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Box District Park, Chelsea Mass

CBA Landscape Architects LLC, Cambridge, Mass.

This aerial view of Box District Park in Chelsea, Mass. was shot from the roof deck of the former box works (now housing). The new housing, built in tandem with the park, is still under construction. The strong diagonal organization of the lower plaza places equal importance on both Highland Street (left) and Gerrish Avenue (right). Walls and curbs terrace the site from Library Street (above), down to Gerrish Avenue. The linear park packs a lot into the space-- green space, playground, little splash pad, picnic nook, symmetrical, rectangular raised planters--yet feels roomy: Note the BigBelly solar-powered trash and recycling receptacle (right and left), the Madrax bicycle rack (right) also.

In June 2012, a 13,300 square foot park was completed to anchor a new residential neighborhood in Chelsea, Massachusetts, where a former industrial, manufacturing district is currently being redeveloped into affordable and market-rate residences. Located on a steeply sloping site, the park has a prominent corner location, strong presence and a distinct visual identity. This compact park, designed by CBA Landscape Architects LLC of Cambridge, Mass., has been extremely well received.


The neighborhood around the new development is home to many children, so a playground was a high priority. The upper portion of the park features two significant play structures: a large one for ages 5-12, and a smaller one, complemented by a playhouse, for the 2-5 year old crowd. The 'Play Shaper' structures, 'Play House' and 'Spring Riders' are from Landscape Structures, Inc. The poured-in-place rubber surfacing is from Surface America. The play equipment is set into the terraced hillside and defined by precast concrete block retaining walls on three sides. Benches and a table with umbrella provide comfortable places for care givers.

Site History
The site was originally covered by tidal flats of the Chelsea River until it was reclaimed in the 1800s. After the land reclamation, four two-story residential buildings occupied the site, but the neighborhood was destroyed by a fire in 1908. The parcel was then tenanted by the American Popcorn and Potato Chip Co., then by two milk depots.


The jets of water, activated by the hydraulic push button on top on the colorful bollard (Vortex water spray activator and nozzles), are one of the most popular features in the park. A 15-inch granite wall, just outside splash range, borders the aquatic fun and the main walks. The water is captured by a trench drain with a narrow slot cover, minimizing the visual impact on the brick paving pattern, while keeping the walkways dry.

In 1973 the site was purchased by Sudbury Brass Goods Co., which used it to manufacture brass ornaments and fixtures until 2011. The long industrial history contributed to the environmental contamination of the site, which had to be remediated before the parcel could be developed.


Monumental stairs with granite orbs divide the space into two distinct levels, connected by accessible walks around raised planters with chanticleer pear trees and perennials. The granite walls are topped with metal ribbon benches. A panel of lawn with silver lindens separates the plaza from the inviting bright colors of the playground. Japanese zelkovas line the Library Street and Highland Street edges of the park; an 'Arrowwood' hedge helps soften the neighboring housing development's large-block wall. Aluminum light fixtures ('Chairman' from Voigt Lighting) with hinged concealed doors are atop "Hancock" light poles (Spring City).

Planning for the New District
The industrial district was also home to a box manufacturing company, from which the new residential neighborhood and the park takes its name. The rebirth of the Box District began in the early 1990s. After careful study, it was rezoned for residential to lay the groundwork for turning blighted, underutilized factories and warehouses into a new community. In 2007, the city engaged with local residents and a local nonprofit community redevelopment corporation, Chelsea Neighborhood Developers (now The Neighborhood Developers) to formulate a long-term visioning plan for the neighborhood. Over 75 Chelsea residents and community stakeholders were involved in developing the plan. The planning effort highlighted the need for a public park, which would be a catalyst and cornerstone to spur the revitalization of the residential neighborhood. The community-based planning was so productive and enthusiastically embraced by the neighborhood that the city committed significant effort and devoted scarce resources to advancing the community's plans and desires.


The raised planters give order to the plaza. An array of plants, including Liriope spicata, hostas and astilbes are the nature. In addition to the benches provided, the granite walls themselves provide seating for park visitors. Removable bollards, such as the one at the right, allow city maintenance vehicles to access the site while keeping private vehicles off the broad walkways.

New Park Design
CBA Landscape Architects LLC was selected to design this important park and to continue the collaboration with the neighborhood residents and stakeholders. It is particularly significant that a new park was created in a dense urban city where undeveloped land is almost nonexistent, typically contaminated and expensive to develop.


Because many yards are small or nonexistent in dense urban communities like Chelsea, the local parks really become backyards for many families. The steel park benches and picnic tables are from DuMor Site Furnishings. The tubular steel fencing around the playground is 'Monumental Iron' (Master Halco), with 'Imperial D' modified vinyl clad chain link fencing (right) separating the park and housing.

The land on which Box District Park was built was part of a larger 54,048 square foot parcel purchased from the Sudbury Brass Goods Co. by The Neighborhood Developers in 2011. The parcel was subdivided into the park portion, which was sold to the city, and a portion retained for residential development. The park and the adjacent 32 units of affordable housing were built at the same time by a single contractor working for two clients. The park is divided into two distinct zones. The lower and larger portion is the neighborhood plaza, a predominantly paved area accented by raised planting beds, shade trees and lawn. The plaza level is used for community gatherings and passive recreation. It is organized around a diagonal walk that intersects the corner of Highland Street and Gerrish Avenue. These two streets form the spines of the new residential neighborhood. Placing the ceremonial entrance to the park at their intersection visually unites the two streets and gives each street equal importance.

A central stepped promenade leads to the spray fountain while crossing diagonal paths provide accessible routes. Concrete walks with decorative brick banding are flanked by low granite curbs and walls. The plaza also features granite block bollards and raised beds. Bicycle racks along the sidewalk promote alternative and child-friendly transportation options. The picnic area, set atop brick paving, is shaded by a sturdy wood-and-metal trellis, a prominent visual marker for the space. The water spray area, again set atop brick paving, steps back from the main path and is defined by granite seat walls. Three flush-mounted jets, activated by a pushbutton mounted on a metal bollard, create inviting columns of spray that children delight in running through and splashing in. A well-designed drainage system ensures the water doesn't create a pedestrian hazard for the surrounding walkways. The spray area has been one of the most talked about features of the new park.


The site was originally tidal flats of the Chelsea River, then housed four two-story residential buildings that were destroyed by a fire in 1908. The parcel was next home to the American Popcorn and Potato Chip Co., then two milk distribution depots, and from 1973 to 2011 the site of the Sudbury Brass Goods Co. This long industrial history required environmental remediation of the site.

The upper portion of the park features two significant play structures: a large one for ages 5 to 12, and a smaller one, complemented by a playhouse, for the 2 to 5 year old crowd. The play equipment is set into the terraced hillside and defined by precast concrete block retaining walls on three sides. Benches within the playground portion of the site and a table with umbrella provide comfortable places from which parents and caregivers can watch their children. The remainder of the upper potion of the park consists of lawn, trees and shrubs. The sloping lawn is terraced with a precast concrete block retaining wall. The highest elevation of the park abuts Library Street. Along Library Street the decorative fence, which encloses the play area on the upper half of the park, is stepped back from the sidewalk to create two small sitting areas accessible from the street and separated from the park proper. Pedestrian scale streetlights, throughout the park adds essential security to the site.

The park was funded by a $500,000 PARC grant through the Division of Conservation Services (EOEEA) of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and a $350,000 city Community Development Block grant through the Department of Housing and Community Development.


The plan details the tidy, compact layout of Box District Park: the concrete paving with brick edging; the 15-inch seat wall; granite sitting blocks, also 15 inches tall; the 6-inch granite curbing; the unit block walls bordering the playground; and placement of bollards, benches, bike racks and recycling trash receptacles.

Team List
Owner: City of Chelsea, Mass.
Jay Ash, City Manager
John DePriest AICP, Director of Planning and Development
Joan Lanzillo, Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds
Carol Martinez, Assistant Director of Planning and Development
DJ Forbes, Planner and Project Manager

Landscape Architect: CBA Landscape Architects LLC
Principal-in-Charge: Clara C. Batchelor
Project Manager: D.J. Chagnon
Staff Landscape Architects: Roxana Esparza, Kristy Ferrell, Megan Tomkins

Earthwork: Podgurski Inc.
General: NEI General Contracting, Braintree, Mass.
Landscape: Landscape Etc. Inc.

Brick paving; Mystic Pavers, Vermont Brick Co.
Custom tubular steel and pressure treated wood trellis
Granite block walls, bollards, and curbs
Poured in place concrete walks
Precast concrete block walls: Sienna Stone and Stone Strong

Bicycle Rack: Madrax

Monumental tubular steel fence, Iron/Master Halco
Imperial "D" modified vinyl-clad chain link fence

Fixtures: Voigt Chairman
Poles: Spring City "Hancock"
Play Equipment: Play Shaper Play Structures, Play House, Spring Riders, Landscape Structures, Inc.

Playground Surfacing: Poured-in-place rubber surfacing, Surface America

Splash Pad: Vortex Water Spray Activator and nozzles

"Ribbon" picnic tables and benches, DuMor Site Furnishings

Trash Receptacles: Solar-powered trash and recycling receptacle, Big Belly

Photos: Ed Wonsek

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November 18, 2019, 10:57 am PDT

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