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Islands in the Street: Turning Gray Space Green

Each month, City Parks Alliance names one “Frontline Park” as a standout example of urban park excellence, innovation and stewardship from across the country. In recognition of its partnership and community engagement efforts, Avalon & Gage Park has been named a Frontline Park.

AG1IntAvalon & Gage is a vibrant, eco-friendly oasis and public green space situated on a traffic island at a busy intersection in South Los Angeles. Built in partnership between the City of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust (LANLT), and nearly a dozen local organizations and businesses, this 1/3-acre lot has been transformed from a barren plaza into a welcoming neighborhood park with amenities for all ages.  Continue reading

Public School 261, Brooklyn

The following is an excerpt from City Parks, Clean Water, a report by The Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence that examines the role of urban parks in managing stormwater. This is the sixth installment in a series of 20 posts.

A schoolyard in New York is easing the burden on an overtaxed waterway while also providing additional community play space in a park-poor neighborhood.

Brooklyn’s P.S. 261, whose schoolyard had been paved over decades earlier, leaving a half-acre of asphalt and a deteriorated jungle gym for recess, was one of the few locations in its neighborhood that had a bit of open space. Fortunately, the site was a priority for two different city agencies — the city’s Department of Education (for playground renovation) and the Department of Environmental Protection (for water quality improvements from reduced sewer overflows) — as well as a private conservation group, The Trust for Public Land.

TPL has been working with New York City since 1996 to convert school playgrounds into after-school-hours community parks. In the early days of the partnership, the goal was merely to work with students, parents, teachers and community residents to create great play spaces with such amenities as fields, running tracks, gazebos, basketball and game courts, and even hair-braiding areas. Beginning in 2012, the mission was expanded to also include stormwater management.

P.S. 261 was the first of what became 40 schoolyard renovations carried out through the three-way partnership. Although the construction could have become a source of strife in the community, the public process and the many ancillary benefits to the neighborhood were so compelling that the reworked park was accepted enthusiastically. Permeable pavers reduce runoff from the hardtop, rain gardens and the artificial turf field absorb runoff, and the gazebo features a green roof and rain barrels to store runoff for irrigation during dry spells. The field itself consists of permeable artificial turf underlain with broken stone to store stormwater and perforated pipes for drainage. All told, the half-acre park can capture about 500,000 gallons of stormwater annually.

Girls play jump rope at P.S. 261 Playground

Student drawings inspired the art on the schoolyard’s new, permeable blacktop. The outdoor classroom space and gardens are visible in the background.(Pedro Diez)

Fortunately, even in the cramped quarters of an inner-city schoolyard, it’s not either/or — play or store. “Stormwater management features always rank high on kids’ priority
lists. They like green spaces,” explained Mary Alice Lee, New York playground program
director for TPL. “It’s not a tradeoff between basketball courts and rain gardens since we
can squeeze both into even a small space.”

Each renovated schoolyard costs about $1 million (including $650,000 for construction) and is funded primarily by the two agencies with supplemental donations raised by TPL. As with other schoolyards renovated through the initiative, P.S. 261 must be open to the general public outside of the school day from dawn to dusk and on weekends, vacations, and holidays; the school’s custodian receives extra compensation from the city for taking on added responsibilities in the schoolyard.

“There are always growing pains in taking a successful program to scale,” explained
DEP assistant commissioner Angela Licata, “but our only challenge has been managing
construction delays against our strict consent decree deadlines. This was such a
clear win-win situation for us and the school that we’d like to see participatory design
and stormwater management become standard practice in every schoolyard capital
improvement in New York.”

Students perform hand stands at P.S. 261 Playground

(Pedro Diez)

 

Cromwell Park, Shoreline, Wash.

Cromwell Park

(City of Shoreline)

The following is an excerpt from City Parks, Clean Water, a report by The Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence that examines the role of urban parks in managing stormwater. This is the fifth installment in a series of 20 posts.

After the Seattle suburb of Shoreline passed a parks and open space levy in 2006, the city sought renovation projects that could meet multiple city goals. One opportunity arose at 9-acre Cromwell Park, a flat field on the site of a former school in a neighborhood with frequent floods. The surrounding Meridian Park community had already been targeted for a major stormwater upgrade by the city’s public works department.

CromwellDrainageProblem before

Before renovations. (City of Shoreline)

“It was filled with a lot of dead grass and not much else,” laughed Kirk Peterson, who oversaw the project for the parks and recreation department. The two agencies partnered on Cromwell Park’s redesign, radically restoring the site’s natural topography and redirecting runoff to a wetland for treatment. They built new inlets from adjacent residential streets and a nearby county building, where most of the runoff percolates into the ground. (In a deluge an overflow outlet releases excess water to the sewer system.) The 1.33-acre wetland can hold an acre-foot of water (almost 435,000 gallons), enough to eliminate the neighborhood flooding problem.

Most noticeable to residents are the recreational improvements. The renovation added a new playground, a full-size basketball court, and a new baseball field. Walking trails encircle the wetland, even crossing it on a bridge. Neighbors were adamant that the wetlands not be fenced off, Peterson noted, although the city eventually had to install safety cables by a particularly steep-sided section. One of the best investments, Peterson added, was the selection of diverse, native wetland vegetation that makes the park look good even in dry spells.

Changes in the park sacrificed some recreational space, but Peterson said the wetlands have become one of its most popular features. “In the design process, neighbors were skeptical. They were worried about mosquitoes and bad smells. But now people love the space. There is often interesting wildlife, and people are fascinated to see the basins fill up with water after a rainstorm.”

Design and construction, which lasted from 2007 to 2010, cost $1.6 million, with about
two-thirds coming from the park bond and one-third from the Surface Water Utility Fund. The two agencies share maintenance responsibilities, with the park costing about $60,000 a year and the stormwater features about $11,000.

Cromwell Park credit City of Shoreline

This sculpture helps show the wetlands’ work, disappearing and reappearing with fluctuations in water levels. (City of Shoreline)

 

Alewife Stormwater Wetland, Cambridge, Mass.

The following is an excerpt from City Parks, Clean Water, a report by The Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence that examines the role of urban parks in managing stormwater. This is the fourth installment in a series of 20 posts.

Before the development of today’s Massachusetts communities of Cambridge, Arlington, Medford, and Somerville, the area was a low-lying, spongy wetland. Over the years its ecology was severely disrupted by dredging, mining, and dumping, and most of the land — which once protected the water quality and modulated the flow of Little River, Alewife Brook, and the Mystic River — has since been developed for housing and industry.  However, back in the 1890s the Commonwealth of Massachusetts had the foresight to preserve 130 natural acres, now managed as the Alewife Brook Reservation by the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).

Continue reading

Railroad Park, Birmingham

The following is an excerpt from City Parks, Clean Water, a report by The Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence that examines the role of urban parks in managing stormwater. This is the third installment in a series of 20 posts.

Railroad Park - cred Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham

Railroad Park provides a new water feature for Birmingham. (Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham)

Many cities align development along a river, lakeshore, or ocean, but for landlocked
Birmingham, the focal point has long been the city’s railroads. Even though the railyards have shrunk and industrial areas have opened up for redevelopment, trains still regularly rumble through downtown.

By the early 2000s, several studies had suggested converting the Railroad Reservation, one of the old industrial sites downtown, into a park. The slowly rebounding central core needed a high-visibility project for future development; a park could reconnect the bifurcated city by linking the historic downtown with the booming University of Alabama Birmingham campus and hospital south of the tracks. The concept finally gained traction in 2002 when Planning Director Bill Gilchrest arranged for the Urban Land Institute to come down for a study. A positive review, plus the advocacy of Friends of the Railroad Reservation District, pushed the city to update its City Center Master Plan with a focus on the new park. As a bonus, it appeared the park could be designed to reduce the flooding that had plagued the former marsh since the early 1900s. Continue reading

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