An Oasis in the Inner City

cover - WSDCC playground

Kids from impoverished sections of my city don’t often get to play in natural settings, since they typically live in apartment houses and buildings with little to no yard space. That has recently changed for some lucky preschoolers at the Webster Square Day Care Center here in Worcester, Massachusetts.

The center, which operates out of the lower level of a church, wanted to update their playground, which then consisted of scattered equipment within a sand surface. Originally their goal was to simply change the surfacing to a safer material that would be acceptable under current state requirements for day care centers. However, I convinced them to take the renovation a step further and add some nature-based features for a more enriching play experience.

My firm developed plans for this playground, and the day care center received several grants which funded the improvements over a period of a couple years. Since the budget was fairly limited, we retained the existing play equipment, keeping the larger pieces in their pre-existing locations and moving the smaller items. Plants, rocks, stepping stones, logs, water and sand play tables, musical chimes, and a vegetable garden were added to the space.

Although the playground is used exclusively by the day care center during the weekdays, it is open in the evenings and on weekends for use by neighborhood children. The kids get a lot of enjoyment out of this space, and I’m told that the natural features are particularly popular. A few “before” and “after” photos are included below to illustrate the improvements.

1 - before - west end A
BEFORE:  A couple of play panels, sand surfacing, weeds, and an ugly fence (owned by the neighbors) were all that existed on the west side of the playground. The wooded area behind the play area is on adjacent property.
2 - after - west end A
AFTER: Relocated play house, plants (including shrubs which will grow to hide the fence), stepping logs, & chimes. The drums are portable, stored in a nearby shed.

3 - before - west end B
BEFORE: West end of the playground
4 - after - west end B
AFTER:  Lots of enjoyment from a few simple features

5 - before - east end
BEFORE: East end of the playground
6 - after - east end
AFTER:  Rocks and plants create a space for imaginative play.

7 - before - central area
BEFORE:  Central section of playground
8 - after - central area
AFTER:  Existing play equipment was retained, engineered wood fiber safety surfacing was installed, and a sand table was added. An at-grade sand play area is situated behind the table.

9 - before - garden area
BEFORE:  Unused, weedy area west of the existing shed
10 - after - garden area
AFTER:  A raised vegetable garden for the children to learn about growing food
Photos by Alice Webb and the Webster Square Day Care Center staff

Deco Details

Straying once again from the subject of landscape architecture, I am posting some photos of my favorite style of historic architecture. Art Deco buildings are not very common in the northeastern U.S., and I always get excited when I see a well-designed structure in this style, especially those with interesting details. Below are a few examples I’ve photographed during the last couple of years. Also, you can check out more on this subject in two of my previous posts: Miami Beach Art Deco and Art Deco in New York City.
A - 111 Eighth Avenue NYC
111 Eighth Avenue building, New York City
B - American Radiator Bldg. NYC
American Radiator building, New York City
F - Film Center NYC
Film Center building, New York City
E - Higgins Armory Building, Worcester MA
Higgins Armory building (former museum), Worcester, MA
D - Empire Diner NYC
Empire Diner, New York City
G - Grand theater, Ellsworth ME
Grand Theater, Ellsworth, ME
H - Greenwich Substation NYC
Greenwich Substation, New York City
I - NET&T bldg in Worcester MA
New England Telephone and Telegraph Co. building, Worcester, MA
C - Coca cola bldg in Worcester MA
Coca Cola building (former bottling plant), Worcester, MA
J - Salvation Army Bldg. 1 NYC
Salvation Army building, New York City
K - Salvation Army Bldg. 2 NYC
Salvation Army building, New York City
L - Starrett-Lehigh Bldg. NYC
Starrett-Lehigh building, New York City
Photos by Alice Webb, except Higgins Armory building photo (obtained from Wikimedia Commons, and cropped).

Public Art in Outdoor Spaces

I love to see art pieces in public spaces – they often liven up a place and generate conversation. Below are a few interesting installations found in the U.S. and Europe, both permanent and temporary, in quite a range of styles and materials.

Streetscape sculptures in downtown Portland, Oregon

Stainless steel piece incorporating running water in the Rose Test Garden of Portland, Oregon

Bronze elephants in the North Park Blocks of Portland, Oregon

Salvador Dali elephant along the Thames River in London

Series of stone sculptures in a park in Caunes-Minervois, France

Core-ten steel lobster in Woolwich, Maine

Wind-activated piece in the deCordova Sculpture Park, Lincoln, Massachusetts

Giant typewriter eraser in the Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle, Washington

Jellyfish in Elm Park, Worcester, Massachusetts

Hand-woven banners cover a footbridge in Elm Park, Worcester, Massachusetts

Barrel Monster is erected for a festival in Raleigh, North Carolina

Photos in Massachusetts and Oregon by Alice Webb
Photos in Washington, Maine, North Carolina, and European countries by Nancy Novell

Newton Hill at Elm Park

Worcester, Massachusetts, is known for its numerous hills. One of those high points, called Newton Hill, is part of historic Elm Park. It was acquired by the city in the late 1800s and a system of trails was built at that time. My company, EarthDesign Landscape Architecture LLC, designed a master plan for Newton Hill in 2007, which retains the historic trails (shown in red in the plan above), adds some new ones, and eliminates steep unplanned paths. A paved multi-purpose loop trail is also proposed along the perimeter, near the street level, and improvements are recommended to trailheads along the adjacent streets. In addition, a memorial at the top of the hill is planned that will celebrate Edward Winslow Lincoln, the chairman of the Worcester Parks Commission for 26 years in the late 1800s, who was instrumental in the city’s acquisition of the Newton Hill property.

The original system of trails gradually winds up the wooded slope, and one of these pathways fades out where the forest opens up to a grassy summit. The plan includes a continuation of this trail, to be surfaced with stone pavers, spiraling up the hillside and terminating at the memorial site at the top (as shown in the plan detail above). All components of the memorial would be at ground level, for two reasons. First, we wanted it have a low visual impact on the landscape and to contain an element of surprise, not revealing itself until one reaches the top of the hill. Secondly, we wanted to avoid including any vertical elements that might be attractive to vandals, mainly because a high school is situated adjacent to the park site.

One of the historic trails on Newton Hill
This trail is close to where the forest opens up to the grassy summit.
One recommendation of the master plan is to selectively thin out some of the smaller trees in spots to open up views from the summit.

Not much of the plan has been implemented to date, due to lack of funding. However, a signage system has been installed, and the non-profit Friends of Newton Hill has continued efforts to raise money for the project and to keep the site maintained.

City Parks in Winter

There is a serene type of beauty in the winter landscape, especially when the sun is casting long blue shadows across the snow. The absence of leaves on the deciduous trees also opens up views not seen during the warmer seasons. I decided to take photos of several city parks here in Worcester, Massachusetts, during this chilly but scenic time of year. Landscape architects designed (and/or redesigned) all of the parks pictured below.

A stone lion keeps watch over the entrance to Colombo Park.

My company, EarthDesign Landscape Architecture LLC, designed some additions and renovations to Colombo Park, which will be completed later this year.

Elm Park, established in the late 1800s, has numerous walkways, picnic areas, and three connected ponds which are used for skating in winter.
A red bridge & yellow willow branches add color to the landscape at Elm Park.

A view in Elm Park toward the historic Fire Alarm & Telegraph Building

Newton Hill, which is part of Elm Park, is in the background of the photo above. EarthDesign prepared a master trails plan for Newton Hill.

The Massachusetts Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial at Green Hill Park
Perennials, ornamental grasses, and shrubs provide winter interest at the Veterans' Memorial site.
A walkway meanders along the pond at the Massachusetts Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial at Green Hill Park.
City Hall is visible through the trees in the historic Common in winter.