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Atlanta's Historic Fourth Ward Park

by HDR, Inc., and Wood+Partners, Inc. Cover photo courtesy of HDR, Inc., photographer Steve Carrell

At the point where the main path at Atlanta's Fourth Ward Park goes over the pond the hardscape transitions to structural concrete. llumination over the water is from rectangular 2.4-watt LED rope lighting (Efficient-Tec International, 'RL-3000') on custom-fabricated steel cable railings (Owens Welding). Water plants around the pond are 'Scarlet hibiscus, spiderlily, water canna, Tuckahoe, pickerelweek, 'Blue Flag' iris and 'Chairmaker's' bulrush. The raised planters have a variety of grasses: "Inland Sea' oats, 'Sugarcane' plumegrass, soft rush, pink muhly, 'Cheynene Sky', 'Heavy Metal' and 'Shenandoah' switchgrasses; 'Hameln Dwarf' and 'Tall Tales' fountain grasses; 'The Blues' little bluestem, Indian grass and 'Purpletop.' Photo courtesy of HDR, Photographer: Steve Carrell.

Atlanta's Historic Fourth Ward Park is a 17-acre park that has been transformed from a barren, contaminated site near Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthplace into a vision for sustainable redevelopment. Flood protection and stormwater overflow solutions are disguised through artistic park features "celebrating" water. Economic redevelopment has been jumpstarted by additional park amenities, such as flowing walkways and a city greensward; a splashpad and playground; a recirculating stream and wildflower meadows; a multipurpose recreation field and Atlanta's first skate park.

At the pond's edge is a roomy amphitheater cushioned with bermudagrass. An aerator fountain (Georgia Fountain Co.) keeps the detention pond from stagnating. The path around the pond is an exposed aggregate sidewalk with Artevia 'Kahlua' integral color and Kafka granite incorporated into the mix design. The accents bands are Hanover 'Prest' pavers with a Tudor finish. All the retaining walls and capstones on site are granite. Custom steel railings (Owens Welding) provide safety along the walled descending ramps. The stair railings are also custom fabricated steel. 'The Edge' (Beta Lighting) LEDs light the area. The fixtures have eight bars, each 207 watts, housed in a low-profile modular aluminum assembly that is International Dark Sky Association compliant. The red-leafted trees are black tupelos (Nyssa sylvatica). Top photo courtesy of HDR, photographer Steve Carrell. Bottom photo by Christopher T. Martin.

Atlanta's Historic Fourth Ward neighborhood had become what The Atlanta Journal-Constitution called "...a barren expanse of cracked concrete, weeds and towering trees surviving against a background of neglect." Plagued by industrial waste, the lowland area of an urban basin was subject to flooding and combined sewer overflows (CSO) when there was heavy rain.

The property is adjacent to the Atlanta BeltLine, a proposed network of parks, multiuse trails and transit along a 22-mile corridor circling downtown Atlanta, directly connecting 45 neighborhoods. The BeltLine concept is an integrated approach to land use, transportation, greenspace and sustainable development intended to create a framework for future growth in Atlanta.

The impetus for the new park came from a consent decree to increase capacity in the Atlanta combined and separated sanitary sewer service areas, which initially pointed toward a $70 million traditional sewer tunnel system. Instead, designers worked with community leaders to envision a stormwater detention pond that could resolve the sewer overflows, while being the centerpiece of a new, much-needed urban greenspace - thus aligning the needs of the Atlanta Department of Watershed Management and Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. with a single project. Construction for the stormwater pond cost just $25 million, including land purchase and environmental cleanup of the brownfield site. This was a significant savings for the city, especially considering the $50 to $75 million estimates for tunnel construction - and paved the way for adjacent, connected amenities that now make up the first park along the Atlanta BeltLine.

The splash pad (Vortex, 'Spraypoint No. 3 Family') features linear, artistic architectural spray elements that produce light mists and small directional water streams to reduce and control water flow. A 'Smartpoint Command Center' regulates sequencing and timing of the spray nozzles to further conserve water. Photo: Christopher T. Martin. The yellow trees are Ginkgo biloba 'Golden Globe'; the red ones are Acer rubrum 'October Glory'. Above and bottom photos by Christopher T. Martin.

Quality of Design and Execution
The resulting Historic Fourth Ward Park successfully disguises its stormwater management solutions by "celebrating" water as it enters the detention pond. In dramatic contrast to traditional discharge pipes, the park showcases these engineered features with artistic design. Stormwater becomes a focal point with overlooks, platforms and plazas positioned near points where the water is both piped into and directed to run off into the pond.

The 17,500 SF skatepark was designed by Pillar Design of Tempe, with input from skater Tony Hawk (pictured in action) to meet multiple skill levels. Street features were modeled after original hand- built elements previously constructed on site by the local skate community.
Photo: Miki Vuckovich

Pond design integrates distinct artistic features on each side of the pond to facilitate the flow of stormwater, including a step-down, river stone lined drainage channel alongside a curving staircase with a 35-foot elevation change and a 40-foot waterfall, which drops from a 13-foot retaining wall onto sculptural stones. This approach uniquely combines the functional movement of water with aesthetic value. The area surrounding the pond features sculptural artistic elements, curvilinear retaining walls, intricate hardscape detailing and multiple viewing platforms. A terraced amphitheater surrounded by walkways, plazas and greenspace create a dramatic sense of place for parkgoers.

The second phase of the park brings the total size to 17 acres, adding a variety of distinct park "rooms" offering both active and passive recreation. Atlanta's first skate park proved to be a major attraction, enhanced through funding and design input from the Tony Hawk Foundation. In addition to open lawns, trails, a recirculating stream and a wildflower meadow, the second phase added a multi-purpose recreation field, a splashpad, a playground and a large event greensward.

The playground has poured-in-place rubber safety surfacing (GT Impax). The play structure (left) is 'Powerscape Plus: Kid's (Gametime) with 'Choo Choo Panel,' 'Piston Panel' and 'Train Whistle.' The distinctive swings are the 'Biggo Trio' (Dynamo). Photo by Christopher T. Martin.

Environmental Sensitivity and Sustainability
Historic Fourth Ward Park is one of seven Georgia pilot projects selected for the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) to test the this rating system for green landscape design, construction and maintenance. SITES, of course, is the interdisciplinary effort by the ASLA, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (University of Texas at Austin) and the U.S. Botanic Garden to create national guidelines and performance benchmarks for sustainable land design, construction and maintenance practices. The site was a brownfield and required remediation of contaminated soils.

The 55,000 cubic yards of soil excavated to build the stormwater pond was reused in other local restoration projects, while hardscape elements were designed using granite from a local quarry.

The steel-framed bridges (with ipe flooring) are a design response to the railroad and industrial beginnings of the Atlanta BeltLine project, and reinforce the connection to the recirculating stream and the stormwater management.

Rainwater is managed on site, and many impervious surfaces were replaced with landscaping. The design of the detention pond below the water table allows for a constant inflow of water, allowing generated water to be used as irrigation for the outlying park's lawns and playing fields. Additional runoff supplies water to the recirculating stream. A cistern underneath the multipurpose field also harvests excess rainwater.

Curved walls along the pond protect old-growth oak trees, and soil nail walls were used during wall construction to avoid impacts to the critical root zone.

New plantings feature drought tolerant species, and areas to showcase southern heritage plants and a wetland habitat. Establishment of urban forest, native grass and wildflower meadows and employing organic land care standards reinforce sustainable systems and practices that will begin to offset current undesirable land uses.

The Sculpture Plaza's stone furnishings were salvaged from a Georgia quarry and sculpted by Artemis Studios of Atlanta. Photo courtesy of HDR, Keith Philpott, photographer.

The park also demonstrates cost-neutral energy usage, with a series of solar panels designed as an architectural shade canopy along the parks pathways. The renewable energy is sold to Georgia Power Co. Atlanta purchases power off the grid at a lower rate, keeping the park cost neutral for energy usage. The park also has LED lighting, system controls and a maintenance plan, all designed to lower energy costs.

The park has a series of solar panels (Hannah Solar) placed atop an architectural steel shade canopy designed by RWH Architects. The energy is sold to Georgia Power, and the city purchases power off the grid at a lower rate, keeping the park cost neutral for energy usage. The park also has LED lighting, system controls and a maintenance plan, all designed to lower energy costs.

Design Value to the Client and Other Designers:
The final product is a public park that reduces energy use, contributes to vital ecological processes and is maintained in an environmentally responsible way. The design principles of Historic Fourth Ward Park provide the successful template of land use, greenspace and sustainable development for the entire Atlanta BeltLine.

The design integrates distinct artistic features on each side of the pond to facilitate the flow of stormwater, including a step-down, river stone-lined drainage channel alongside a curving staircase with a 35-foot elevation change and a 40-foot waterfall, which drops from a 13-foot retaining wall onto sculptural stones. This south plaza stream channel pays tribute to the original Clear Creek that once flowed through the site. Custom curved granite stones offer nonconventional seating, and 'Lacebark' elms decorate the circular planters. Photo courtesy of HDR, Photographer: Keith Philpott.

The project demonstrated a true collaboration that began with public meetings designed to ensure the park program was defined to specifically meet the needs of stakeholders and communities:

o The Atlanta Department of Watershed Management addressed flooding and CSO issues at a fraction of the cost of a traditional sewer tunnel system.

o Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. has its first park node along the 22-mile corridor, along with the design principles for future development.

Organic land care practices for the site include establishment of an urban forest (maple, serviceberry, birch, hornbeam, pecan, redbud, dogwood, fringetree, cedar, fig, ginkgo, silverbell, holly, crape myrtle, magnolia, pine, blackgum, cherry, oak, nowbell, cypress, linden and elm), native grasses and wildflower meadows ('Goldsturm' black-eyed Susans pictured). Photo by Christopher T. Martin.

Historic 4th Ward Park
Client: Atlanta BeltLine
Partner Client: Atlanta Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs
Prime Consultant and Landscape Architect
Phase I: HDR, Inc., Atlanta
Phase II: Wood + Partners, Inc., Tallahassee
Architect: Richard Wittschiebe Hand, Atlanta
Civil Engineer and Stormwater Design
Phase I: HDR Engineering, Inc., Atlanta
Phase Il: URS, Inc., Atlanta
Skate Park Design: Pillar Design, Tempe, Ariz.
Electrical/Lighting Engineer: Womack Lumsden & Associates Consulting Engineers, Atlanta
Geotechnical Engineering: Willmer Engineering, Atlanta
Phase I: Bob Scott Irrigation Consultant Services, Conyers, Ga.
Phase II: Mike Clark Irrigation Design, Lavonia, Ga.
General Contractor
Phase I: Astra Group, Inc., Woodstock, Ga.
Phase II: Reeves Contracting Company, Sugar Hill, Ga.
Landscape Contractors
Phase I: Davis Landscape, Suwanee, Ga.
Phase II: Valley Crest Landscape, Norcross, Ga.
Public Relations: PEQ, Atlanta, Ga.

The lake is aesthetically pleasing, but functions as a storm water detention pond to ease capacity problems in the overall 800 acre drainage basin, while reducing the peak flow of the Highland Avenue combined sewer trunk to which it discharges. Photos courtesy of HDR, Photographer: Keith Philpott.

Artist: Artemis Studios, LLC, Atlanta
Bike Rack: Forms + Surfaces
Irrigation: Baseline, Hunter and Rainbird
Benches and Trash Receptacles: Landscape Forms
Beta, Bronzelight, King Luminaire, GE, Day Brite and McPhilben
Pavers: Hanover
Pet Waste Stations: Zero Waste USA, Inc.
Play Equipment: Dynamo, Gametime and Markus Ehring
Site Furnishings: Thomas Steele
Solar: Hannah Solar, Atlanta
Stone: Kafka Granite

In the rare eventuality of a 100-year storm, the water level would cover this path and reach the first riverstone band in the granite wall; the higher band marks a 500-year storm event. According to Atlanta BeltLine officials, this detention pond, versus installing additional storm water tunneling, saved the city more than $15 million. Photo courtesy of HDR, Photographer: Keith Philpott.

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November 18, 2019, 10:40 am PDT

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