Environmental Justice (EJ)
Case Study

Dr. Nina Scarito Park, Lawrence, MA

Project Summary

Dr. Nina Scarito Park, Lawrence, MA - Design Plan.
Dr. Nina Scarito Park, Lawrence, MA - Design Plan
Lawrence CommunityWorks/Groundwork Lawrence

The City of Lawrence once booming with industry, is one of the poorest cities in New England. The City has a per capita income of just $13,360, a high school equivalency rate of 47 percent, and 10 percent of residents have a Bachelor's degree. Home-ownership rates are approximately 32 percent citywide (compared to nearly twice that in the rest of the Commonwealth), while unemployment rates are routinely twice the state average. The City also faces a backlog of more than 1,000 lien-encumbered vacant lots and abandoned buildings, environmental contamination (in the form of waterway pollution, illegal dumping, industrial brownfields, and asbestos and lead paint issues), and a lack of greenspace.

Despite the social and economic challenges in Lawrence, the City is entering a renaissance. Home to diverse and vibrant immigrant populations, Lawrence is making great strides in redevelopment and inclusive community revitalization. Abandoned and industrial sites are becoming opportunities for redevelopment and environmental restoration. One such property, is "the Brook Street site," a 2.7-acre former brownfield located in a densely settled residential neighborhood on the banks of the Spicket River. This former mill building and commercial laundry site had been abandoned for nearly 20 years, when a neighborhood planning process identified the site as key to local revitalization efforts. The redevelopment project was led by Groundwork Lawrence, Inc. (GWL) and its partner organization, Lawrence CommunityWorks (LCW), a local community development corporation (CDC).

Lawrence CommunityWorks began the Brook Street project's community outreach process in 2002 through an event called the North Common Neighborhood Summit. A significant amount of time and effort was devoted to getting citizens to attend the Summit, with outreach primarily conducted by phone and knocking on doors. At the Summit, neighborhood-wide maps displaying vacant parcels were distributed to community members who were then asked to relay their opinions about how the vacant parcels should be redeveloped, providing the community the chance to shape the future look and feel of their own neighborhood. The Brook Street site was identified as an obvious property for park redevelopment because it was such a substantial piece of vacant land in the middle of a large, dense neighborhood with few recreational green spaces for residents to enjoy.

That same year, GWL and LCW led a series of community design charrettes and meetings to create a conceptual proposal for a park on the Brook Street site. The meetings were scheduled based on the residents' preferred days and times. Again, both GWL and LCW staff put a lot of time and effort into getting the community to attend, primarily by walking through the neighborhoods offering door-to-door invitations. It was determined that night meetings were the best option to maximize community attendance. Childcare and dinner were often provided, which encouraged whole families to take part. As a result, the meetings were very well attended. The children had a large say in the park's design as well, identifying which type of play equipment they preferred. Based on the park concepts most desired by the community, GWL commissioned a detailed park design and cost estimates from Copley Wolff Design Group, a Boston-based landscape architecture firm.

Now, named Dr. Nina Scarito Park, in memory of the accomplished Lawrence obstetrician who is said to have delivered 20,000 babies in the City during her career, the $2.9 million project was dedicated in the fall of 2006. The park was made possible through a combination of federal, state, city, and private funds, including an Urban Self-Help grant, which is administered through EEA's Division of Conservation Services.

"Rough sketches were generated by the community," said David Walsh, lead architect on the project for Copley Wolff Design Group of Boston. "We took their main ideas of a large open green space for active recreational use and balanced it with play equipment for children, basketball courts for teenagers, a community garden, and a picnic structure for community activities - all aligned around the meadow like a necklace."

Groundwork Lawrence before and after photos.

Photo credit: Groundwork Lawrence

The park includes two picnic areas for gathering, playing games, and eating outdoors. The bright and playful colors of the structures in the park reflect the energy and vitality of the young, predominantly Latino community that lives nearby. Raised garden beds enable residents to grow a variety of flowers and vegetables on the site. The park's playground includes a swing set and high-quality, age-appropriate equipment for 2-5 year olds and 5-12 year olds.

In the many years it took to make Scarito Park a reality, hundreds of people and scores of public agencies were involved in decision-making, problem-solving, and trouble-shooting to move the project forward. Over 500 hours were volunteered by local residents through their participation in park planning, design, fundraising, and advocacy - a testament to their commitment to the City's revitalization. A once blighted and abandoned property is now the heart of a neighborhood, providing much needed play space, recreation opportunities, and natural areas for Lawrence residents to enjoy.

Groundwork Lawrence

GWL is a local non-profit organization working to create sustainable environmental change through community-based partnerships. GWL is committed to "changing places and changing lives" through on-the-ground projects, education, and volunteer programs that help transform local communities. To accomplish this, GWL leads and supports a variety of partnership-driven efforts that bring together the public, private, and non-profit sectors to solve complex environmental problems and sustain a long-term vision for neighborhood change and renewal. Click here for more information.

Lawrence Community Works

LCW is a nonprofit community development corporation working to transform and revitalize the physical, economic, and social landscape of Lawrence. The organization does this with a growing network of over 2,000 residents and stakeholders who are building family and community assets, providing each other with mutual support, and engaging in collective action to move the City forward. Since 1999 LCW has reclaimed over 20 vacant lots, produced 51 units of green and affordable housing, helped residents leverage over $15 million in local asset purchases, and waged campaigns to improve zoning laws and the municipal budget process. Click here for more information.