22 December 2011

Considerations for Master Plan Proposal for Adams Park

A recently developed draft master plan for Adams Park indicates one perspective of its potential future. The given vision statement is:

"Building upon its striking landscape and location on Omaha's historic boulevard system, Adams Park will be recreated as a safe, vibrant, and signature part of Omaha's park system, serving as a regional destination, a catalyst for continued neighborhood revitalization, and community identity and well-being." — September 2011

The proposal lists ten particular goals, as depicted upon a site plan which illustrates potential changes, some which are quite dramatic. Goal number 7 states: "Redesign Adams Park based on its unique topography, natural features, and potential for landscape diversity and beauty."

Graphic for draft master plan for Adams Park.

Unnecessary curvy roads, a multitude of pavilions, expanses of mown grass, a greenhouse, bare dirt of a BMX site and other intrusions do not convey landscape beauty that takes advantage of the site's distinctive terrain and location.

Only a small part of the features proposed for the future park, reflect this statement. There are really no native, unique natural features that are currently present to be enhanced. There is nothing shown that takes advantage of its siting along the Missouri River bluffs, which provides a scenic vista. The proposal to increase landscape diversity — seemingly reflected by a larger wetland — would be the result of pumping water into a basin during some mid-year months that establish an artificial setting, established with a cost of providing water. Or will stormwater drains empty into the wetland, as part of the CSO! project?

The community was instrumental and essential in developing the proposals for modifying the park land. Their perspective has been essential in understanding interests with could be an instrumental part of the park's future.

The proposed future condition reflects a "catch-all" perspective - including no available consideration of cost - rather than a holistic view taking advantage of the park features and specific means to enhance these conditions to create a unique park setting enjoyable to all visitors.

The plans do, however, deserve further consideration. A park is an area set aside for public use. It is also a greenspace where visitors can enjoy the green space and the features it can provide within an urban landscape. The cost of any proposed features also has to be considered.

There are certainly more details involved in this proposal than can be derived from a graphic image and summary of goals, but there are some items worth further consideration.

A Closer Look

It will not be possible to implement the design as depicted, due to property ownership. An overall cohesion in the plan does not prevail in the design plan.

There is certainly an opportunity for improving the public use of the current/potential features at Adams Park. There is the Gabrielle Union Wetland, some spots with tree growth, a meadow in the making tract where the place reflects the condition of the indicatory signs ... tilted in an awry manner reflective of neglect. This current feature was completely ignored in the planning process.

Specific considerations of revisionary nature include the following items, given in no particular order:

1). More than half of the area indicated as a "multipurpose field" is not owned by the City of Omaha, according to parcel ownership details (as indicated by the Douglas County Assessors Office website on December 20, 2011). Private property indicated includes a parcel at the northeast corner, and a second parcel of 5.03 acres which are privately owned. The city land comprises the southern extent.

Unless there are plans to acquire this property, the field could not be established in the manner depicted. There is a large warehouse on the site as of late-December.

A similar situation exists in the northwest corner of the park area. A corridor — formerly a railroad right-of-way — is privately owned. The extreme corner is city property however. The plan graphic indicates the park property as including this entire area, so private property would have to be purchased to accomplish this.

2). Creating a "park drive" through the middle of the park is problematic as it would might in vehicular traffic through the middle of a greenspace meant for recreation, not driving. The vehicles would be a safety hazard, introduce unwanted noise, fumes would degrade the quality of the space and resultant trash — and that would more than likely include large items wantonly disposed of on streetsides, including tires ... as occurs in many Omaha parks — would have to be removed and increase the maintenance requirements for the park.

Having a road through the middle of a park does not fit any concept of greenspace. Having a street on the flats east of the community center would exclude any field sports activities at one of the few flat places within the park.

A roadway through Elmwood Park was closed in the past, which was a great improvement to that place.

The addition of concrete surfaces - with its regular stormwater runoff - would also add a burden to the stormwater system. Who would pay for these streets? They should not be financed by the City of Omaha, which already have limitations on its street care budget.

Landscape beauty and diversity — particular goals of this plan — are not met by putting a street through the middle of everything.

3). The proposed BMX bike track would be situated upon a steep hillside, subject to regular runoff and subsequent erosion. Having bicycles on a bare earth area or trails on a hillside would increase runoff and led to a degradation of water quality. How would parks officials address the rutting and dirty runoff that would result?

On the south side of this place — with individual property parcels indicated — is one of the best vantage points in the entire park. Sitting on the hilltop, beneath the warning siren, provides an expansive view of the park and nearby Missouri River valley. The view can be especially appreciated and enjoyed on a fine autumnal evening, watching the Common Nighthawks moving along or looking for Chimney Swift congregations. This feature is not considered in the plan.

4). A curvy road: the roadway alignment suggested for the western edge of the park is not straight and includes the planting of many tress along the right-of-way. The design seems to adhere to a sense of curves rather than reflecting a sense of road building. Trees are great. Having a curvilinear alignment could require the purchase of property from adjacent parcels, and would increase the cost of the roadway, because of an interest in having a "pretty street."

A portion of this alignment is also privately owned. The street would intrude into several parcels of private property. Much of this concern could be eliminated by having a straight and narrow street.

5). There is no mention of improving the community center by reducing its energy demands. The use of solar panels and other energy efficiency measures would indicate an attention to reducing energy costs and contribute a local and immediately obvious effort to eco-education, one of the items listed in the master plan goals.

6). Park planners seem to have a penchant for curvilinear walkways. Indicated in this plan is something similar prevalent throughout the park. Creating an island within a wetland and then placing a walkway across the feature, significantly reduces any naturalistic value. There is also a safety issue. A walking circuit does not need to occur so extensively.

7). The City of Omaha cannot currently remove snow in a quick and effective manner - as experienced recently at Memorial Park - so how will it maintain the walkways in a safe condition during the winter?

8). Where would the funds be available to build the ten identified park pavilions? A picnic table among the trees often is more than suitable, as after some years the conditions of structures deteriorate. Consider the condition of the former restroom facilities at Mandan Park, and at Elmwood Park. The three buildings provide no use and are useless. The walls are often nothing more than some spot for unwanted graffiti.

9). The plan completely ignores an opportunity to provide a connection from the King Primary School to the park. These parcels are currently wooded and undeveloped. If they continued as a greenspace, they might be included in the plan, and significantly improve the value of the park to the school children.

There are privately owned parcels between Adams Park and the school grounds. Among the tracts are two corridors for unbuilt streets, which might be useful in providing a suitable route to the park.

10). What would be the source of funds to create a tree-lined boulevard and a tree-covered roundabout? This would seem to require an increase in street width, which would certainly be an expensive proposition. The City of Omaha cannot currently maintain it streets — consider the adjacent Creighton Boulevard which is very "rugged" at many places — so how would it pay for this sort of change.

11). Where would the funds be acquired to build a multi-structure "urban farming and community gardening center" that would require additional money for heating and maintenance. Would staff have to be hired to care for the place? Would users have to pay a fee to grow things? Its operation may be difficult at worse.

The site for this proposed center would be more suitable as a location for the "adventure playscape." This feature would then be closer and more readily accessible to the current community center, and not situated between a well-used boulevard and the proposed park drive.

12). Why doesn't the walking circuit connect to the community center, which is where many recreational activities would occur and where an outing on the walkway could begin and end, and also where parking is already available. Where is the connectivity?

13). The siting of pedestrian sidewalks appears to be problematic. Placing a sidewalk immediately adjacent to a street is a safety hazard. It also often results in snow being plowed onto the sidewalk, perhaps blocking a portion of the sidewalk and often resulting in icy conditions when melting occurs in the winter. Any sidewalks — and especially an all-season bicycle trail — should be several feet distant from the street so snow does not encroach when plowed. This also makes it easier to have a clear and safe walkway.

The sidewalk along a portion of Happy Hollow Boulevard east of Memorial Park, as well as the sidewalk along Fontenelle Boulevard in Fontenelle Park are two obvious examples of improper placement and which reveal problems which result.

14). There is nothing on the master plan graphic that denotes a natural habitat setting, other than the wetland. And this feature is surrounded by a walking circuit, seemingly placed as close as possible to its outer edge. If any fowl did find this place attractive, there would be nearly constant disturbance from people along the way (such is the case at Benson Park). Any benefit gained from an island is obviously negated by placing the walkway directly through its middle.

A walkway and a wetland can coexist in complete harmony. For example, rather than loop into a peninsula, have the concrete path go straight at a some distance from the waters. At another place, also put the trail a further distance from the habitat feature, and place some trees or shrubs as a visual barrier. Someone walking the trail doesn't need to be next to the wetland to get the benefit they want from their outing. It is park planners which indicate this unnecessary proximity.

Having two bridges over the wetland provide a perfect opportunity for someone to throw trash into the water, where it will languish, as its removal would be very unlikely, based upon the longevity of occurrence for a tire currently in the wetland.

Suitable park habitats are used by a variety of birds, yet other than the trees and wetlands, there would be little space giving to a naturalistic setting attractive to birds and the people that enjoy watching them. A vibrant avifauna would fit well with the sustainability, eco-education purposes and nature deficiency items listed with goal number 8.

15). How will any park design features be integrated with the Malcolm X center expected to be built to the north, and to the King primary school a short distance to the west. Both can benefit from being considered in a holistic approach focused on site connectivity and as a means to leverage current and proposed resources to gain a maximum advantage to area users.

16). The multi-purpose field looks like a vast expanse of grass. This would be a boon for park maintenance, as it could be quickly mowed. Surely there could be more potential for this expanse, especially as it is northward of the Head Start school grounds. Perhaps they might suggest what they would like to have there. This effort might be useful for their education and which they could help maintain through civic responsibility.

17). Having the bicycle route divert to the southern ridge of the park is ridiculous. The trail follows along the boulevard in an easy flow, then suddenly a incline is introduced for some unknown reason. This diversion takes the route away from the park lands, makes the trail longer and thus more expensive to construct.

It appears to be another example of a planner's preference for an indirect route. The trail is a route to elsewhere, not an attempt to get a scenic view. The trail should flow a route along the boulevard and not go off on a tangent through the proposed woods. A tree-sheltered trail can be prone to being snowy or icy, which are two hazards a seasoned rider wants to avoid as much as not wanting to have to push up some hill when there could have been an easy coast.

Area of the proposed multipurpose field.

Hilltop view showing a portion of the scenic vista of the Missouri River valley.

Awry sign for a supposed meadow in the making feature.

View westward up the hill proposed for BMX activity.

The presented master plan is tenuous, indicating numerous items of concern. It is dependent on acquiring private property, with an availability of unknown funds, and concerns about providing suitable maintenance for any new facilities.

An Adams Park in the near future can provide a new potential for the community if done in a manner suitable to the features of interest as placed within the park-scape.