Tis the season ”¦ for seasonal displays. So this month, our focus is on exactly that. Whether you are going all-out for the December holidays or have a future display in mind, these tips may help smooth your path to success, from a more technical engineering and landscape architectural viewpoint.
Shedding some light
One of the practical aspects of seasonal displays to consider is power to light-up your displays. Even in Rockefeller Center, thought is given to the appearance of displays during the day as well as once darkness falls.
For pole-mounted features, we recommend integral outlets provided by the pole manufacturer, mounted near the top of the pole. Many manufacturers do this as an option. This will eliminate the need for unsightly extension cord runs from ground-mounted power sources which are not only unsightly but prone to vandalism. Power outlets should have an in-use weather cover that allows for power cords to be connected without moisture intrusion to the outlet.
Planters aren’t just for plants
Another easy opportunity to add some seasonal interest is the use of planters. Planters are heavily used in the colder cities to provide some color and texture in the winter months. Two great examples are Chicago and Minneapolis. The latter begins the winter “planting” in early November consisting of copious amounts of evergreen foliage, white birch logs, red twig dogwoods (both living and cut stems) and a variety of broadleaf evergreen cuttings (many with berries). In more temperate climates, winter annuals can be effective for adding color and texture to highlight the seasons. Examples include pansies, ornamental cabbage, and poinsettias, to name a few.
A great way to announce something special in your downtown or a section of your downtown is with seasonal banners. We recommend always consulting with the street light pole manufacturer when adding banners, flags, or seasonal displays.
It’s important to remember the phenomena of wind loading when adding items such as banners to light poles. The force of wind will have a surprising effect on the structural integrity of the pole. Not only do the poles need to be sturdy enough to withstand the effects of wind loading but also the bolts and concrete foundations need to be sized properly. Usually the pole manufacturer will design the banner arms in conjunction with the poles so that they are up to code. For the foundations and bolts, it is best to consult a registered structural engineer.
Not only do outdoor water features need to be de-watered and weather proofed but some thought should be given to the aesthetics of these displays. What might a borough do to infill a fountain display to provide some seasonal interest to a fountain pool?
Some communities have creatively utilized fountains for winter displays. In the instance of fountains with elevated walls containing a basin, there are many precedents for building a structure over the basin in the cold weather to create an elevated platform for holiday decorations, most notably the town Christmas tree. Of course the water is drained, so the empty basin serves as a great location to conceal power connections and any other mechanical needs for the decorations.
Not everyone can deal with frozen conditions as well as a Disney feature film. However, these tips may help you keep things safe for those who want to build a snowman or enjoy any other downtown activities when conditions are less than ideal.
It may sound simple, but you can take some clues from the PADOT road crews on winter walk management. First, pre-treatment can be a very effective means of combating predictable snowfalls and consider brine (salt and liquid solution) for larger areas. Be sensible with the distribution of any de-icing agent. Try to spread the material in the center of the walks that are crowned (drain to each side) or along the higher side of sloped walks. Let gravity and traffic draw the excess material across the spaces. This may reduce the material you need to use and avoid higher concentrations of unused material accumulating at doors, steps, and building walls.
Since sidewalks are most commonly concrete, a concrete-friendly de-icer is recommended when icing is problematic. Common rock salt is popular but is corrosive to concrete and leads to salt spray that may harm plants. It is also not effective in temperatures below 24 degrees Fahrenheit. Better choices are available such as potassium chloride, magnesium chloride, or calcium magnesium acetate (CMA). Each has its pros and cons but generally perform better than traditional rock salt.
Concrete is most susceptible to de-icers in the first two years after construction, while it is still curing. So it is best to use de-icers as sparingly as possible to avoid spalling (a flaky type of shallow deterioration) the surfaces. If de-icers must be used, then it is best to clear the slush off the surfaces as soon as possible.
Just add fire
“Fire and Ice” festivals have gained in popularity which has brought the notion of s’more-making into the downtown lexicon. Some communities have embraced the winter months and taken to keeping the fire burning throughout these colder days, using firewood and metal fire pits. Other alternatives are gas fire pits which can be managed without the mess of firewood and residual ash.
Larger public spaces can be energized in the winter months with the addition or incorporation of fire-based elements. There is a level of liability control that must be understood by the property owner, but not an insurmountable issue. Also, access to utilities, in the example of gas fire pits, must be considered. Extending the appropriate utilities, including electric, during project design and construction will set the stage for these elements in the future.