October 25, 2014
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Park series continues as RISD looks at Rocky Point future
Tim Forsberg
A view of Rocky Point taken from the beach.

The second in a series of lectures focused on public parks with a view on what might be applicable to development at Rocky Point will be held next Thursday, April 24 at 6:30 p.m. at the Rhode Island School of Design.

Matthew Urbanski, principal of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, will talk about the Brooklyn Bridge Park. Open to the public, the lecture will be held at RISD’s Bayard Ewing Building at 230 South Main St. in Providence.

In the first lecture, April 3, Deborah Marton, executive director of the New York Restoration Project (NYRP), talked about a number of parks, both tiny and comprising scores of acres in New York City. While Marton did not address Rocky Point, she talked of the importance of community involvement to the planning, development and use of parks.

“Parks happen because the communities make them,” she said during a 90-minute talk. She also talked of the role of non-profits in pulling together the funding for park development. But there’s much more to it than money.

She didn’t see much chance of a development “if people are not inspired by a vision for the site.” She also spoke about the importance of balancing the history of a site, which certainly applies to Rocky Point and its future use.

Since state acquisition with funding from a bond issue approved by voters in 2010, the 80 acres that form the core to the former amusement park have basically remained untouched. That will change this summer with the demolition of what remains of the Shore Dinner Hall, the Palladium and remaining cottages of Rocky Beach. Debris piles from the demolition of midway buildings and concrete pads for the rides as well as a lot of asphalt parking will be removed.

It is the hope of Department of Environmental Management Director Janet Coit that parklands will be accessible to the public by this fall. But cleanup of the park and how it is eventually used are two different things.

George Shuster, a founder of the Rocky Point Foundation that lobbied to have the state buy the park, worked with RISD professor Scheri Fultineer to establish the lecture series. It will culminate with a seminar conducted by RISD graduate students at the Save the Bay offices at Fields Point in Providence, set for 6:30 p.m. on June 2. Using material gathered from the lectures, students will focus on Rocky Point.

Shuster found Marton’s description of development of Sherman Creek Park in New York especially applicable to Rocky Point.

“That park, like Rocky Point, is a waterfront park with a layered history and complex social, regulatory and environmental development issues. It was very helpful to hear how Ms. Marton has tackled those challenges and to think about what lessons can be learned for the development of Rhode Island’s next great waterfront park at Rocky Point,” he said in response to an email inquiry.

There may be more lessons to learn from Brooklyn Bridge Park. That park is an 85-acre post-industrial waterfront site stretching 1.3 miles along Brooklyn’s East River edge. The site spans from the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges in the north to Pier 6 and Atlantic Avenue in the south. In addition, two historic properties, the Civil War-era Empire Stores and the tobacco warehouse, will be integrated into the park through an adaptive reuse that includes a theater and commercial space. The park provides green space for active and passive uses, including playing fields, sport courts, playgrounds, lawns and running and bicycle paths.

Urbanski has planned and designed landscapes in the United States, Canada and France, including waterfronts, parks, college campuses, sculpture gardens and private gardens.

Collaborating with him is Michael Van Valkenburgh, who was a lead designer of Brooklyn Bridge Park in Brooklyn, Segment 5 of Hudson River Park in New York City, Alumnae Valley at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Mass., Allegheny Riverfront Park in Pittsburgh, Pa. and Teardrop Park in New York City. Urbanski is an adjunct associate professor in landscape architecture at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design and is co-owner of Red Hill Nursery, a plants nursery in New Jersey that specializes in diverse species, varieties and forms that are not commonly available in large commercial nurseries.

The series will continue at the same time and location on May 1 with “Deeper Than the Beach: Resilience and the New Jersey Shore,” featuring Gina Ford, Jason Hellendrung and Brie Hensold of Sasaki Urban Studio.

Sasaki led a “Resilience + the Beach” project with an interdisciplinary team of designers, planners, ecologists, social scientists and engineers to design opportunities and strategies for long-term coastal resilience in New Jersey following Hurricane Sandy.

Sasaki’s research focused on the value of “the beach,” a place of special significance to human memory and economy and a vital component of coastal ecosystems. Informed by a close reading of the ecological, economic and cultural conditions of the Jersey Shore, the Sasaki team’s three design opportunities rethink iconic elements of the human experience of the shore – the pier, the boardwalk and the marina – to integrate greater ecological function and help coastal communities adapt and strengthen in the face of ongoing sea level rise and storm threats.


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