Re-Envisioning Pulaski Park
Northampton, MA, USA | STIMSON | Client: City of Northampton
I love the word 'humble' in the program description. It’s very New England. They’re not using fancy materials; they’re not overdoing anything; yet it’s still very sophisticated. It’s a rare combination.
- 2018 Awards Jury
- Lauren Stimson
- Stephen Stimson
- Ariel Dungca
- Garrett Stone
- Sara Lawrence
- Ngoc Doan
- Julia Frederick
- Nitsch Engineering
- Aqueous Consulting
- Pine and Swallow Environmental Consultants
- Mountain View Landscapes & Lawncare, Inc.
- MASS-WEST Construction, Inc.
Re-envisioning Pulaski Park is a restoration of the only remaining green space in downtown Northampton, Massachusetts. At 2.5 acres, the Park is small but mighty. After renovations in the 1970s paved much of the site, the Park had entered a state of disrepair and benign neglect. The Landscape Architect collaborated with the City Engineer to acquire funding through numerous grants and engaged in a year-long public forum design process for community input. The result is a landscape that is an honest representation of the City of Northampton's diversity, industrial heritage, and social and environmental values. The concept for the new design was to reconnect the heart of the City to its buried ecological and cultural history. This was done through the creation of new landscape spaces, restored ecologies, and major pedestrian connections that have a City-wide impact.
Re-envisioning Pulaski Park
Re-envisioning Pulaski Park began by studying early patterns of settlement in Northampton, and the roots of the original Park site. Research found that the landscape of Pulaski Park was once grounded in the ecological system of the historic Mill River that flowed through the village center. Over time, with the growth of the City, inherent flooding, and subsequent diversion of the river, a connection to the riparian and agrarian landscape had been lost. The concept for this Park project is to re-connect the downtown to its ecological and cultural history, to evoke the health of the river ecosystem through the restoration of indigenous plant communities, and to make the present-day environmental ethic of the City visible through the civic landscape. The project was originally a design competition in 2008 and was shelved until 2012 when the City Engineer and Landscape Architect collaborated to obtain $1.85 million in grant funding. A series of public meetings over the course of a year, led by the Landscape Architect, gave this project a real sense of place that identifies with the heritage, spirit and attitude that is distinctly Northampton.
To enliven the streetscape edge, Pulaski Plaza forms a civic space of permeable paving for engaging the vibrant activities of downtown (street performance, social activism and community festivals). The plaza also provides a clear space for the daily needs of bicycle parking and bus shelters for an active bus stop. Moveable tables and chairs are a colorful reflection of the City's diverse population. A large fountain carved from local Goshen stone sits at the edge of Pulaski Plaza and the bioswale. It has become a popular play feature for children and birds during the warmer months.
As the only substantial open green space in the heart of the City, an expansive south-facing lawn acts as a village green, providing a flexible, central open space for informal gathering, play and cultural events. At the west edge, a stage bridges over the stormwater garden and extends into the woodland garden for seasonal events. A new iconic holiday tree was sited at the southern edge with ample gathering space around it for festivities.
The bioswale is the common thread between all the site elements. It ties the landscape together and accepts site runoff from the majority of the Park, and most boldly, from a new curb cut along Main Street (State Highway Rt. 9). The Landscape Architect, City Engineer and the Mayor collaborated to permit and fund this complicated element of the design. Envisioned as a long linear band of native grasses, perennials and shrubs commonly found along the banks of the Mill River, the bioswale is a public garden that filters sediment from rainwater and improves water quality. This garden relieves the pressure of the conventional system, and heightens the public awareness of green infrastructure opportunities in the urban environment.
Woodland and Nature Play
The local riparian woodland of the Mill River is reinterpreted, extending through the site, as a remnant of heritage trees and native groundcovers and spring bulbs. An alcove carefully sited in between an existing grove of shade trees offers a safe place for a small accessible play area. This landscape of play of locally harvested black locust logs and Goshen stone outcrops offers a unique type of play as an alternative to ordinary equipment. A wood deck hovers sensitively above the root zones of existing heritage trees as a place for parents to keep watch from nearby. The play area was designed with participation from local children in public forums.
Over thirty feet of grade change occurs on the previously overgrown south slope of the Park. The design reclaims this landscape, extending the Park into the parking lot below, allowing for an occupiable hillside. A series of accessible walkways, a stairway and gathering spaces for amphitheater-style events now offers historic views to the Holyoke Range, and the slope is restored with indigenous river plants. The main thoroughfare re-connects the Park, and downtown, directly to the Norwottuck Rail Trail and the Mill River Ghost Walk.
Pulaski Park is an authentic representation of the City of Northampton; it's attitude, history, culture and values. It is a small and humble project with a tight budget, an honesty of materials and simple, yet clever, detailing. It is the result of years of diligent collaboration between the Landscape Architect and the City Engineer preparing grant applications and acquiring funding through the Community Preservation Act and the Massachusetts PARC program. Although a mere 2.5 acres, the Park represents a microcosm of the community's foresight and their requests for plaza, green space, play and gardens. Local materials, industrial detailing and a familiar plant palette resonate with Northampton's cultural and ecological heritage. It is well-used and well-loved by all ages and has truly become the People's Park.
Product Sources: FURNITURE