2020 Vision: Open Space Planning and Design Trends

Welcome to 2020!

Urban Effects had a great 2019 thanks to our involvement in street and park projects around New Zealand.

In 2020, our commitment to providing refreshingly different outdoor furniture solutions is as strong as ever. So, we’ve started the year by looking at the latest trends in urban planning and design, and landscape architecture, both here and overseas.

The four key trends that are shaping our open spaces and the way they are furnished are:

  • Community
  • Accessibility
  • Sustainability
  • Technology

The way we see it, quality of life is the common theme, and the research-backed belief that the quality of our environment – our natural and built environment – is intrinsically linked to our quality of life.


There’s no denying that we’re living in a time of massive change and it’s taking a toll – people are feeling stressed out, anxious and isolated. In response, we’ve seen an upswell in the number of people seeking to slow down, focus on their health and re-connect at a community level; and governments and community organisations seeking ways to support them to do it.

Open spaces such as parks, playgrounds, public plazas and streetscapes are central to this drive to create safer, happier, healthier communities where people have a greater sense of belonging and can enjoy the benefits of a more active lifestyle. Equipping these spaces with furniture and amenities which optimise enjoyment, engagement and connection is essential.

What’s trending?

  • Recreation precincts and ‘community wellness hubs’ with a mix of playgrounds, sporting facilities, public venues and amenities
  • Design that reflects a community’s culture and heritage
  • Open spaces with multi-purpose ‘zones’ where people can meet, eat, work and relax
  • Modular outdoor furniture that can be positioned and configured to suit different spaces, users and purposes
  • Furniture with in-built lighting for increased safety and recharging stations (even solar powered)
  • Convenient and practical amenities such as hydration stations, outdoor catering facilities and effective waste management.


According to the Access Alliance, almost a quarter (24%) of New Zealanders identify as having some form of disability. As our population increases and people are living longer, this figure is likely to increase, demanding that accessibility becomes integral to open space planning and design.

Without question, our parks, recreational areas and our urban environments should be able to be enjoyed by everyone, regardless of their age and ability. Momentum is building around the need to take a ‘universal design approach’ that recognises diversity and designs for life scenarios such as disability, childhood and old age.

What’s trending?

  • Increased consultation and engagement with organisations like the Access Alliance in the planning and design of open spaces
  • Incorporation of accessibility into planning and design guidelines
  • Accessible outdoor furniture and amenity design, e.g. tables, seating, drinking fountains
  • Inclusive play equipment design, e.g. swings, wheelchair accessible and sensory play like sand and water play, musical instruments.


In 2019, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Adern announced the country would embark on a whole-of-government Climate Change Programme focused on lowering greenhouse gas emissions and building the country’s climate resilience.

Urban planners and landscape architects will be on the frontline. Facilitating the changes to the way we design and construct community infrastructure to facilitate alternative modes of transport such as cycling or electric cars; create greener cities; and protect and enhance the natural environment by reducing plastic pollution and improving water and waste management.

What’s trending?

  • Infrastructure that supports walkable communities with streetscapes that include additional seating, hydration points and shade
  • Re-using and re-appropriating spaces to create open spaces and green networks, e.g. disused rail lines become bikeways
  • The use of sustainable and recycled materials in the design and manufacture of street furniture
  • End-of-journey facilities for cyclists including bike racks and shelters
  • Water-efficient design and landscaping practices, e.g. recycled water
  • Waste management and recycling, e.g. purpose-specific bins electric compacting bins, composting.


Technology is often blamed for our sedentary lifestyles and the associated issues such as obesity and social isolation, it is being harnessed to engage people in outdoor activity and contribute to open space design and management.

Smart technology is being used to facilitate more time spent outdoor, provide real-time information on how people use public spaces and even flag when street furniture requires maintenance.

What’s trending?

  • Digital sensors on street furniture that map usage and aid infrastructure placement, management and maintenance decisions
  • Smart bins with sensors that allow council to monitor when a bin needs to be emptied
  • Wi-Fi or plug-in points for laptops and phones
  • CyberParks where nature, society and cybertechnologies blend, with technology facilitating a park user’s connection to information about the environment and history of the place, as well as marketing for community, sporting and cultural events.

Feeling inspired? Urban Effects’ friendly, energetic team are here to help you achieve your Council, school or community’s vision for 2020. Call us on Free Call 0508 487 226 or send us an email.

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