To the Dogs
In Arizona, a highway retention basin is transformed into a
multiuse park that celebrates the playfulness of dogs.
By Rachel Hill, Student ASLA
Highways don’t often give birth to parks, but in the Phoenix
suburb of Gilbert, one did. The Arizona Department of Transportation’s plan for
a highway through Gilbert included retention basins to handle stormwater from
the new road. At the town’s initiative, a series of three of these stormwater
basins now double as parks: Zanjero Park, Discovery Park, and the easternmost
of these, Cosmo Dog Park.
Although only 16 acres in size (of which about two and a
half are dedicated to dogs), Cosmo Dog Park has amenities not found even in
other dog parks—ramadas, an amphitheater, a stage, a hydrant-shaped water
fountain, and a dog-play lake. Dog owners from around the region visit the
park, making it so crowded on weekends that the parking is often full and the
park must occasionally close down for turf repair. DogChannel.com rated it 2007’s “Number One Dog Park in America.”
Cosmo Dog Park, Discovery Park, and Zanjero Park will be
connected by a trail system that is currently in development. Each park retains
an individual identity as each has a particular focus—Zanjero has an equestrian
focus and Discovery contains traditional park amenities such as ball fields.
Cosmo’s focus on dogs is a relatively new use of recreation space compared to
traditional baseball fields and basketball courts.
Water for recreation or aesthetics is rare and valuable in the
desert. The dog lake in the center of the park is often packed with people and
dogs. It appeals not only to a variety of dog owners coming from all over the
metro area but also to a variety of dogs and was designed with dogs in mind.
Park user Al Rausch usually takes Coco to a dog park closer to his home in
Mesa, another Phoenix suburb, but the variety of enclosed spaces at Cosmo
allows Coco to play uninhibited. Two and a half acres of turf are divided into
two fenced dog run areas that allow for a variety of dog psychologies—one more
placid and docile, the other more dynamic. Agility equipment such as a window
to jump through is used for training by the police canine unit.
Cosmo Dog Park may be a “stepping-stone” to a more extensive
park system throughout the Phoenix metro area. Although public parks are dotted
throughout the metro area, green connections are lacking. Few corridors support
a citywide green infrastructure. The “Valley Forward” organization has planned
the “Valley’s Pedestrian Freeway—a Priceless Necklace of Trails and Gems” that
proposes trail links throughout Phoenix and its suburbs, but that is still just
a proposal. As Phoenix grows into the small towns that form a ring around it,
the issue topples onto them. How does the development support open, green
spaces? The suburb of Gilbert saw its opportunity to create open space by
organizing the elements in its landscape. Cosmo Park is one piece.
As the bones for the highway were being laid, the town of
Gilbert saw the potential to use the drainage basins in a multifunctional way.
Tami Ryall, assistant town manager of Gilbert, says the town approached the
Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) with the idea of making the
proposed basins into parks.
ADOT supported the town’s idea. As it happened, J2
Engineering and Environmental Design had already been working with ADOT on the
engineering of other retention basins in the area. The firm, based in Phoenix,
blends a strength in water resources with a focus on public projects, parks,
and environmental restoration. Its landscape architecture team, led by Aaron
Allan, ASLA, took on the design of Cosmo Park.
ADOT’s original plans for the Cosmo Park site had involved
excavating a basin 20 feet below grade. Its only purpose was to retain the overflow
during major storms. During minor storms, stormwater would travel in the
channel past the park, but in major storms, water would pass over the spillway
and into the basin. A pump station across the road would then pump the water
out of the basin and back into the channel to continue on its way. This is the
original reason that Cosmo Park came into being.
The original engineering for the retention basin changed
little as the park idea developed alongside. The stormwater function remains
practically the same, except that the basins are now permanently full and are
used as a source for irrigation and, of course, for the dogs. Most of the water
for the basins is supplied from a perched aquifer. A soil treatment bonded and
sealed the basins, and they have a concrete lining to a depth of approximately
five feet from the surface to endure the traffic and erosion that occur with
the water fluctuations as irrigation water is drained and refilled. They are
The landscape architects capitalized on the expensive
earthmoving conducted by ADOT. As the ADOT bulldozers extracted one and a half
million cubic yards of dirt, Gilbert only spent $1.5 million on Cosmo Park. The
Maricopa Association of Governments partnered with ADOT on the acquisition of
property and the construction of the weir.
The entrance to the park from the parking lot brings
visitors past a children’s playground and ramada, which are, as one would
expect, designed with a dog theme. On each “toe” of a large paw print in the
playground sits an individual piece of playground equipment. The picnic ramada
is placed in the “heel” of the paw. (These nuances may only be noticed in
plan.) The decision was made to use “off-the-shelf” equipment arranged into the
dog theme rather than create custom pieces and spend the money saved on
integrating the playground into the rest of the park. Regardless, the
playground is well used by neighborhood children. By contrast, the dog play
equipment, including a window jump, pyramid, catwalk, tunnel, and water dock,
were custom designed by the Gilbert K-9 police unit. J2 was charged with
detailing and creating each piece. The dog dock and tunnel were designed from
scratch. The pieces are made from concrete block and concrete, which simulate
real environments for the training dogs and stand up to repeated use at the
The sense of enclosure gained as you descend into the park,
especially as the vegetation is young and the canopy is not mature overhead,
makes it inviting in the typical vastness of sprawling suburbia. Yet like much
of the “newness” spreading out of Phoenix, it feels incongruous with its
surroundings—the Sonoran Desert.
Very few parks in suburban Phoenix look “grown up,” and
Cosmo Dog Park is no exception. Cosmo has a lot of turf, which is tough to
maintain with the beating it gets from running dogs, but, even without dogs,
turf requires much upkeep and water in the Sonoran Desert. Unfortunately, some
people living in the region take turf for granted. Many come from other regions
of the country where grass is assumed to be the ground cover of choice for
parks. Others may say that turf is needed to keep down the dust churned up by
running dogs or that cacti would be dangerous to people or animals.
The pond plants were chosen to deal with the confinements of
underwater planters, as the basins are impermeable. The ponds were not designed
to be urban fishing lakes, but people are fishing there. The water is recycled
through the irrigation system regularly and thus relatively clean, but how the
fish got there, nobody knows. The basins are not stocked or maintained for
fish, and the water must cook under the summer sun.
Cosmo is a distinctive park fit into a small space that
would normally be considered undesirable. Design mitigations for stormwater that
are normally seen as a nuisance have created a loved place. The park’s use of
groundwater is also judicious, a necessary consideration in the desert. The
opportunity to expose stormwater, however, seems one of the few lost
opportunities in Cosmo Park. Stormwater bypasses the park in most situations,
allowing it only rarely to cascade down the high steps of the amphitheater and
into the basin. Phoenix is a city where many inhabitants have lost the intimate
connection to their environment. Air-conditioning assuages the desert heat,
while irrigation makes it possible to live in a lush—but
unrealistic—environment. The reality is a harsh but beautiful desert ecosystem
that has a distinct process and set cycles. Rain events come in bursts during
the summer “monsoons,” bringing high winds and quick and thorough dousings of
water. They are invigorating, cooling down the air for a short time and turning
the desert green. However, when stormwater is channeled and masked, the
opportunity to educate on water, weather, and the environment is lost.
In contrast, Portland, Oregon, is one city that has made
exposing water runoff chic and interpretive. Koch Landscape Architecture
designed the 10th @ Hoyt Apartments with water features that activate during
storm events, mitigating stormwater on site (see “Art for Rain’s Sake,” Landscape Architecture, September 2006).
This expression of nature pulls people from their apartments with umbrellas,
lasts for up to 30 hours after a storm, and educates the public about their
environment, tying them closer to the place where they live. In contrast, Cosmo
Park pulls water out of the aquifer and keeps stormwater from ever inundating
Cosmo Park is only two years old, thus its success and
limitations in the future are still hard to predict. The constant lack of
parking spaces is an indicator of its popularity. As development continues and
the park’s popularity rises, it will surely have new maintenance issues, and
the expansion of the dog park may have to be considered.
Rachel Hill, Student
ASLA, is a graduate student at the University of Arizona focusing her studies
on landscape planning and arid lands.
architecture/civil engineering/hydraulic– hydrologic engineering: J2
Engineering and Environmental Design, Phoenix.
Aztec Engineering, Phoenix.
design: Aqua Engineering, Fort Collins, Colorado.
engineering: Wright Engineering, Chandler, Arizona.
Corral Dybas, Phoenix.
engineering: RAMM Engineering, Tempe, Arizona.
estroom/mechanical enclosure architecture: HDA Architects,
Valley Rain Construction, Tempe, Arizona.
Owner: Town of
Department of Transportation, Maricopa Association of Governments.
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