Building an Urban Eden
I've lived in Santa Fe for nearly 11 years now; I can't begin to count the times I have driven past the urban wasteland along Cerrillos Road and Guadalupe Street and wondered when, and if, the space would finally be put to good use. Happily, the time has arrived. Yet, despite driving past the Railyard district several times a week, I still had no idea of the scope and vision of the Railyard Park and Plaza until I was given a semi-private tour of the development scene with Brian Drypolcher, Program Director for The Trust for Public Land.
Along with Mary Corcoran, SantaFe.com editor, I donned a hard hat on a hot Santa Fe afternoon and was immediately engrossed in Drypolcher's articulate and enthusiastic narrative on the park's history and development. The Railyard area was originally agricultural land and later developed into a warehouse district. After long neglect, the district was earmarked for development by Santa Feans themselves, who gave the clear message that they wanted the development to include parkland. Its central location and historical relevance make it an ideal spot for Santa Feans to gather as a community.
The 10-acre park is far more than just a stretch of land designated for public use. Every feature has been meticulously planned for the community's enjoyment. Along the western edge of the park is a walk-bike path which boasts blue lights atop each post for an artistic nighttime effect. One of my favorite features, located at the corner of the park at Cerrillos and Guadalupe, is a large ramada-a circular, trellised structure that will be overhung with silver lace vine. Underneath the ramada, visitors will have the luxurious opportunity to contemplate a rose garden while gliding on front porch-style swings hanging from the crossbeams. Across the park, along the SITE Santa Fe building is the equally impressive park entry ramada, topped by an 800-foot-long post-and-beam trellis that will be draped with trumpet vine. The brick path takes strollers or exercisers past a turf-lawn performance slope designed to accommodate any size or type of show, several picnic areas encircled by large stones, and the community "demonstration" garden. Kids (and adults!) will love the play area in the center of the park. No ordinary jungle gyms here; the playground is integrated into the park and includes a climbing wall, a tunnel, a slope with seven slides, nets hanging from posts, a sandbox, and a water play area that will drain into a grove of cottonwoods.
Speaking of water, you might be wondering how a park this size will impact the delicate Santa Fe watershed. Water conservation and harvesting have been an integral part of the project since 1997, when community plans called for spaces that would demonstrate "how to coexist with the high desert in the next century." To meet this goal, the Railyard Park and Plaza will be fed by an innovative water harvesting system. Most of the irrigation will come from water catchment off the roofs of the Farmers Market building, SITE Santa Fe, El Museo Cultural, the Railyard Performance Center and the Railyard Galleries. The water will be stored in five underground tanks-three 15,000-gallon tanks underneath the Railyard Park parking lot and two underneath the Farmers Market outdoor shade structure-as well as a 35,000-gallon water tower located beside the Railyard Plaza. The tanks will feed an intricate irrigation system that includes the 400-year-old Acequia Madre, which runs along the southern edge of the park and will nourish the community garden in years of ample runoff.
The park's plantings are also in keeping with the goal of water conservation and sustainability. The only areas of turf lawn are the performance slope and a number of picnic circles; other areas consist either of native grasses, gravel, or a substance called "crusher fines," finely crushed compacted rock that looks like dirt but is far more durable. Plantings include over 400 trees such as ash, locust, oak, and ponderosa pine, as well as several thousand drought-resistant plants.
As we stumbled over the still-rough ground of the fledgling park, I was delighted to note its happy blend of utility and aesthetics, as well as the sense of history that the park's design thoughtfully preserves. Take wood laminate light poles, for instance. Manufactured by a utility company, they maintain a sense of the history of the once-utilitarian district while also pleasing the eye with their square, tapered shape; the lights themselves are placed partway down the pole for added interest, and the cords are hidden in the hollow core of the poles. The benches and bollards (thick, low posts which exclude vehicles) throughout the park are made of the same wood laminate as the light poles; the benches will have backs and armrests, complete with a ledge (the perfect place to set your picnic lunch!).
Across Paseo from the main park, TPL is developing the land around the new Farmers Market building, including the shade structure that runs along the railroad tracks, a walkway across the tracks, the Railyard Plaza at the north end of the Farmers Market building, and two pocket parks. Over here, too, form blends beautifully with function. The shade structure, under which vendors will display their wares in warmer weather, echoes the lines of the entry ramada across the road. The attractive wood-covered water tower by the Plaza not only serves its purpose as a water storage facility but is also a tribute to the original water tower that once stood in the Railyard. It is also a fountain: Like rain, water from underneath the tank will drip slowly onto a stone etched with an image of the watershed. The Plaza itself is designated as a community area adjacent to the restaurant at the end of the Farmers Market building. Shade trees will overhang moveable bistro tables and chairs, a concept modeled after New York City's Bryant Park.
One question remains: Who is going to care for and maintain these 12 acres of urban Eden? According to Drypolcher, the City Parks Division will maintain the park with the help of the newly formed Railyard Park Stewards. Drypolcher explains the Stewards as "a membership organization that will provide advocacy and raise funds for the enhanced care of the Railyard Park and Plaza." The Stewards will help the City of Santa Fe ensure that the Railyard parklands are safe, clean and well-maintained, with the intention that they become an integral part of Santa Fe community life. They will support this mission by raising funds and recruiting volunteers to help care for and support the parklands; providing for an enhanced level of care for the plants and building improvements; encouraging a variety of community- and family-oriented programming to attract visitors to the parks; and advocating to City government and the community to support the parks and maintain their long-term integrity.
The TPL needs the continuing support of the Santa Fe community to finance the Railyard Park and Plaza. To date, they have raised about $12.8 million, about half of which came from public sources and half from private sources. A portion of monies raised will go to the "Stewardship Seed Fund" to help the Railyard Park Stewards in their mission. If you are interested in donating, contact Laurel Savino at the following address:
The Trust for Public Land
New Mexico State Office, 1600 Lena St., Building C
Santa Fe, NM 87505-3891
505.988.5922, ext. 103