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Harvard’s Sustainable Library Park

Harvard and city officials are touting the so-called Library Park (plans seen here), which is expected to be finished in 2011, as a place that will help educate visitors about environmental stewardship.

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Harvard University planners, Boston redevelopment officials, and a Cambridge landscape design firm are working together to reincarnate the 1.74-acre space, behind the Honan-Allston branch of the public library, into a “sustainable’’ park. The park will recycle rainwater runoff for irrigation, help clean the air and soil, and provide residents and library patrons with a green oasis in the library’s backyard.

"It's really part of this larger open space system and sustainability initiative that the city is driving and that Harvard is really committed to,'' said Gerald Autler, senior project manger and planner at the Boston Redevelopment Authority, which is involved in the park's creation.

Michael Van Valkenburgh, head of the landscape architecture firm designing the park, said Library Park's green features would not be obvious to most people. "While we don't try to hide sustainability in a park, we're also not trying to make it such a big badge that it detracts from the larger mission of the park,'' he said.

The park is being built on "recycled" land, seeing as it will be constructed on the former site of McNamara Concrete Company. Preliminary designs of the park from Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Inc. also show that trees, which help clean the atmosphere and cool surrounding buildings, will line the rear of the library.

Native plants in a "rain garden'' will help filter rainwater through the soil to a holding tank with a solar-powered irrigation pump that will be used to maintain plants, lawns, and trees. The tank will also be fed with rainwater collected from the library's roof. Meanwhile, solar-powered lights will line a quarter-mile of walking paths.

Designers also plan to build up the flat park lot using microtopography in the garden and by constructing a hill, using fill from Harvard excavations.

"You get more landscape,'' said Laura Solano, a principal with Michael Van Valkenburgh. And the hill, she added, "actually gets us 40 percent more land so we can have more plants, sequester more carbon.''

Solano said the park will also make use of special soils meant to encourage plant growth while keeping the park low-maintenance.

"Soils are a really big component of sustainability,'' Solano said, explaining that with the right balance of minerals and other nutrients – combined with the rainwater-fed irrigation system – the plants in the park would need less maintenance. Soils "are the basis for everything that happens on top of the park.''

Added Gerald Autler, the authority's planner: "We see this as a chance to explore the leading edge of a lot of these issues of park design and sustainability.''


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November 22, 2019, 12:10 pm PDT

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