A final “Beyond the Bridges” forum on ideas for Hodges Square and Riverside Park reviewed a number of ideas for the East New London neighborhood from residents as well as landscape architects.
The meeting was the third one hosted by New London Landmarks. Sandra Chalke, director of the organization, said more workshops will take place in January and February and focus on the details of suggestions brought up at prior meetings.
Brian Kent, a landscape architect, said Hodges Square should act as a focal point of the neighborhood and be able to attract visitors from the surrounding areas, including Connecticut College and the Coast Guard Academy. He said the main problem with access is the sidewalks along Williams Street, with no walkway available along the Connecticut College side of the road. He said the existing sidewalks are also narrow or in poor condition.
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Kent said it would be possible to widen the sidewalks and put in additional trees and lighting to make a safer and more visually pleasing route. He said design guidelines could improve the appearance of the Hodges Square buildings while public art projects such as murals or LED light displays could be used at the overpasses of I-95 and its exits.
“The fact is there really is a great deal of opportunity here,” Kent said.
Art Costa, who conducted a survey of Hodges Square businesses as part of the workshop series, said business owners in the area are meeting once a month to discuss the assets and uses of the neighborhood. The next meeting is scheduled for Dec. 12.
Costa said the group is looking into how to oversee and finance neighborhood improvements. He said one focus should be on having Hodges Square serve as a center for the needs of the neighborhood, saying some businesses are catering to other regions due to the proximity of the interstate.
“I’d say we see a third of the businesses that really serve the community,” he said.
Peter Miniutti, an associate professor of landscape architecture at the University of Connecticut, said one workshop meeting included breakout sessions for residents to discuss ideas for Riverside Park. The survey identified a playground and tree trimming to improve views of the Thames River as high priorities.
Miniutti said there is also the possibility of improving stormwater runoff from the roof and parking lots of the nearby Winthrop School to have it go through the park. Stormwater is currently dispersed by a sheet flow down to Williams Street due to an unusable drainage pipe.
Miniutti said stormwater could be brought through the park to the river in an aesthetic way, citing examples of both artistic and rustic systems where this is done.
“I personally think if it could help the city, help the park, why not give it a shot?” he said.