22 November 2011

Parks Being Dramatically Altered by Stormwater Projects

Planning that will dramatically change the green spaces of Fontenelle Park, Spring Lake Park and Levi Carter Park is currently underway and was recently completed at Adams Park. Each space is to be modified for community usage or to address sanitary/stormwater discharge requirements.

During the planning process, designs have been typically derived from a common theme: provide additional recreational opportunities and utilize socalled green solutions to reduce stormwater runoff.

Staid designs are often the result, based upon a personal review of park plans and after hearing comments by residents at two recent park planning meetings.

For recreation, it is a matter or using the available landscape to provide options which will increase park usage. Place soccer fields where there is an expanse of flat ground. Add a disc golf course wherever it can fit. Place a dog run area at another place in the park where parking can be readily provided. Put in a recreational trail that follows a circuitous route around the site. Etc.

CSO! options are a regular mantra of adding features that will reduce stormwater runoff during peak precipitation events, and do something to improve water quality. The options repeatedly given are wet and dry detention basins, wetlands, and bioretention gardens. Visibly, an example will soon be presented at the east side of Elmwood Park - along 60th Street - as construction is currently underway at the site.

Landscape and Nature

East Omaha parks landscapes are the result of numerous and repeated impositions during decades of their history, and as currently underway. The changes are quite dramatic.

At Carter Lake, the former oxbow lake will soon be "industrialized" using a massive tonnage of rock riprap, to establish a place to fish regardless of impacts upon other oxbow features, with a slight nod to improving water quality. The master plan then calls for additional changes that will simplify the lake environs. There is no apparent recognition being given to the original character and history of the lake, nor a sense of design other than shoving in whatever feature park visitors might want.

At Spring Lake Park - a site which when purchased did not include a natural lake - plan participants want to put the lake back into Spring Lake Park, ignoring where the lake water originated. The springs provided the water, and land developers decided a lake would be preferable so the flows were dammed. There is nothing in the proposed designs for the park - presented November 15 - to reflect the importance of the flowing springs which are the most unique and important resources of the park environs.

For Fontenelle Park, there is the potential to devise a plan which will reflect its original character - a prairie and trees as land was first being purchased in the mid-1890s - and convey a sense of what park designed H.W.S. Cleveland envisioned. Meetings during the coming months will determine the outcome.

These plans are often based upon an lack of a thorough understanding of the prominent features of the land, its history, intent of original area designs, aesthetics, opportunities at adjacent properties and an incomplete understanding of what the community would prefer.

Nature is an essential part of urban Omaha. Green spaces are a priceless asset for residents, and this value is derived from the simplistic yet unsurpassed presentation of trees and water and open spaces free of the constructs. Soccer fields impose their simplistic view. Massive amounts of riprap do not provide a green perspective. Mown grass is simplistic and unimaginative. Concrete does nothing to add color and variety.

As Omaha parks are being modified, the always dynamic essentials of nature should be foremost in the perspective of planners and reflect an understanding of current, exciting methods of landscape architecture. Without this consideration the city will be a lesser place, dreary to those preferring a vibrant and exciting experience outdoors. Something to enjoy, remember and share.