25-acre park redresses social justice issues, reengineers river and engages community
Denver, Colorado – April 8, 2019 – The American Society of Landscape Architects, New York (ASLA-NY) has honored Denver-based urban design and landscape architecture firm Civitas and W Architecture and Landscape Architecture of New York with a 2019 Design Award for the Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park in Tampa, Florida. Juried by an interdisciplinary team and demonstrating “the diverse application of the practice and its long-term value to people and the environment we live in,” according to ASLA-NY, the 2019 awards will be presented in a ceremony April 11 at the Center for Architecture in Manhattan and will be on exhibit there through the month of April in celebration of World Landscape Architecture Month.
Civitas’ transformative urban designs come as part of a process “that deeply engages community and history, insistent on challenging assumptions and really understanding how the various complexities fit together,” says founding principal Mark Johnson. In the case of the award-winning 25-acre, $36 million Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park, that process quickly found the team working to help heal a rift with the West Tampa African-American community, which had seen the downtown of its once thriving Roberts City razed in the 1960s to make way for a highway and “urban renewal” that included the park’s original iteration.
Using the in-depth grass roots outreach that Civitas has become known for as integral to its design process, the team connected directly with some 40 neighborhood leaders and stakeholders, unearthing the community’s anger at that original park as a disingenuous “gift” from the city for the racially motivated act of destroying Roberts City – or “whitewash over a deep-seated racial problem,” as Johnson puts it.
As reimagined by Civitas, the park, a legacy project for Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who was determined to invest in the West Tampa neighborhood he calls “underserved for decades,” has been designed to serve community first. Civitas worked closely with West Tampa, granting its wish list for a majestic space with views of the city for picnicking and gathering, with state-of-the-art playground and splash pad; first-class basketball, tennis and football facilities; and the dramatic new River Center building designed by W Architecture and Landscape Architecture, which incorporates a city-run boathouse with kayaks, canoes, paddleboards, dragon boats and sculls below and a community center above.
“The apparent answer is not always the answer at all,” says Civitas’ Johnson, who embraces the social justice aspect of the project. Indeed, it was initial discussions around a possible swimming pool that eventually led to a much grander vision for reestablishing the community’s connection with the Hillsborough River that had been lost in the ’60s destruction of Roberts City.
To create a safe area of water surrounded by pedestrian wharf space and available for paddle instruction, the Civitas design reengineered the river itself, relocating the existing seawall and establishing a long, floating dock to provide comfortable water access. The dock has since become a desirable place for the community to sit and watch the paddlers, crew boats, passing boats and dolphins; and is in weekend use as a stop for a water taxi.
The desire for preserving neighborhood history is present in the public art incorporated throughout the park, including a three-dimensional relief mural in the boat house by local team of fabricators and makers Pep Rally Inc that densely layers references to the area’s Roberts City past.
The revitalized Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park has been a much-used source of joy and inspiration for the community since its opening in June 2018 – and is a key piece in Mayor Buckhorn’s mission to reidentify the Hillsborough River as the center of Tampa’s urban core. “For the first time in decades, the people of West Tampa have access to the water, to boating and a myriad of new play in the park,” says Johnson. “It is gratifying to have the ASLA New York chapter recognize a project that is so close to our hearts for a 2019 Design Award.”
Founded in 1984 with the core purpose of “creating healthier cities” and celebrating its 35th anniversary this year, Denver-based Civitas, Inc., is an idea-based practice of urban designers, architects and landscape architects engaged in strategic planning for urban change and project design for built works. Recent honors include both the 2017 International Architecture Award and 2018 American Architecture Award from the Chicago Athenaeum/European Centre; the Canadian Institute of Planners “Great Public Space”; a 2017 IMCL Merit Award; and an Excellence on the Waterfront Award from the nonprofit Waterfront Center. A consultancy and a design studio, Civitas advises on a wide range of strategies for re-imagining urban life and places, working in U.S. cities coast to coast and around the world.