tom hanafan river’s edge park to receive environment and open space award
July 15, 2015
Simple and grand. River and sky. Iowa and Nebraska.
Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park deftly manages to be all these things and more – a protector of the Missouri River’s riparian woodland and wetlands, an example of award-winning public space design, a testament to the power of regional thinking. The park is the inaugural recipient of Omaha by Design’s Environment and Open Space Award, which was created to recognize an individual, group, organization or business that has worked to preserve or enhance the metro’s natural setting, park system and open spaces. It will be presented at the Aug. 19 meeting of the Omaha by Design Advisory Committee.
If you’ve never crossed the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge into Iowa on foot or by bike, you’re missing out on an incredible sensory experience. Dedicated to the public on May 25, 2013, the 85-acre park accommodates both community use and opportunities for people to come together and celebrate on the banks of the Missouri River. “We visioned a park that would showcase the ‘green’ of the Iowa riverside while still offering space for special events and public use,” said Council Bluffs Mayor Matt Walsh. “Receiving Omaha by Design’s Environment and Open Space Award is another indication that we fulfilled that vision.”
The park’s design concept was developed through the community input process conducted as part of the 2008 Playland Park Master Plan, said Larry Foster, director of parks, recreation and public property for the City of Council Bluffs. “The 2008 opening of the pedestrian bridge and the completion of Omaha’s urban park amenities on its side escalated the need for Council Bluffs to develop a front door on the river for its residents and visitors,” he said.
In November of 2008, the City of Council Bluffs decided to seek a firm of national prominence in the design and development of riverfront parks. Ten firms were invited to compete, and Sasaki Associates – a Boston firm with worldwide waterfront park experience – was hired in 2009. That same year, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources transferred its riverfront property to the City of Council Bluffs to build the park. No compensation for the land was required.
As work on the massive project progressed, so did the flood waters of 2011. For more than 100 days, River’s Edge Park was covered by the waters of the Missouri. “When the water receded, almost no damage had occurred in the park or to the initial park construction,” Foster said. Despite facing significant flood recovery costs, Council Bluffs city officials elected to move forward with the park’s construction, vowing not to let the flood deter the completion of this important civic project.
Some decisions are game changers in the life of a city.
Today, River’s Edge Park, named in honor of longtime Council Bluffs Mayor Tom Hanafan, has set a new bar for green space development in the region. Its major features:
- A true riverfront drive. The road design allows users to pass through dense woodlands before it opens up into the park’s open spaces and continues along the banks of the river. “It disturbs these areas only for the placement of park access roads and non-invasive facilities,” Foster said. As a result, public access to the riverfront has a minimal effect on the area’s wildlife and unique vegetation.
- The Great Lawn. A throwback to the landscape design days of visionaries like Horace W. Cleveland, the lawn’s unique design accommodates large event crowds while still offering small intimate spaces for casual park visitors. A graceful amphitheater whose ends “die” beautifully into the lawn, bosks of trees framing the space and a perfected sense of scale are several of the Great Lawn’s trademark features.
- Environmentally appropriate “green” features. All roadways and parking areas were constructed for minimal impact – they are bordered with bioswales, which retain water from the park’s paved surfaces and allow it to slowly drain into the water table rather than run off into the river or storm sewer. The park also features dark sky lighting sources, and its design minimizes the amount of paving required by using smaller scale roadways and parking areas.
- World class public art. The park hosts the work of two internationally renowned artists – Dan Corson’s Rays, an interactive lighting environment that uses the Great Lawn as its canvas, and Mark di Suvero’s Big Mo, a 75-foot “spacetime orange” sculpture. These large-scale permanent installations are from the Iowa West Foundation’s Public Art Collection.
Mayor Walsh said the park is the perfect example of regional partnerships in action. “The Iowa West Foundation, the first and most critical partner, matched the city’s contributions and supported the project throughout its duration,” he said. Major funding from Iowa’s Great Places and Vision Iowa followed. Over time, the number of partners grew to more than 600. Donor support for the park’s development is memorialized in the park’s Donor Plaza.
The Omaha by Design honor is the latest in a series of state and regional recognitions for Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park. The American Institute of Architects Central States Region recognized Sasaki Associates and the City of Council Bluffs with its Honor Award in the category of Master Planning/Urban Design. The State of Iowa presented the City of Council Bluffs with the Iowa Great Places Award in the category of Rich, Diverse Social Fabric. The American Council of Engineering Companies recognized HGM Associates and the City of Council Bluffs with its Honor Award in the Engineering Excellence in the Special Projects category.
The Environment and Open Space Award is part of Omaha by Design’s community awards program designed to recognize local achievements in four areas – access and mobility, community appearance, the environment and open space, and neighborhood revitalization. In addition to this quartet of awards, Omaha by Design annually presents the Laurels Award – its highest honor – to an individual, organization or business for significant contributions to great public spaces in the Omaha metro.
For more information about the community awards program, visit http://www.omahabydesign.org/about/awards/.