EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Veterans Memorial Parkway is one of a dozen “threatened and at-risk landscapes” around the country that were created by the family that helped design Central Park, according to a new report.
The Cultural Landscape Foundation, a Washington-based advocacy group, said this year’s edition of its annual “Landslide” report focuses on legendary landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted Sr., who designed Central Park and whose bicentennial is this year, along with his son Frederick Olmsted Jr. and stepson John Charles Olmsted.
“Our intent with this report is to foster greater awareness and curiosity about this exceptional legacy, and to encourage a stronger shared responsibility for its future,” Charles A. Birnbaum, president and CEO of the Cultural Landscape Foundation, said in a statement.
Veterans Memorial Parkway — originally named Barrington Parkway but renamed after World War II — carries travelers into Riverside along the waterfront from Second Street to Route 103. The 2.4-mile road passes landmarks such as Squantum Woods and Watchemoket Cove, and was named a state Designated Scenic Highway in 1991.
The Olmsted Brothers firm — led by Frederick Olmsted Jr. and another project manager, Percy Reginald Jones — designed 245 plans for the parkway in the early 20th century, with construction taking place between 1910 and 1920.
The parkway “offers the driver carefully framed views of both scenic natural features and the city’s bustling industrial waterfront,” the Cultural Landscape Foundation report states, though an effort to add it to the National Register of Historic Places failed in the early 1990s.
“Today, as the waterfront rapidly develops, this scenic drive’s borrowed views are privatized and the continuity of its intended ribbon of trees and landscaped medians is being threatened or altered by generic engineering solutions that include roundabouts, stoplights, and stop signs,” the report says.
Veterans Memorial Parkway has been the backdrop for a fierce fight over development in recent years, as activists tried to block the proposed redevelopment of the old Metacomet County Club, which Marshall Properties wants to turn into a mixed-used site.
Patricia Resende, a spokesperson for East Providence Mayor Bob DaSilva, argued that improvements encouraged by city leaders are actually leading to “revitalization” along the parkway.
“Throughout history, there have been varying uses along the parkway including rail lines and business,” Resende told 12 News. “For decades, the area was littered with active, industrial chemical and oil facilities. Once industry vacated the area, it left unsightly contaminated landscapes.”
“Now, we are in a position to beautify the area in a way that it hasn’t been in decades,” she said. “No longer do you have contaminated land. You will now have improvements in the area including repaving, lighting and tree plantings. The area will continue to have a ribbon of trees and scenic views.”
Ted Nesi (email@example.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook