When is a park not a park? When it's a forbidding expanse of concrete.
New Ross, County Wexford Park
is a barren plaza spanning I-84 just north of downtown Hartford.
It epitomizes the folly of well-intentioned but misguided urban
planners who forget about the public when designing public
spaces. Built in 1995 to hide a portion of the highway, the
park was meant to be a physical and psychological bridge between
downtown and the Clay Hill neighborhood. It was later named
to honor Hartford's "sister city" relationship
with New Ross, a river port in southeastern Ireland.
Sadly, the park is more evocative of war-torn Londonderry. It's
more barrier than bridge.
The sad thing is that the space has so much potential. Its curving,
elevated flowerbeds could offer a welcome bit of green for city
residents and workers alike. Benches, basketball courts and painted
grids for games of four square abound and should draw hordes
of kids looking for a place to play.
But the space's serious design flaws make it an eerie, if not
dangerous, place to visit. For one, it's flanked on the north
and south sides by formidable concrete walls. Once you're inside
the park, you are cut off from the outside world in a way that
makes you feel vulnerable, rather than protected.
Second, the park is divided into three sections, done no doubt
so traffic on Trumbull and Main streets can flow unimpeded across
Chapel Street, which runs hard against the park's southern border.
But getting across those streets is daunting, even with crosswalks,
and so the open, rather gracious outer sections of the park,
which have nice benches and elegant railings, are not used nearly
Like so many dysfunctional public spaces, this park discourages
what it most needs - more use for legitimate recreation. Imagine
fleets of Capital Community College students, for example, having
lunch or shooting hoops there between classes. Or a critical
mass of downtown corporate workers catching rays or tapping away
at their laptops there, rather than in the company cafeteria.
As it is, the park is frequented
mostly by skateboarders and the occasional substance abuser.
The skater boys have renamed it. On the steps beneath the small
sign at the park's entrance, some wag has scrawled "Stairway to Heaven." That
is very much a matter of opinion.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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