After visiting Front Park over the weekend, I couldn’t help but think about the potential of the grounds. With the restoration of the cannons last year, and a playground that actually gets a lot of use, it’s time to do something even more drastic to the park that would make it more welcoming, aesthetically pleasing and safe.
A few years ago I spoke to someone at the Olmsted Parks Conservancy about the sea of asphalt that circles the statue of Commodore Perry. I inquired whether the asphalt could be ripped up and replaced with red cobblestone or at least a colored, permeable, stamped concrete. The answer, which surprised me, was that the area in question was not originally cobble, therefore it would not be historically accurate to replace with cobble. When I asked what the surface originally was originally, I was not given an exact answer, other than not being cobble.
It struck me as ludicrous that, as we stood observing the asphalt lot, I was being told that cobble was out of the question because of the historic discrepancy. At the same time, I was also aware that Front Park would never become the destination that we desire it to be if the asphalt issue was not resolved.
Obviously asphalt was not original to the park scape. The perimeter surrounding the statue was once intended for horses and carriages. So it must have simply been dirt, or stones? But in this day and age, that would not be the best replacement for the asphalt, so maybe there is room for compromise? I am aware that the word “compromise” is not in the vocabulary of preservationists (in cases such as this), but this asphalt is not doing this park any favors, and is only conducive to illicit activities that takes place at the park. Not to mention the environmental issues with the non-permeable surface.
To me, the removal of the asphalt (the circle around the statue, not necessarily the entire parking area) must be addressed if we ever want to see this park optimally utilized by the public. We lost the views onto the water ages ago, but there are still ways to turn Front Park into an Olmsted gem, reminiscent of what it once was.
What would Olmsted have done? Maybe that is the question that we should be asking.