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New Queens Park Restores Wetlands That Double as Resiliency Infrastructure

From Metropolis, by Zachary Edelson

 

When you live in New York City, you rarely see wetlands, even though the entire city sits within an enormous estuary. Much of the metropolis’s natural waterfront landscape has been filled-in or paved over; most residents only glimpse salty fields of billowing reeds from the window of the AirTrain shuttle or New Jersey commuter trains. But a new 5.5-acre expansion of Hunter’s Point South Waterfront Park, located in Queens where Newtown Creek meets the East River, puts New Yorkers right next to a restored wetlands habitat. What’s more, the park will serve as a buffer against future storm surges.

The project, which officially opens today, is a capstone to the transformation of an almost-mile-long stretch of Queens waterfront that offers views of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, the United Nations Headquarters, and the Manhattan skyline. A series of previous parks (Gantry Plaza State Park, opened 1998, and Hunter’s Point South Waterfront Park Phase 1, opened 2013) have slowly reclaimed the site’s formerly-industrial landscape, which included massive gantry cranes that loaded freight rail cars onto barges that plied the East and Hudson Rivers.

Both previous parks preserved elements of this industrial landscape, such as the gantry cranes, even as high-end residential towers arose next-door. The first phase of the Hunter’s Point South Waterfront Park (designed by SWA/BALSLEY, which was then Thomas Balsley Associates, and WEISS/MANFREDI) also featured resilient design: its landscape includes bioswales and a 285-foot-by-210-foot green oval of synthetic grass. Both features absorb floodwaters and were put to the test by Hurricane Sandy in 2012; the park successfully absorbed and slowly released the deluge. “In a way, it became kind of a poster child for how parks should operate at the water’s edge,” says Michael Manfredi, cofounder of WEISS/MANFREDI.

Now resiliency is on the tip of the tongue of every architect, and this second phase uses a restored landscape to buffer against future extreme weather events. And it is the wetlands that are the operative element of this resilient infrastructure: the stony revetments that border the project (best seen in the aerial photographs) exist only to protect the new wetlands against the East River’s strong currents; the wetlands themselves stop and absorb the floodwaters. However, given the necessity of the revetments, the architects saw an opportunity to design an extraordinary pedestrian pathway that runs atop the barrier and alongside the restored landscape. “It provides a slow stroll with these shifting perspectives of the skyline and close-ups of the marsh habitats,” Thomas Balsley, principal at SWA/BALSLEY, tells Metropolis. “It’s a completely unique park experience, much different than the curving paths of the park that imply, in most cases, ‘Keep moving.’”

While the park’s first phase featured a wide variety of more “active” uses—a playground, two basketball half-courts, two dog-runs, a cafe, the green oval, and a sand pit with a volleyball net—the second phase is designed for more passive uses, such as picnicking, strolling, and lounging. The years between the first and second phase did enable the architects to tweak the design by including more paths for running as well as a boat launch for a local boating community. The second phase also includes a set of outdoor exercise equipment, but overall, its landscape is tranquil and isolated. This is especially true on the park’s circular peninsula, which that features a subtle site-specific installation by New York artist Nobuho Nagasawa that’s inspired by the phases of the moon.

Both stages of the park were a close collaboration between SWA/BALSLEY and WEISS/MANFREDI, a fact that both teams are proud to cite. “I think what we have here…is a better park than anything that either one of us would have been able to do by ourselves,” Balsley says. “I’m really proud of that as a statement of how people can collaborate with that kind of mutual respect, and it’s all the better for the public and for the client.”

Both firms had always hoped to create an intimate island (seen here) located where an enormous mound of dirt once stood. The city initially ruled against the idea, though later realized the parks needed more wetlands, a move that would necessitate an island-like design in this section. “[The island] had been a dream, and we were thrilled that there was, effectively, an engineering and horticultural criteria that said we must make it an island,” says Weiss.

 

 

Naftzger Park design features wifi, dog park

naftzger

By Brian Horvath, Wichita Business Journal

About 100 onlookers were among the first to get a look at renderings for a retooled Naftzger Park in downtown Wichita on Wednesday. Drawings, done by New York design firm SWA/Balsley, were unveiled during a public meeting at the Wichita Downtown Development Corp. headquarters. Architect Tom Balsley of New York design firm SWA/Balsley was one of the presenters.

“We didn’t have any preconceived notions going into this,” Balsley said. “As we listened to people, we heard the strengths and challenges and opportunities. Generally speaking, people liked our concept with the curving forms.”

The designs showed a tree-lined, wifi-enabled park space that would be part real grass and part artificial
turf. It also would feature a dog park, a small stage area, a canopy area with seating and new-age
collaborative furniture throughout.

Though it features a pond area now, there was no standing water included in the proposed layout. In July,
the city had two public input meetings where four separate designs were revealed.

Naftzger Park is just west of where a planned $23 million mixed-use development is slated to go and just
north of Intrust Bank Arena.

A group that includes Nick Esterline of Seneca Property LLC and Brad Saville of Landmark Commercial Real
Estate plans to turn the nearby Spaghetti Works building into a 41-unit apartment complex. A separate
build-out, seen in the renderings, will include retail and office space.

Quentin Ellis, president of construction and development for Esterline’s TGC Development Group, helped
work on the design.

“This is a great plan and we think it would bring a lot of energy to the park,” Ellis said following the meeting.
In public forums in the past, some raised concerns about artificial turf, which one attendee questioned on on
Wednesday. Balsley said its not uncommon to build parks nowadays with fake grass, adding that New York
City likely has “between 50 and 100.”

The redesigned space would also feature a skim fountain with water jets — similar to what is now found in
Old Town Square — along with a native prairie grass area and room for food trucks on its outskirts.

Troy Houtman, Wichita’s director of parks and recreation, said the city envisions the park hosting small musical acts, chess tournaments and yoga classes. To become a reality, the plan will need to gain approval from the city council.

Naftzger Park re-envisioned as a flexible, ‘vibrant open space’ downtown

naftzger

BY DION LEFLER

After a five-month pause, city officials are moving forward rapidly with a redesign of Naftzger Park to create a new place for downtowners to play.

City staff has narrowed four possible designs down to a single plan, which includes an open space for concerts and activities, a stage, an open-air pavilion and a dog run. There will be a skim fountain and water jets, native plant box gardens, parking space for food trucks, and tables and chairs for working or eating outside. Part of the open space will be artificial turf.

“It all adds up to a very, kind of a vibrant open space that’s got the flexibility that it needs to accommodate just about anything you can imagine you want to happen here,” said the chief designer, Thomas Balsley of the New York firm SWA/Balsley.

The plan envisions removal of the brick walls, pond and gazebo that are now the park’s most prominent features.

The redesigned park will be an open concept with few, if any areas out of public view from the surrounding streets.

It will have no public restrooms, for security and law-enforcement reasons, City Manager Robert Layton said. The nearest will be at Old Town, about two blocks to the northeast.

City officials and Balsley unveiled the final plan at a meeting with Wichita Eagle reporters and editors before taking it to a public showing Wednesday evening.

“I like it because I think that park needs to be cleaned up. Any improvement will help the downtown area. We need to move forward,” said Debbie Wattenbarger, manager of the Eaton Place apartments to the west.

It will go to at least three city committees on Thursday, the Design Review Board, the Park Board and the Historic Preservation Board.

City staff is planning to bring the plan to the City Council for approval on April 10, Layton said.

The city had originally hoped to have the park up and running for the NCAA basketball tournament held in Wichita last week, but the plan was put on hold in the face of community questions and delays in financing for the developers of adjacent commercial space.

The park will be rebuilt in connection with redevelopment of the vacant building that used to house the Spaghetti Works restaurant, and 50,000 to 60,000 square feet of new development planned for the parking lot east of the park.

The first phase will cost $1.5 million. Officials said they’re not sure how much of the plan they’ll be able to fulfill with those dollars. They are counting on future tax revenue from the new commercial property and apartments to finish the plan.

The park will be used to host small concerts and similar outdoor activities. Both the city and the developer of the neighboring commercial property will have the right to stage events in the park, officials said.

One sticking point in previous discussions has been how the changes will affect the homeless. The current park, with its picnic tables and shade trees, has long been a resting place for homeless and jobless people who gather there.

Balsley said his company designed the park to serve the whole spectrum of city residents, from downtown lawyers and residents of upscale loft apartments to the homeless people who use it now.

In previous parks the company has designed, “we’ve managed to carve out a public space that is still inclusive and makes them (homeless people) feel comfortable,” he said. “I think if in the end it was a park without the homeless, I would almost consider it to be a failure because it would mean we hadn’t created that inclusive stage.”

Mostly, he wanted to design a park that people would use, he said.

“That’s how we measure our success,” Balsley said. “How many fannies there are in the seats, and kind of a cross section that they represent of a city or a community.”

The plan will be considered at 10 a.m. Thursday by the Historic Preservation Board. That meeting will take place at the Metropolitan Area Planning Department office at 271 W. 3rd St., Wichita.

From there it goes to an 11:30 a.m. meeting of the Design Review Board, at Room 101A of the Century II Convention and Performing Arts Center, 225 W. Douglas, Wichita.

The Board of Park Commissioners will take it up at 3 p.m. in the 11th floor conference room at City Hall, 455 N. Main, Wichita.

Contributing: Stan Finger of The Eagle

Hunter’s Point South Waterfront Park Selected for Case Study Investigation

Landscape Architecture Foundation
1/18/18

Seven faculty Research Fellows and eight high-performing landscape projects have been selected for LAF’s 2018 Case Study Investigation (CSI) program. CSI is a unique research collaboration that matches faculty-student research teams with design firms to document the benefits of exemplary high-performing landscape projects. SWA/Balsley’s Hunter’s Point South Waterfront Park is featured.

https://lafoundation.org/news-events/blog/2018/01/11/2018-csi-teams/

Landscape Lecture at Gardner Museum: Gerdo Aquino

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
25 Evans Way
Boston, MA 02115
Thursday, Nov 09, 2017 | 7-9 PM

Landscape Lectures begin at 7 pm in Calderwood Hall. Lectures include Museum admission and require a ticket; tickets can be reserved online, in person at the door, or by phone: 617 278 5156. Museum admission: adults $15, seniors $12, students $5, free for members (children under 7 not admitted).

https://www.gardnermuseum.org/calendar/event/gerdo-aquino

SWA Group and SWA/Balsley’s Newly Promoted Professionals

What Is Your Favorite City and Why?
SWAgroup.com
9/20/17

Join us in celebrating our recently promoted professionals and the cities that inspire them. Creating healthy, vibrant cities is at the core of our practice of landscape architecture, planning and urban design.

News

Gerdo Aquino to Speak at U of Florida on 3/31/17

Edward D. Stone, Jr. Lecture Series
3/27/17

In remembrance of Edward D. Stone, Jr., a beloved colleague, mentor, partner, advisor and friend, the University of Florida’s Department of Landscape Architecture will host this lecture in his honor, commemorating Stone’s numerous contributions to the fields of landscape architecture and land planning.

https://dcp.ufl.edu/landscape/lecture-series/

 

Thomas Balsley to join panel on Our Future: Perspectives on Design, Sustainability, and Climate Change

February 7 @ 6:30 pm

1.5 LA CES PDH/HSW

AIA CES 1.5 LU | 1.5 HSW

Three prominent landscape architects will discuss the role of design in the era of climate change, and its relationship with sustainability. Thomas Balsley, Martha Schwartz and Ken Smith will draw upon decades of experience to discuss how to take the lead as creative design professionals and as citizens advocating for the built and natural environment. With built work here and abroad, these panelists will share the skills and tools that can be utilized to respond to the social and environmental needs of the twenty-first century.
– Dezeen editor and journalist Alan Brake will moderate the panel.

http://aslany.org/event/future-design/