Playground at the Boston Nature Center

The “Nature Nook” is a delightful natural play space on the grounds of the Boston Nature Center & Wildlife Sanctuary, located in the Mattapan neighborhood of the city. In about eight years since the playground’s construction, the vegetation has grown nicely to form a cozy play space consisting of several “rooms” of activity areas. The playground includes all the important elements of nature-based play: water, sand/dirt, wood, plants, rocks, and hills. Additional features include a stage with seating, planters for gardening, music and art spaces, a building construction area, a gathering (seating) space, and a boardwalk.


Pergola with vines at the playground entrance


Water pump and stone stream bed, with adjacent sand play area


Children exploring the woods


Musical play, grass hill, and stage with seating


Building construction area, including a permanent wooden frame that children can lean sticks against to form forts and other structures


Boardwalk through the woods


Climbing log


Bridge over the stream bed; near the sand play, dirt play, gardening, and art areas

Photos by Alice Webb
Project Design by StudioMLA Architects, Brookline, MA

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Parc Hydro-Quebec

In Montreal’s Quartier des Spectacles, an interesting little park is tucked between two buildings, designed by renowned landscape architect, Claude Cormier. It features a raised metal grill of varying widths that functions as a pedestrian walkway/court, punctuated with Honeylocust trees and star-shaped benches. Native perennials and ground covers are planted in the low-lying areas along the sides of the park. The walkway, essentially one large tree grate, protects the underlying soil from compaction and allows for rainwater infiltration, promoting healthier trees and sustainable stormwater management. In fact, there are no impervious surfaces in this park that are larger than the benches. Appropriately, the park is situated next to the green-roofed Centre for Sustainable Development.

Parc Hydro-Quebec 1
Parc Hydro-Quebec with the Centre for Sustainable Development in the background

Parc Hydro-Quebec 2

Parc Hydro-Quebec 3
Interesting use of pottery shards instead of gravel beneath the walkway

Parc Hydro-Quebec 4

Photos by Alice Webb

Pedestrian Promenades

During my recent travels, I have seen a number of notable walkways along waterfronts, beside city streets, and through urban and suburban parks. Well-designed pedestrian ways have ample width for movement and social interaction, and include visually-unifying elements throughout, such as a continuous paving pattern and repeated furnishings and plantings. These promenades should also be designed to correspond with the character of their surroundings, as well as provide a pleasant and safe experience for pedestrians.

Transit shelter, Portland OR
The transit mall in downtown Portland, Oregon, has wide sidewalks with decorative pavement, beside streets that have traffic lanes reserved for light rail and buses. The walkways include these attractive clear transit shelters.

Streetside boardwalk, Portland OR
A boardwalk runs along NW 10th Avenue in Portland, Oregon for 4 blocks between two parks. It’s unusual to see a wooden walkway along an urban street. This section, which is adjacent to Jameson Square, is wide enough for a double row of trees – a pleasant place to take a stroll.

Streetscape, South Boston MA
Eye-catching pavement pattern along a portion of Northern Avenue, adjacent to the Fan Pier Public Green in South Boston, Massachusetts

Fayetteville St, Raleigh NC
Fayetteville Street in Raleigh, North Carolina, was turned into a pedestrian mall in the 1970s, but the street was added back in 2006 along with these wide sidewalks with decorative planters, benches, lights, and other features. This corridor’s revitalization is reported to be a success in terms of bringing in more business.

Church Street Marketplace, Burlington VT
The Church Street Marketplace, in Burlington, Vermont, has been in place since 1981, and is one of the few continuously successful pedestrian malls in the U.S. This lively promenade is full of retail stores and restaurants with outdoor seating areas.

Park in Clayton MO
This park in Clayton, Missouri, includes a linear lawn space extending between two streets, bordered by two walkways. Seating areas and plantings line the edges of the promenade. Not many people were outside on this cold day in late October.

Streetscape, Clayton MO
A simple but attractive pavement design along a street in Clayton, Missouri

Walnut Street Park, Cary NC
This beautifully-patterned brick walkway winds its way through Walnut Street Park in Cary, North Carolina.

Boardwalk & Promenade, Myrtle Beach SC
This curvilinear promenade runs along part of the ocean in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It is surfaced with concrete in contrasting colors and textures.

Waterfront Park, Burlington VT
Waterfront Park in Burlington, Vermont, is bounded by a boardwalk which includes nautical-style lighting, granite bollards, and swinging benches.

Central Park - The Mall, New York City
The Mall in Central Park, New York City, is an example of a historic promenade with lovely old trees.

Photos by Alice Webb

Boston’s Fan Pier Public Green

One of the newest parks in south Boston’s Seaport district is Fan Pier Public Green. It’s a privately-owned space, open to public use, which overlooks Boston Harbor. The park consists of a large open lawn area which is bounded by walkways on three sides. A wedge-shaped boardwalk runs along the northwest edge of the green, perpendicular to the waterfront – an enjoyable place to sit in the shade of trees and view the harbor on a warm summer day. Also, a boardwalk adjacent to the water connects the park to Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art.


Walkway on northwest side of green, approaching the harbor


The green, as viewed from the sidewalk along Northern Avenue


Institute of Contemporary Art, with the green in foreground


Nice view of Boston Harbor from raised section of boardwalk


Shady seating area near the harbor

Photos by Alice Webb

Myrtle Beach Boardwalk & Promenade


On a recent trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, I had the opportunity to walk the new Oceanfront Boardwalk & Promenade. The 1.2-mile long walkway runs between two piers (at 2nd and 14th Avenues North), and is situated behind the sand dunes along the beach. The southern section, called the Promenade, is a linear park consisting of a 12’-wide concrete walkway that meanders through lush landscaping. It also includes several narrower looped paths off the main walk, as well as raised beach access connections. Flanking this area is a row of older hotels. To the north of the Promenade is a wide section of wooden boardwalk, located in a zone of beachfront shops and cafes. The final segment is a narrower, winding boardwalk that connects with the 14th Street Pier.

I like the winding layout of the Promenade walkway, with the gray colored concrete strip in the middle, lined by exposed aggregate concrete along each side (the same gray concrete mixed with white shell fragments, in this case). Also, the secondary loop walkways have a nice pitted texture for variation. The only color choice for surfacing that I don’t particularly like is the mottled coloration of the bricks used at maintenance vehicle access crossings and in combination with concrete beneath the canopied areas along the walkway. A solid color would have looked more harmonious with the other materials used for this project.

Palmetto trees are abundant along this linear section of park, along with beds of various evergreen shrubs and ornamental grasses. These low plants contrast nicely with each other, and make an effective visual transition to the more natural-appearing grass plantings on the sand side of the walkway. An occasional grove of Live Oaks would have been nice, breaking up the monotony of the Palmettos, but I understand that these would have blocked ocean views from the lower floors of the hotels. However, natural salt spray pruning would keep the oaks at a small size.

Wood decking was used for the wider boardwalk areas – although higher-maintenance than recycled plastic planks, the wood is aesthetically pleasing and it evokes nostalgia of historic beachside boardwalks. I like the checkerboard pattern of the wood decking, in addition to the light fixtures and other site amenities.

My least favorite section of the Boardwalk & Promenade is the northern segment. It consists of a winding 8’-wide boardwalk that connects with the 14th Avenue Pier at its terminus. Although there is less real estate in this area between private properties and beach, this walk should have been around 12’ wide (like the Promenade walkway). The curving layout of the boardwalk also has an awkward appearance, and the narrow width makes it seem like a cattle corral.

Overall, the new Boardwalk & Promenade is a huge improvement to this section of Myrtle Beach. It offers visitors an alternative to walking on the beach, and one round trip of 2.4 miles can provide plenty of exercise. It will also likely spur more upscale development than what currently exists in this part of the beach.


The Promenade, as viewed from the 2nd Avenue Pier


A section of the Promenade with ornamental grasses


The widest segment of the Boardwalk, with a good view of the beach & ocean


This section of boardwalk is adjacent to shops and cafes.


The narrow north portion of boardwalk connects to the 14th Avenue Pier.

Photos by Alice Webb