It’s not often that a new work of landscape architecture makes it on to the front page of The New York Times, even if it isn’t described as such. In April, that paper ran a story about the successful conclusion to a major local dispute in the Bronx, which had flared up because of the closing of the many parks surrounding the old Yankee Stadium. When the city decided to build a new ballpark on top of the bones of two old public parks and close nearby parks during the construction process, Bronx residents were rightly irate that their parkland had disappeared. The city finally made amends with an ensemble of eight new or restored parks, designed and built at a cost of more than $190 million. The new 10.8-acre Heritage Field ballpark designed by Stantec and Thomas Balsley Associates, which is found across the street from the new stadium and on the site of the old, demolished one, cost $50 million alone, but it may be the best public ballpark ever if you are a Yankees fan.
The New York Times writes: “Nearly every inch, from the pavement stones underfoot to the three natural grass ball fields, has been elaborately designed to pay homage to the Yankees and their celebrated former home. Even the sod is the same that the Yankees, professional baseball’s biggest spender, chose for their new stadium.” That was intentional. According to Adrian Benepe, the city’s parks commissioner, “We felt an obligation to deliver superb parks to this community in particular because of the disruption they had to endure.”
Thomas Balsley, FASLA, the landscape architect who leads Thomas Balsley Associates, says the new public ballpark was built with “extensive community input.” The idea was to commemorate the “history and heritage of the stadium in a vibrant space with broad appeal throughout the seasons.” Stantec’s Gary Sorge, FASLA, Practice Leader, Planning and Landscape Architecture, added: “This is sacred ground for the community and baseball fans all over the world.”
Other projects completed by the same team include Mill Pond Park along the Harlem River and Macombs Dam Park (site of the new Heritage Field), which fans out across from the new stadium. These parks bring back what was lost but also totally reconceive these spaces, making them more flexible and accomodating of multiple uses, as well as more sustainable. The cost of these projects were largely out of the hands of the designers — the numbers grew because of the clean-up challenges. According to The New York Times, the timeline was ultimately extended by a year to deal with the poor soils and left-over structures.
Thomas Balsley Associates clearly thinks the wait was worth it though. The Macombs Dam Park, an adaptive reuse of the old space, now offers “active and passive recreation and fosters social connections and healthy lifestyles. The new park partners with Yankee stadium to bring activity and economic vibrancy to the neighborhood beyond the obvious game days.”
Heritage Field, the community ball fields, which sits where the old Yankee Stadium once stood, now features lots of commemorative design elements that cost a bundle but tie the site to its illustrious sports history. The New York Times writes: “The city splurged for $1.2 million in commemorative touches to enhance Heritage Field, including $450,000 for a 12-ton chunk of the old Yankee Stadium frieze that has been preserved like the Berlin Wall in one corner. Another stadium relic — a 130-foot-high chimney shaped like a baseball bat — cost $120,000 to refurbish, though it no longer serves a purpose other than as a local landmark. Even the old diamond and outfield have been saved, delineated with five-foot-wide swaths of blue polymer fiber stitched into the sod by a Desso Grassmaster machine that had to be shipped over from the Netherlands.”
In a non-scientific survey of local residents by the Times, many locals seemed thrilled with the new site. Oldanny Morillo, 18, who plays second base for the nearby Cardinal Hayes High School baseball team, said: “Usually when we run in the outfield, we have to watch for ditches and bird poop, and there’s none of that. Here it’s like a carpet.”
Now, many want to play in the places where Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle played so many years ago. Apparently, there’s been an explosion in applications from teams who want the “chance to swing a bat on the same site.”
Also, check out another landscape designer who made it into The New York Times. Melissa Potter Ix, ASLA, a principal of SiteWorks, a landscape architecture firm, is now teaching middle school students in Queens how to design the eco-playgrounds the Trust for Public Land is building in five NYC schools.
Image credits: Thomas Balsley Associates and Stantec