Mill Race Park, designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Inc, is located at the confluence of two rivers, and much of the parkland is an active floodplain.
Prior to the construction of the park, the site was cut off from adjacent business and residential districts by regional railroad tracks. Community members, eager to put the land to public use, had spent many years informally building trails, but the site remained a large swath of feral landscape.
Foremost among the constraints of the Mill Race site was the issue of annual flooding. Rather than attempt to prevent or shut out the regular flood waters, MVVA’s design explores numerous ways to integrate this natural annual rhythm into the use and experience of the site.
The overall affordability and durability of the site materials reflect an intentional efficiency of means and materials in both the construction and the maintenance of the park. The fill generated in the excavation of Round Lake was used to build an earthen amphitheater as well as the berms around the basketball court. Many of the paved surfaces use reinforce concrete instead of asphalt, which can be peeled up by floods.
The steel and glass block restroom walls are raised to allow flood waters to flow through; the playground is elevated on a wide earth platform; the amphitheater stage is nestled into the protected higher ground of the crescent landform. Plantings include mostly hardy native species, including grasses that can weather drought and trees that can withstand saturated soils.
Mill Race Park received a 1994 ASLA Design Merit Award and a 1993 Boston Society of Landscape Architects Honor Award.