by Shawn Martin, PE
It’s national Park and Recreation Month and this year’s theme, as proclaimed by the National Recreation and Park Association, is “Where Community Grows”. This year we “celebrate the vital role park and recreational professionals play in bringing people together, providing essential services and fostering the growth of our communities.”
I was struck by this year’s message. As a civil engineer, I hadn’t really thought of myself as a “park and recreational professional” prior to this month. A “park and recreational enthusiast”? Absolutely. In the warmer months you’ll find me sporting either a bike or climbing helmet, and in the colder weather you may spot me in snowshoes or crampons as I make my way up and down our beautiful New England landscape in all its forms. But then I started thinking about projects that have made up my work life as an engineer. Many former brownfields sites have become public parks. Many stormwater treatment and site designs that I’ve developed or led have included low-impact solutions that create recreational space as one of the co-benefits. I’ve been fortunate to have provided civil engineering design and planning for a wide array of indoor and outdoor sports facilities, inclusive/adaptive paths, adaptive waterfront access for personal watercraft, zoo exhibits, historic museum sites and buildings, swimming pools, and art spaces.
One of the largest and transformative projects of my career, and one that I’ve been involved with for more than a decade, is a redevelopment project that emphasizes active and passive open space for public use. The I-195 Redevelopment Project in Providence, RI centers on 26 acres of former highway that are being transformed into new buildings for businesses, housing, and institutional uses to promote economic development. It is somewhat ironic that the land of a former highway, which had displaced neighborhoods in the Jewelry District and the East Side of Providence to service automobile transportation, is now focused on alternative and inclusive modes of transportation, reconnecting these neighborhoods, and creating a public park that is an asset for all to enjoy. I think this irony gets to the heart of these transformative projects – all lands, however tarnished by the past, have the potential to become special places that we can cherish for the connections we make with nature and each other as we foster relationships, challenge our physical limits, observe plants and animals, and find peace in a busy city while protecting our water and air resources. The I-195 Redevelopment Commission and the City saw the potential for a public park and an iconic pedestrian bridge to be the critical anchor to the District’s transformation.
The I-195 Redevelopment Project exemplifies this year’s Park and Recreation Month theme. This project was designed to help the community grow in a sustainable way. These public spaces and multimodal transportation options act as economic and development catalysts to attract developer interest, investment, and opportunities. There are many studies that demonstrate how parks improve economies (including this one: The Economic Impact of Local Parks). One of the strongest pieces of evidence to support this idea is the significant grant funding that is available to support these types of projects. The US EPA partnered with 25 communities in 2022 via the RERC (Recreation Economy for Rural Communities) Program, supporting projects throughout the country, including waterfronts, multi-use trails, multimodal connectivity, and parks/green spaces. The federally-funded (through the Land & Water Conservation Fund) Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership (ORLP) Program is a grant program that prioritizes outdoor recreation projects in economically disadvantaged areas. Individual states have grant opportunities as well, as do many private companies.
An investment in a community park or recreation space is an investment in the community itself. I am proud of our team’s work to support parks and recreation because it helps communities thrive socially and economically. These spaces also improve public health (physical and mental) and the environment. If you want to talk about transforming a space into a community asset or want to know more about the funding available to support these important projects, please reach out.
About the Author
Shawn Martin is Fuss & O’Neill’s Central Region Manager, overseeing our Rhode Island and Massachusetts offices. When not leading company growth initiatives or working with clients on infrastructure solutions, Shawn is either hiking, mountain biking, rowing, rock climbing, ice climbing, exploring with the curiosity of a five-year-old, or volunteering his time cleaning up wherever he roams.