The extensive Emerald Necklace park system is one of Boston’s distinctive urban amenities. Highway expansion beginning in the 1960s severed the system at various points. Today, a broad-based project aims to repair one of the most important and heavily affected sections of parkland.
Marie Law Adams and Dan Adams intend to reverse some of that damage – and restore the integrity of a key section of parkland to its original level. The founding principals of Landing Studio architecture studio specialize in improving urban infrastructure and the public realm.
We look at the area as an urban ecology wherein all the elements are tied together in various ways. We are redesigning Charlesgate in such a way that every element operates in concert with the others. Ideally, all the elements will even benefit from one another. A core element of the project is water management. Currently, surface runoff flows unfiltered into the Muddy River and Charles River, and the rich nutrients of the runoff water promote algae growth that deplete oxygen levels in water and release CO2 into the rivers and ultimately into the ocean.
The fresh approach will channel stormwater into constructed wetlands where for natural filtration before reaching the rivers, and captured nutrients will serve as fertilizer for the wetlands. The architects are using the existing sewer systems to the greatest extent possible and adding new lines only where necessary. Roadway runoff, which is typically heavily polluted, is pre-treated in catch basins before being fed into the wetlands.
The wetlands not only serve as a filter zone, they are a recreational amenity for park visitors. The flora, which will grow lush in the future, will also help to establish and increase local biodiversity. Trees will hide the over-passing roads as much as possible, to make Charlesgate an appealing urban recreational park.
Frederick Law Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace was a pioneering model of urban green infrastructure from the 1880s that has been fragmented by elevated highways built in the last century. This urban operation restores the Charlesgate green area as a critical link in Boston’s regional park system across 1km of new shared-use pathways, over 20km of reconnected greenway and 300m of restored shoreline.
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Project description by jury
The project proposes the reintegration of a roadway and a river through a new green infrastructure that incorporates multi-modal transportation and public recreation. Frederick Law Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace was a pioneering model of urban green infrastructure from the 1880s that has been fragmented by elevated highways built in the last century. This urban operation restores the Charlesgate green area as a critical link in Boston’s regional park system across 1km of new shared-use pathways, over 20km of reconnected greenway and 300m of restored shoreline.
The requalification of the area includes new pathways and mobility connections that also enable roadway viaduct maintenance access for lift and vacuum truck, public areas with rain gardens for roadway water runoff storage and treatment, as well as habitat for pollinators. The river’s edge is reshaped to protect from floods, reduce erosion, and provide riparian habitat for animal and plant species. The involvement of actors from the public and private sectors ensures the economic viability of the project.
The Holcim Awards jury North America was fascinated by the project’s vision of a “re-discovered” symbiotic urban green infrastructure able to provide a multitude of social and environmental benefits to the city. The project is the result of a participatory design process that involved different stakeholders to find shared interests and offered an opportunity for a shared investment. This approach is a decisive strength of the proposal that enhances the project’s economic viability since the requirements of multiple funding agencies and local communities are astutely considered. The jury acknowledged the impressive scientific work underpinning the proposal that makes the project highly realizable and its methodology replicable. The thorough analysis of why other revitalization attempts had failed was commendable in the context of enhancing the long-term viability of the project. All in all, through punctual strategic actions, the Charlesgate project avoids the spectacular in favor of the practical.See more
As a Main category prize winner in the regional Holcim Awards 2020, Emerald Gateway in Massachusetts, USA automatically qualified as a finalist in the Global Holcim Awards 2021.
Boston’s Emerald Necklace is a historic park system built along the Muddy River in the 1800s. During the 20th century, three elevated-highway projects were introduced in the park at Charlesgate, where the river flows into the Charles. The resulting fragmentation severely compromised the environmental & recreational quality of the park and severed a critical link in Boston’s nonmotorized traffic network. The new project proposes a series of visionary but realistic interventions to mend the urban green infrastructure. It includes over 20 kilometers of reconnected greenway, one kilometer of new shared-use pathways, and 300 meters of restored shoreline. Road-surface runoff will be treated in wetlands to reduce eutrophication and ocean acidification.
“This project is going to take place over many years across multiple jurisdictions and in multiple phases,” says prizewinner Daniel Adams of Landing Studio, Boston, USA. “There is significant focus on water-quality improvements and restoration of habitat corridors.” The project is the result of a participatory design process that involved different stakeholders to find shared interests and offered an opportunity for a shared investment, praised the jury. This approach is a decisive strength of the proposal that enhances the project’s economic viability since the requirements of multiple funding agencies and local communities are well considered.Read more »
Sustainability by balancing regional infrastructure with ecology and local urban life
This project recovers Charlesgate for people and natural systems after it was enshadowed and fractured by elevated roads for a generation. Pathways are designed to double-function for equipment access (lift and vacuum trucks) for viaduct maintenance and repair. Rain-gardens in recreation areas treat roadway runoff, store floodwater and create pollinator habitat. The river's edge is reshaped to protect from floods, and also provide public access and riparian species habitat. The design utilizes standard material palettes of the involved public agencies (transportation, parks and water) in unexpected ways to allow for easy co-maintenance. By integrating considerations of infrastructure, natural systems and public realm, there is sustainability through shared use, maintenance and investment.
Sustainability by uniting public and private sector actors towards common goals
Echoing the physical and ecological fragmentation brought by the roadway projects, Charlesgate is subject to myriad state and local authorities, a major reason the area has lied fallow for decades. Cooperation between public actors began when residents banded together to restore Charlesgate, and common ground was uncovered. For example, healthy human mobility is valued by transportation and parks agencies alike. While a transportation agency (with greater investment capacity) can’t spend on so-called parks, they can invest in paths, lighting, rest areas (benches), and storm water landscapes. By designing within the palette of the transportation agency but in consideration of other social and ecological interests, a de-facto park made of paths/lighting/benches/rain-gardens can emerge.
Sustainability by creatively leveraging highway-era infrastructure maintenance projects
While the viaducts that encircle Charlesgate have mainly brought disinvestment and neglect to the park, they can also be leveraged as an opportunity. For example, reconstruction of a failing 210 meter long road bridge that separates Charlesgate from the Charles River would typically require a costly temporary bridge to re-route traffic during construction. However, instead of a temporary bridge, this was designed as a second new permanent bridge to elevate another surface road and finally allow a pathway to connect to the river below. Elevation of the surface road also allows for daylighting the mouth of the Muddy River. Here, creative reconsideration of construction staging led to the opportunity to restore a vital habitat corridor and mobility connections along a 3km long urban river.See more
An urban revitalization to mend a symbiotic urban green infrastructure in Boston.
Author comment by Marie Law Adams and Dan Adams of Landing Studio, Somerville MA, USA on Emerald Gateway in Massachusetts …
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