Having served as an agricultural fairground, a Confederate encampment, and a rallying point for all manner of happenings, the site that’s home to Monroe Park has played host to its community for over a century and a half. Now poised to undergo its first large-scale revitalization in several decades, the elegant square at the heart of Richmond is being groomed to play new roles for generations to come.
“It’s been more than 100 years since the park was thoughtfully considered as a whole,” explains Alice Massie, board member of the Monroe Park Conservancy. The effort, she says, will represent a public-private collaboration committed to halting the facility’s deterioration and transforming the space into a sustainable sites initiative, simultaneously preserving the character of its original design and nurturing its surrounding environment.
Envisioning a green oasis situated at the intersection of theater, academia, residential districts, art, tourism, and urban bustle, Massie imagines the realization of what she considers a plausible goal: “What if this park has zero water runoff? You would have just shy of eight acres that hold its water, that within itself produces green, and is the healthy lung of the city.” The plan for the park includes construction of planting strips, rather than wells, bounded by permeable pavers and bio-retention filters. Allées of trees, each featuring a different species, will radiate from the center of the park, forming hospitable habitats for helpful critters and lush canopies to shade the walkways.
Introducing innovative, eco-friendly features while maintaining the park’s traditional layout-as conceived and implemented by City of Richmond engineer Wilfred Emory Cutshaw during his tenure around the turn of the 20th century-will enhance the park’s beauty, environmental quality, and, Massie suggests, its marketability.
According to Massie, existing trees, some of which have resided in the park for more than 100 years, will be cared for and preserved as long as they are healthy and don’t present a safety concern. “The Conservancy’s mission is to have an endowment that keeps the tree program up and keeps a gardener on duty,” she explains. With The Richmond City Council’s decision this spring to grant a 30-year lease of the park to the Conservancy, the nonprofit launched its drive to secure grants and private donations to the tune of $3 million, matching the amount the city has set aside for the initiative, according to Massie.
At the request of the city, which will retain ownership of the park and the authority to terminate the lease at any time, the Conservancy is reviewing its governance. Currently, the board comprises city officials, members of the citizenry, and representatives of VCU, which will contribute $200,000 annually toward maintenance. The city will manage the construction process, expected to begin in late fall of 2015 and will assume responsibility for subsurface renovations, such as water and sewer systems. The park’s wiring system will also be updated for the first time since 1922, Massie points out.
In addition to better illumination, other safety and security measures, such as leveling the walkways to be flush with the surrounding lawn (and less likely to pose trip hazards), are included in the design. Granite obelisks will mark planned entrances, where visitors can stage rendezvous and locate information, including QR codes for access to educational material about points of interest throughout the park. A gaming area will offer petanque and bocce courts, as well as fixed tables for checkers and chess games. A large expanse of manicured lawn will provide hospitable fields for sports.
The plan, she explains, is geared toward accommodating Richmond dwellers who use the park as a daily living space, as well as students, occasional visitors, and passersby en route to and from such nearby attractions as the Altria Theater, the Jefferson Hotel, or the VCU Institute for Contemporary Art (ICA), which is expected to open in 2015. The central Checkers House will be primed for its new function as a café. An ADA-compliant sunken plaza, to be furnished with movable tables and chairs and encircled by a sitting wall, will surround it.
Among the renderings developed by Jay Hugo and David Rau of 3North is a granite water feature representing a scale model of the James River. Recirculating water, simulating the river’s falls, will provide both a lively current to carry toy boats and an educational opportunity for visitors interested in learning more about the historical and environmental significance of Richmond’s waterway. The design also provides for an outdoor performance venue to be situated on the eastern side of the park where the land’s natural grade offers an ideal spot for a temporary stage shell. The open field surrounding the proposed stage area can accommodate lawn seating for roughly 900 guests, Massie estimates. This will obviously have to be properly maintained with the use of a new york lawn care specialist, or another similar, if the area is visited on a regular basis by this large amount of people. Lawn care specialists can protect the lawn from weeds, pests, and harmful chemicals. Additionally, they can ensure the soil quality of the lawn is maintained. Since lawn care specialists would have an extensive understanding of lawn maintenance, getting their advice would be a good idea. (Note: the similar kind of information regarding lawn care can be acquired from articles on Thankyourlawn)
Anyway, coming back to Monroe Park, permitting and fees for events to be held in Monroe Park will be administered by the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Community Facilities, following the procedure that is in place for all city parks, says Massie, adding that an appeals process through the city’s chief operating administrator will be accessible to groups whose requests are denied.
All proceeds will be invested in the park. Recognizing that programs offering food to homeless members of the community have constituted a significant portion of the gatherings at Monroe Park, Massie points out that while the construction process will temporarily displace such activities, avenues will remain available to groups who wish to resume such services when the park reopens. Kelly King Horne, executive director of Homeward, an organization that plans and coordinates homeless services in Greater Richmond, addresses concerns about the disruption of food programs in the park by highlighting the ongoing availability of more than 18 nonprofits and other local partners that assist more than 3,000 individuals annually. She also emphasizes that connecting members of the indigent population with housing is of primary importance.
“Our interest is to ensure that all services provide help to meet the needs of our neighbors in crisis and provide hope that we can change the story of homelessness in our community. While I believe in meeting people where they are in life’s journey, the location of these services is secondary to the impact of the services provided,” she explains, encouraging anyone who wants to offer or receive help to call 211 or visit www.yourunitedway.org or www.giverichmond.org. To learn more about homelessness in our region, she encourages Richmonders to visit www.homewardva.org.
As the park’s makeover progresses, Massie hopes to see art exhibits, literature kiosks, vendor stalls, and perhaps a rotating sculpture installation among the attractions that will draw larger numbers of visitors into the time-honored square. She says she also hopes that members of the community who have embraced the park as a habitual haven over the years will enjoy its improved amenities and continue to find solace and rest there.