Veterans Memorial Park – Planning and Analysis – By: BETA Engineering

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Project Statement:
The Veterans Memorial Park Master Plan is a visioning instrument for restructuring a disorganized memorial park into a destination for reflection and a landmark for civic activities.  The design team, led by landscape architects, facilitated the charrette process by listening to the needs of different stakeholders and their perception of the opportunities and limitations of the site.  This process guided the group towards a positive consensus and produced a design that balanced the sensitive treatment of the veteran memorials while providing a safe and compelling public space.  This project is moving forward with final design of Phase I, which is scheduled to commence this winter.

Background and Goals:
Veterans Memorial Park is in the heart of Stamford’s downtown commercial district and is bordered by the Landmark Square office complex, a busy bus stop, First County Bank, and the Stamford Town Center Mall. Significant war monuments have been dispersed throughout the park to honor Stamford’s veterans, but the haphazard placement of the monuments has allowed the memorial aspect of the park to be overlooked in the bustle of the urban setting.  A feeling of disconnectedness, lack of meaningful park use, and recent crime activity brought together a group of local business leaders, representatives from the City of Stamford, the Stamford Downtown Special Services District (a Business Improvement District), and veterans as an ad-hoc committee to improve the park for the community.  This master plan consciously tried to meet the goals put forth by the committee:

  • Celebrate and honor veterans in a more comprehensive way
  • Serve as a public meeting place
  • Provide an entryway to the mall and offices from the bus stop
  • Become a venue for community-oriented events
  • Be a primary link for east-west pedestrian connection through the downtown
  • Continue to serve as an integral hub for bus travel

Within these goals, the Master Plan was designed to create an engaging urban park to meet the needs of the veteran community, the growing downtown population, and the surrounding office and retail uses of the park.

Existing Conditions and Analysis:
A study of the landscape within the Veterans Memorial Park revealed an underutilized open space in need of many improvements which would enhance the park’s quality and meet acceptable standards for ADA accommodations.  The arrangement of the monuments, trees, and hardscapes has hindered the space from having large events and created hiding places throughout the park, compromising security. The existing bus stop infrastructure was viewed by the committee as undersized and as currently configured, an unwelcoming gateway to this public space.

Planning Process:
The design team was hired to work with the ad-hoc committee and public to develop a master plan that would honor Stamford’s veterans, improve connectivity, activate the park, and accommodate a wide variety of users.  Starting in February, the design team began leading design charrettes with the committee in a process that started with understanding the park from the standpoint of various stakeholders and park users.  The committee was comprised of a diverse selection of individuals from the Stamford community, to ensure that all concerns were taken into consideration.  The team conceived several preliminary design options that accommodated the varied interests of the group and culminated with a final master plan that was supported unanimously by the committee.  A public meeting was held on Tuesday, June 16th, 2015, where the community was invited to see the master plan and offer input and feedback.

Sustainability:
Sustainability is demonstrated in the master plan through three different values; economic, social, and environmental.  The area benefits economically from the design by opening up the park’s edges for restaurants and cafes.  This is further reinforced by creating a much needed large open space for programmed activities.  Social improvements include incorporating different modes of transportation, including improved bus facilities and bicycle paths.  Efforts to minimize environmental impacts were built in the design and cost estimate, including reuse of existing materials, balancing cut and fill of existing landforms, and providing a higher ratio of permeable surface than the existing conditions.

The Master Plan:
The Veterans Memorial theme will encompass the entire new park, with space for quiet reflection as well as public events.  The new park will have an enhanced plaza with a central memorial feature representing the five branches of the military. An amphitheater built into the re-graded hillside will seat about 300 people for events, with the possibility for additional seating in the plaza that could accommodate up to 1,000.  Pathways will lead up the hill to the “high ground” where the relocated granite monoliths and other monuments that honor Stamford’s war veterans, surrounded by benches and landscaping for a meaningful visitor experience.  Connectivity from the bus stop to the surrounding buildings will be improved and safety concerns will be addressed by establishing greater visibility into and throughout the park.

Local Significance:
The master planning effort brought the Stamford community together to work towards a mutually beneficial outcome.  Immediately addressing safety concerns and connecting the bus stop to the mall and business offices will have a significant impact on local business owners and City residents.

Additionally, the citywide Veteran’s Council, that had for many years become defunct, was reconstituted as a result of the master planning process.  The committee’s encouragement of an expanded role for the veteran’s in the design process resulted in design team members attending meetings with the veterans to further refine the Master Plan.  The planning process and the goals of inclusiveness has expanded the community’s view of the LA profession and been a healing process for all involved.

Special Features:
New Service Star Memorial – Five years ago, Bill Brian, a member of Seal Team Six and Stamford resident, died along with other Americans when the Chinook helicopter they were in was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade in Afghanistan.  In Stamford, Bill’s former classmates and family decided to form a group to create a memorial honoring Bill for giving his life defending our county.  While looking in the park for a potential memorial location, the group was dissatisfied with the current state of the park.  Their determination to memorialize him helped to forge the city’s ad-hoc committee.

Through the master planning process, the unique concept of flush bronze service stars in the center of the park emerged as a memorial for all members of the armed forced that have served our country, while still meeting the project goals.

Quick Perspectives – Over 15 different perspectives were produced during the short project timeframe, many during the design charrettes.  This allowed the committee, who were not adept at reading plans, to understand each concept and to see their input come to life.  In order to meet this demand, quick hand sketches overlain on rudimentary Sketch-Up Models helped communicate the implications of the different ideas put forth by the stakeholders, while meeting the budget and schedule.

Next Steps:
The plan has been widely accepted by the community and is scheduled to be implemented in a series of phases over the next five years. Construction documents will be underway this winter.

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