A Natural Fit

Made of acetylated wood, the boardwalk delivers the unique look, feel, and sound wood, and reduces concerns for rot, decay, movement, and extensive maintenance.  Photos Courtesy Of: Perennial Wood

Made of acetylated wood, the boardwalk delivers the unique look, feel, and sound wood, and reduces concerns for rot, decay, movement, and extensive maintenance.

Photos Courtesy Of: Perennial Wood

In the densely populated Boston suburb of Somerville, Mass., open space is at a premium. Residents gravitate to natural areas, even if those spaces are undeveloped city lots on side streets, blocks from the city’s busy thoroughfares. 

The city seized the opportunity to make more of one empty property, creating the Quincy Street Open Space, dedicated a little over a year ago. Neighboring residents saw it as their own private garden and gathering area, so the city developed the space with the residents’ input.. The design team also worked within the parameters stipulated by the lot’s donor: The property is to be used for conservation and as a bird habitat. An urban habitat design—for human passive recreation and sensitively built infrastructure—was a natural fit. 

Spurr and WANTED Landscape Architecture began transforming the site in the fall of 2012, incorporating three levels of planted terraces and a stepping-stone path—all using recycled granite curb from a nearby reconstruction project: a seating area with Adirondack chairs made of recycled milk jugs, 16 new trees of a variety of species, and native plantings that are erosion-resistant, require minimal maintenance, and offer birds nesting material, berries for food, and shelter. Because of its sensitivity to urban wildlife in the vegetation strategy, Quincy Street Open Space has a minimal lawn—a feature the public-works department appreciates—and full-season trees and shrubs for year-round habitat.

Wood Wins Over Boardwalk

Because the design team also wanted water, air, and people to easily move within the site, the team incorporated into the plans a real wood boardwalk built a few inches above ground level. The boardwalk minimizes erosion by allowing water to drain through the gaps in the deck boards and into the integrated stone-filled drywells beneath, ensuring rainwater percolates down to the water table rather than drain into the city’s stormwater system. The walkway also disguises the infrastructure below, and allows for easy access to that infrastructure in a way that a paved walkway cannot. By simply removing a few deck boards, the public-works department can clean or repair the drywells. 

Several materials were considered for the boardwalk—Ipe, mahogany, composite, and even metal. Given the project’s intent, the team preferred to use real wood due to its ability to enhance the

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visitors’ experience. While traditional wood-decking carries the potential for rot and decay, and necessary maintenance, the team didn’t want to introduce synthetic decking as it doesn’t have the same aesthetic appeal. Wood has a special feel and sound to it when walked on. 

“We were looking for a material that would hold up to a variety of uses and traffic levels, and could be easily maintained by the public-works’ parks staff,” says Arn Franzen, director of parks and open space for the city.  

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