A Review of Stamford’s Mill River Park
By: Jordan Wilkinson, PLA, Landscape Architect at DG2 Design Landscape Architecture
Mill River Park in Stamford, CT is a shining example of how a Park Collaborative can guide a City’s vision for a new park space and enhance an urban downtown area. The Mill River Park Collaborative is partially funded by the City of Stamford, and works to oversee and maintain the new design for this transformed park in the center of Stamford. OLIN worked as the lead designer with a team of environmental specialists and engineers to create a solution that not only restores the Rippowam River, but creates a vital connection to nature while providing valuable park space for events. As a former resident of Stamford’s Cove Neighborhood I was able to experience the park shortly after it opened in 2013.
River Improvements: Among the most critical design challenges facing the team of professionals was the polluted and channelized lower section of the Rippowam River that cuts through downtown Stamford before emptying into the Long Island Sound at Stamford Harbor. The urban river has been dammed and channelized for many years, creating a flood risk to a densely-populated area. The new design began with a huge cleanup effort and culminated in a new river alignment that lays back vegetated and stabilized banks. The team worked with hydrologists to determine the best width and depth for the stream, and considered every aspect of the riparian corridor from the flood-tolerant native species to the formation of strategic pools and riffles in the water to provide habitat and flood mitigation. Overall 100 year flood elevations actually dropped 3 feet as a reflection of the improved stream conditions.
An asset to Stamford: The park design gives users direct access to the water by a handful of graceful connections, including one with stepping stones across the river. The great lawn and plaza areas provide a great opportunity for public events of all sizes, and have already provided a spark for new economic development in the downtown area. Future project phases are planned to expand trail and greenway connections further south, as well as the development of a Discovery Center building to provide event space connected to the park. A fountain that can be converted to an ice skating rink is planned as a focal point in the central park space. This vast program of uses has already proved successful in bringing the community outside and creating a sense of pride in this beautiful park space.
Figure 2: The Rippowam River ©Carly Bergey via Landezine.com
A Hybrid Plant Palette: OLIN developed a planting plan that not only compliments the improvements to the Rippowam River, but also integrates into the urban downtown area of Stamford. Resiliant urban tree species such as Quercus rubra (Northern Red Oak) and Cladastris kentukea (Kentucky Yellowwood) were used to line walkways and surrounding streetscapes. Careful thought and coordination was achieved to specify and place flood-tolerant plants that will encourage native habitat growth. “In the case of restoring Mill River to allow it to function as it once did, it took a nuanced understanding of how plant choices could revitalize aquatic and terrestrial habitats, reduce flooding, weather storm events, and create a beautiful and accessible landscape for humans all at the same time” – OLIN’s Judy Venonsky, ASLA in LAM Dec 2015 issue. As icing on the cake, the project team was able to salvage and replant numerous mature flowering cherry trees on the site to create what the Mill River Park Collaborative proudly touts as the largest cherry tree grove in New England.
Figure 3: Event Space ©OLIN via Landezine.com
- Landscape Architecture: OLIN
- Location: Stamford, CT
- Designed: 2007-2012
- Constructed: 2012-2013
- Size: 33 Acres
- Budget: $11.8M
- Landezine: http://www.landezine.com/index.php/2014/01/mill-river-park-and-greenway-by-olin/
- Mill River Park Collaborative: http://www.millriverpark.org/
- Landscape Architecture Magazine; Volume 105 Number 12; December 2015; Change The Channel, By: William S. Saunders
- Mill River Park and Greenway Master Plan, By: Olin Partnership, July 2007