectivity and desire lines - rate the degree to which the paths connected the park's attractions and features.

Pathway Lighting

This type of assessment focuses on light standards adjacent to paved paths and does not include other light fixtures, such as those on tennis courts or buildings.

Two criteria are used:

  • Presence of cracks: This criterion should be stringent in its application; light standards should not have cracks of any width.

Use of high-sodium fixtures: This is measured because these fixtures represent the current standard for pathway lighting in Portland parks and are the most cost-efficient.

Roads & Parking

Four criteria were used:

  • Two criteria - areas of instability and potholes - addressed the structural condition of the pavement. Photographs were used to illustrate these conditions for the assessment team.
  • Two other criteria - positive drainage and the presence of catch basins - assessed the ability of paved areas to adequately handle stormwater in an acceptable manner.


Criteria for evalution:

  • Conformance with accessibility standards
  • Single-occupancy design the current standard for restroom design
  • Connection to path or paths
  • Broken fixtures
  • Vandal-resistance - the following letters are used to gauge a lack of vandal-resistant fixtures:
A - Problem does not occur B - less than one-third of fixtures C - one-third to two-thirds of fixtures D - Widespread problem


Irrigation systems are a key part and a common feature of a park's infrastructure. Older systems typically consist of galvanized pipe and many are operated manually. They are labor-intensive, expensive to maintain because of frequent repairs, and are less efficient at distributing water to specific areas. Current standards for irrigation systems require plastic pipe, full automation, and a range of watering levels for lawn, sports fields, and planting beds.

Three criteria are used to evaluate irrigation systems:

  • Use of galvanized pipe is an index of age. It also corresponds to higher labor and maintenance costs.
  • Presence of an automated system is another key index. Like the galvanized pipe factor, an automated system is generally newer, is more efficient in both resource and labor costs.
  • Planting area criterion measures whether water is distributed to designated areas. The determination of designated areas is outlined in an Irrigation Decision Matrix (included in the Appendix section).

The Assessment Form and Process

The field assessment uses a particular form (sample available for download - click on the links in the right colum) and the process includes four steps, described below.

Step 1: Determine whether the problem occurs in the park or park feature.

Step 2: Determine the extent to which the problem occurs.

The extent or range of a problem is defined by one of five letter ratings, described below. For some features, a modified version of the rating system is used.

A - Problem does not occur in the park or the feature. B - Problem occurs in less than one-third of the park or the particular feature. C - Problem occurs in one-third to two-thirds of the park or the particular feature. D - Widespread problem that is present throughout the park or the particular feature. NF - Feature is not found in park

Step 3: Summarize the letter ratings in the "Totals" column of the Assessment Form.

Step 4: Add any comments.

Random Checks

After the forms are submitted, random checks of the results are conducted by other Parks and Recreation staff. Each person conducts several "back-up" assessment surveys of parks already assessed by an appointed team. The random checks provided a quality control step that ensures accuracy.

Analyzing the Data

Information from the assessment forms is entered into a computer to produce tables with all the parks in the system. The alphabetical ratings are translated into two numerical indices which allow the parks to be ranked. The use of two indices allows cross-checking and ensures that the resulting lists are consistent in their ranking. The scores are also used to determine which parks could be grouped together to make up four rank levels. In addition, the makeup of the groups is checked often by reviewing survey results and original assessment forms.

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