“By bringing together diverse groups, a civic process—not a design project— is created.”
~ Lois A. Brink, MLA, Professor
Learning Landscapes History
The first Learning Landscape was built at Bromwell Elementary School in 1998 as the result of a six-year collaboration of parents, students, staff, faculty, neighbors, local businesses and University of Colorado Denver (UCD) landscape architecture graduate students. What began as a vast expanse of asphalt and pea gravel on the Bromwell playground was transformed into an active and aesthetically pleasing place for learning and physical activity. Bromwell’s schoolyard renovation project coincided with the end of mandatory busing at Denver Public Schools (DPS), which lead to a renewed interest in Denver neighborhood schools, allowing the Bromwell Learning Landscape project to evolve into a citywide urban initiative evoking social change and physical transformation of public grounds.
UCD encourages faculty to connect the campus to the community, and Landscape Architecture Professor Lois Brink’s Learning Landscapes course proved to be a tremendous opportunity for civic engagement. Through Learning Landscapes, UCD graduate students are able to stretch the boundaries of landscape design, engage the community, and gain real-world design experience. In 1999 (UCD) College of Architecture and Planning entered into a formal agreement to plan, design, and help build Learning Landscapes at DPS elementary schools throughout the district. In 2008 Denver voters expressed satisfaction with the program by passing a multi-million dollar bond initiative to fund the redevelopment of every DPS elementary schoolyard into a learning landscape by 2013.
What We Do
With a budget of approximately $450,000 per playground, Learning Landscapes leads UCD students, elementary schools, and community members in the redesign of schoolyards into fun, multi-use parks designed to reflect the culture of the surrounding community. The Learning Landscapes project helps reconnect communities with neighborhood schools. The graduate students gain meaningful, hands-on experience working with the community by creating master plans and designs for a Learning Landscapes schoolyard.
How We Do It
By listening and actively involving the school community throughout the planning, design, construction, and maintenance of the Learning Landscape schoolyard. Each school is asked to form a Learning Landscape team to help inform design and programming decisions as well as keep a watchful eye for vandalism and maintenance issues after construction is complete. The Learning Landscapes team recruits students, parents and surrounding community help to build, maintain and improve the Learning Landscape. Each new Learning Landscape has a volunteer build day where the school and community volunteers develop a sense of ownership and civic pride by creating outdoor artwork planting gardens, laying sod, or building play equipment. We document and distribute site-specific resources for educators and community members on the outdoor educational elements unique to each Learning Landscape schoolyard. Promoting the programmatic use of the Learning Landscape is critical for the long-term viability and sustainability of these projects.
Accomplishments of Learning Landscapes
- 93 completed Learning Landscapes
- $49 million raised to date for construction
- 46,500 students served daily
- 500,000 city residents served
“Once the playground was open, there was a sense of calmness in the children when they entered the building that didn’t exist before.”
~ Principal, CRS Report 2003