Green space becomes part of creative placemaking in New Bedford, other Gateway Cities

New Bedford’s Custom House Square Park will be a “lush green outdoor living room for the city,” one of its designers told South Coast Today, whose Auditi Guhta reported (behind paywall) on the groundbreaking ceremony for the project earlier this month.

The park, which will replace a downtown parking lot, was developed by New Bedford native Chris Reed of Boston’s Stoss Landscape Urbanism. At the groundbreaking ceremony, Richard Sullivan, the state’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs, said the New Bedford projects is part of a statewide effort to create more urban green space: “The governor believes in such projects that make communities better, improve the quality of life and improve economic development opportunities.”

This initiative is especially important in Gateway Cities, which are using creative placemaking strategies as part of revitalization. One challenge is obtaining capital funding for open-space projects, and municipalities are closely watching the progress of a $911 million, 5-year environmental bond bill filed by Gov. Patrick last month.

Aside from government agencies, resources for such efforts include the Cambridge-based Urban Ecology Institute. The UEI’s CityRoots program, begun in 2003, boasts of helping to “transform front yards, streets, parks, vacant lots, and median strips into beautifully restored green areas” across Boston, and the UEI is developing plans to work in Gateway Cities.

Urban open space was a key topic at last month’s 23rd annual Massachusetts Land Conservation Conference, touted as the largest in the conference’s history by the Trustees of Reservations. MassINC research director Ben Forman was among the presenters on the use of green and open space in creative placemaking. Other speakers included LZ Nunn, a Loeb Fellow at Harvard University and the former director of the Cultural Organization of Lowell.

Another presenter, Gloria Hall from Worcester’s Art in the Park program, talked about the success of summertime art installations in that city. Hall noted, however, that it took a little time for people to get used to this kind of creative placemaking: She came out one day to see an installation of bicycles hanging from a tree being cut down. Apparently, a resident thought it was vandalism; when she explained it was art, the resident felt so bad he volunteered to help reinstall it. (Hall, a native of rural Georgia, talks about the development of Art in the Park in a 2011 interview with Worcester magazine.)

– Robert David Sullivan

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