Cambridge park projects are pricey, but avoid difficult artificial turf debate at Somerville site

The August 2020 draft for Triangle Park at 200 First St., Kendall Square. (Image: City of Cambridge)

When Cambridge gave $ 5.7 million to design and build three parks last week, a city council and staff briefly argued over whether the cost was necessary compared to the cost of parks in neighboring communities like Somerville.

The spending wasn’t even the full story, Councilor Patty Nolan said on Feb. 3, as Timothy J. Toomey Jr. Park, Triangle Park, and Binney Street Park, all in the East Cambridge and Kendall Square areas, combined ultimately cost cause $ 17.2 million or an average of $ 5.7 million each. “As far as I know, none of them are EPA redeveloped websites. The best comparison I could find when reviewing a few new parks nearby is Conway Park in Somerville [which] involves a significant amount of EPA remediation, “she said, referring to the Environmental Protection Agency. “I’ve just checked a number of other parks and none of them come close to this average cost.”

The cost in Cambridge was twice as much as any park of the same size, Nolan said, although people “in these areas say they are as good quality as ours”.

While city engineer Kathy Watkins explained the cost of things like new irrigation, lighting, and drainage systems, all of which go through extensive community design processes, city administrator Louis A. DePasquale addressed city council concerns that Cambridge’s pro-project is easy therefore it was known it could pay more.

Russell Field in 2007. (Photo: Devin Ford via Flickr)

“Cambridge is unique in the way we do it … One of the things that we really focus on is not saying what the budget is, but how we can get what the community does really want to, “said DePasquale. “We don’t pay anymore because it’s Cambridge and we have money. We pay more because we ask more, because we have money, and that makes a big difference. “

Another difference between Cambridge and Somerville that was not mentioned, also for that city’s Conway Park: artificial turf.

When city councils became concerned about the health risks of artificial turf on October 21, 2019 to review the city’s policies and procedures regarding purchase, installation and disposal, it became just another directive that the city ignored and expelled them on the “reports waiting” list for every agenda since then. However, the Cambridge Pubic Health Department carried out a risk assessment for artificial turf in February 2015 and “found no unusual risk of adverse health effects” for older children. and while the Public Works Department said it would continue to consider alternatives, Commissioner Owen O’Riordan emailed Wednesday that the last synthetic turf project in Cambridge in 2017 was Russell Field – with a newer synthetic turf designed for some health problems thought was concerns. (A report earlier this year found four in Danehy Park and one each in Russell Field, as well as Haggerty, Graham & Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Schools) The public works department has not responded since Wednesday to confirm whether artificial turf projects are planned.

Chemicals in Conway Park

Somervilles Conway Park. (Photo: Somerville Wire)

Conway Park is a once-inviting playground and green space, to which the city restricted access to a baseball field and part of the playground after a 2017 environmental impact study found that chemicals had penetrated the ground. Historical maps confirm that parts of the land used were occupied by bleaching and dyeing works.

Somerville plans to expose 18 inches of earth, stretch a sheet of cloth over the ground, and cover it with artificial turf. In October, the city approved a budget of more than $ 9 million for the project, one-third of the EPA’s allotment for site cleanup to “eliminate the direct contact threat and source contamination from excavation and disposal of contaminated soil to eliminate [chemicals] and lead and possibly other dangerous substances. “The remaining funds will be earmarked for further environmental renovations, LED sports lights and artificial turf.

A sign warns against entering Conway Park in Somerville in September 2019. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Chris Dwan, co-chair of the Somerville Urban Forestry Committee, lives behind the park on the other side of the train tracks. He said he didn’t feel he was benefiting from Conway Park.

“I honestly don’t think it’s a green space anymore,” said Dwan. “The decision to use turf instead of natural turf was a loss for ecosystem services and a loss for the environment.”

“Green space is basically irreplaceable in the city,” Dwan said, referring to the fact that Somerville is the most populated city in New England, cramming about 80,000 people into four square kilometers and leaving little room for open green space.

Artificial grass and athletes

In recent years Somerville has replaced natural grass with artificial grass in parks across the city. A recent post on Green & Open Somerville’s environmental website identifies eight “plastic fields” that are either present, under construction or approved for installation. Renee Scott, co-founder of the website, also believes that the use of artificial turf is wrong, also because the plastic blades made of polyethylene and the crumb rubber filling are harmful to the environment.

“The city will argue that because they cool off at night, it doesn’t really add to the urban heat island effect,” she said. “It’s 40 degrees hotter than any other room nearby during the day.”

Natural grass is not viable in all open spaces, said Luisa Oliveira, director of public spaces and urban forestry at Somerville, while open spaces are a priority for the city and many residents rely on green spaces as sports fields. “There is a shortage of game hours to meet the requirements of the recreational and sports programs,” Oliveira said.

Artificial turf is better suited for athletic use because it is not flooded like natural turf, cannot be easily destroyed and can be used all year round. “We don’t have many large parcels big enough for fields. It’s about the environment, but it’s also about equity and opportunity, Oliveira said. “It just isn’t as easy to strike a balance between all the competing issues and the proponents as people think”.

Another voice in the discussion is a study by doctors at university hospitals, Case Western Reserve University, and the UH Sports Medicine Institute that found that athletes “were 58 percent more likely to be injured when exercising on artificial turf” . During the 2017-2018 sports season at 26 high schools, researchers recorded a total of 953 injuries, of which 585 occurred on artificial turf.

Room for compromise

Jake Wilson, president of Somerville Youth Soccer, also lives near Conway Park. In a blog post, he said the discussion had become reductive.

“Either you care for the planet and want lawns, or you care for kids and recreation and want lawns,” wrote Wilson. “Aside from most of the ‘grass’ followers, who I know are passionate about the environment, most of the ‘grass’ proponents I know have children they play sports with [Somerville Youth Soccer] or another youth sports organization. “

Wilson recommends the creation and protection of man-made and natural green spaces. Because the lawn can be placed anywhere, it doesn’t have to cover any existing green space, he wrote. Residential areas and neighborhood parks could receive natural turf, and schoolyards and roof sports fields could be used for artificial turf.

“For a city desperate to increase its limited green space, the impending loss of more than two acres of grass in Conway is an environmental step backwards,” he wrote.

This article was syndicated by the Somerville Wire of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. It was produced by students on Professor Gino Canella’s Grassroots Journalism course at Emerson College. Marc Levy contributed to coverage from Cambridge.

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