CO Skate Park Doubles as Stormwater Mitigation
Highlighted by recent reports, a new art installation north of downtown Denver has gained some spotlight for its unique duality, serving its surrounding neighborhood as both a skate park and form of city infrastructure.
The “Community Forms” project was designed by artist and skateboarder Matt Barton and is located in the Globeville neighborhood, covering a former 25-acre Yellow Cab site. Previously, the site had been known for flooding concerns, as it sits adjacent next to the region’s South Platte River. While the Yellow Cab location has since been transformed into TAXI, a work-live development, the asphalt parking lot was still experiencing floods during heavy rainstorms.
In wake of the failing stormwater system, Barton, in partnership through his fellowship with the nonprofit, experimental art museum Black Cube, designed a concrete public art installation and skate park that also diverts rainwater.
“I just took my shovel and moved some dirt out of the way … and [water] just was … gushing into this ditch. I was like, ‘Great, this is awesome,’” said Barton, who is also a professor and co-director of the visual art program at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. “It had to visually be successful. That was totally like number one—it’s supposed to be an artwork,” he continues. “So balancing all those things was kind of the fun part.”
According to Barton, the Community Forms project’s shapes, including all its peaks, slopes and valleys, were inspired by how water once carved through the Earth to create the western landscape.
New art installation acts as a skatepark and stormwater mitigation for the Denver community. Learn more about Community Forms, the first of its kind project funded by FEMA here: https://t.co/dKzrX4UbPB #stormwater #innovation #smartcity pic.twitter.com/i21ahKEBpa— Opti (@OptiRTC) July 29, 2021
“[Barton] is interested in looking at how we can hybridize spaces and think about space so it can serve multiple functions,” said Cortney Lane Stell, Executive Director and Chief Curator at Black Cube. “How can we not just continue to limit ourselves by thinking: ‘Oh, this is a bike rack; I can only park a bike here. Oh, this is a plaza; I can really put a big sculpture here. For a drainage ditch, we can only use it to flow water.’ So how can we think about spaces being more multi-use?”
While the dual-purpose park is designed for play, its multi-functionality also means that when it rains in the area, existing trees in onsite can be better hydrated and that more water is kept from flooding into the Platte River, especially if there’s a big water or snow event. Overall, the designs provide mitigation that better allows excess water to appropriately to soak into soil and more slowly drain into the river.
“[The Denver project] encourages multiple uses for the ground and for the complex and solves one of the natural hazard risk issues that is flooding in that particular area,” added Tony Mendes, mitigation specialist at FEMA. “We’re getting very anecdotal feedback information from people who use the park, including athletes, skateboarders and the folks who just live and work in the community. It has all been positive.”
Community Forms cost an estimated $100,000, which was partially funded with $34,000 through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Arts in Mitigation Fund. The Denver project is FEMA’s first grant for this type of work.
Lane Stell and Mendes hope that the project could be a model of what’s possible for infrastructure in other cities and parts of the country. FEMA is interested in hearing from people with ideas that merge art and structural mitigation (although there are no formal requests for proposals currently open).
“It’s also a wider call for people to think about if you’re investing so much money in a water retention system and a bioswale,” Lane Stell said. “If you can take it a little bit further and actually make it a use, that helps people understand how these infrastructure elements function in their community, but then also make use of it when it’s not functioning.”
“We’re super excited that it actually did something functional—and even more that it created a social gathering space,” Barton concluded. “It invites people to occupy the space.”
Other Stormwater Projects, Research
Earlier this year, officials from the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority reported in April that the city’s Four Mile Run Stormwater Project was expected to kick off this spring. The $36.1 million effort plans to manage the flow and collection of stormwater that’s plagued a 2,400-acre stretch of Pittsburgh, that specifically affects the city’s Garfield, Squirrel Hill, Oakland and Hazelwood neighborhoods.
According to Pittsburgh's NPR News Station, as a result of rainfall stormwater funnels through Schenley Park and Panther Hollow Lake and into the Run, where two major sewer lines meet. Occasionally, when the existing system can’t handle the influx, untreated sewage overflows into people’s homes.
Designs for the project launched back in May 2018 were reported to be 90% complete at the time of the announcement. Since the project’s original announcement, the community has had several meetings involving its progress and status. In April, the city was working to obtain necessary permits and meet required safety regulations as to better manage the depth of the lake and control the volume of water entering the combined sewer system.
On the project’s webpage, the PWSA reports that improvements will be made to the stormwater systems that follow the path of the former Junction Hollow Stream. Once rehabilitated, the system will channel rainwater, restore streambanks, and plant native and climate tolerant vegetation. As part of the plan, a deep gravity pipe will be installed to convey stormwater from Schenley Park and the Run Neighborhood to the Monongahela River.
Project manager for PWSA, Mallory Griffin told reporters that the first part of the project will be to restore a 50-inch pipe that collects all of the water flowing to the Monongahela River. During these efforts, crews will install a metal flap gate that intends to stop the river from backing up into the network and prevent overflows.
Following these efforts, larger water and sewer lines will also be replaced and a new storm sewer line will be installed. Panther Hollow Lake will be dredged and updated to act as a collection point for stormwater as well.
In 2019, one Pennsylvania-based university reported that it was studying how green infrastructure could help decrease flooding in urban areas.
Villanova University’s College of Engineering professor Bridget Wadzuk states that as “someone who studies green stormwater infrastructure, I can attest to the fact that researchers must continue to play a critical a role in helping cities address growing issues of flooding and resiliency.
“Our work leads to the creation of new knowledge and through collaborative work and partnership, we can share best practices so that they can become part of land development policies to benefit the environment and society.”
Starting in 1999, Villanova University was reported to have supported researchers from the Villanova Urban Stormwater Partnership to convert a detention basin into a constructed stormwater wetland. Since that first project, the team, built of faculty and students, has continued research initiatives and an effort to build more than 20 rain gardens, three green roofs and various green stormwater infrastructure.
Having been a part of the engineering research team at Villanova for more than 20 years, Wadzuk reports that green stormwater infrastructure—such as rain gardens and bioswales that allow rain to sink into the ground—can help to decrease frequent flooding and mitigates problems associated with climate change.
According to Wadzuk, green infrastructure that keeps rain where it falls verses moving it to a storm sewer capable of experiencing overflow and flooding onto roadways, can positively impact the university and the surrounding community. Research shows in numbers that from July 2018 to June 2019, the United States received an average of 7.9 additional inches of rain per month than when compared to the long-term average.