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Coastal Landscapes


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Final Project at URI. Worked to redevelop and rehabilitate a State Park in Narragansett, RI with an eye on changing environmental and social conditions.

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Coastal Landscapes

  1. 1. Coastal Design: An Artful Ecological Model F i s h e r m a n ’ s M e m o r i a l C a m p g r o u n d Benjamin Morton
  2. 2. Image Credit: Michael
  3. 3. Ta b l e o f C o n t e n t s On the Cover: Human artifice and ecological Project Description restoration merge in a profound reference to Site Location / Aerial View Concept Statement both the natural and human. An extant, WWII Thoughts on Tourism + Humanity and Ecology bunker, located on the site will be transformed Analysis / Sea Level Rise / Concept + / Storm Surge / Concept into a lookout post that is, itself, something to Related Images behold. The surrounding areas, much of which Analysis / Wetlands and Hydric Soils / Concept Wetlands and Hydric Soils / On the Site are currently paved or otherwise cleared, will be Analysis / Tourism / Carbon Footprint restored with native, coastal buffer vegetation. Thoughts on Development and Habitat Here human needs are second to ecological LID / Best Practices Reality / On the Site function, but human desires remain realized. Master Planning / Total Site Master Planning / Expansion Area Art, Beauty, Ecology / Human Nature Wetland Boardwalk Art, Beauty, Ecology / Human Nature The Turret Walk Acknowledgements Opposite: Phragmites! This invasive species is The author would like to thank: the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management for its substantial a dominant player within the coastal buffer at support throughout this project, the College of Environment and Life Sciences at the University of Rhode Island, the site. While it projects a certain beauty, even Professor Richard Sheridan for his guidance, creativity and unique motivational powers, and finally his classmates, more so as it forms dominant monocultures, for their work on the site analysis, permission to share photographs, and camaraderie throughout production and it is really a symbol of the follies of human critiques. intervention in the larger processes of the natural world. Nevertheless, and no matter our deepest wishes, humanity will continue to impact the Photo Credits nature with which we are one. Phragmites and Images marked with a * are all rights reserved by the person credited. Images marked with a W are some other scourges of human interference should rights reserved under versions of the Creative Commons and are found at, with specific be rectified, but we must not lose our humanity attribution, sharing and remixing requirements noted. Any images without a credit were created by the author by ignoring opportunities to shape the land for of this document and are licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United our progeny. States License (See Back Cover).
  4. 4. Project Description The project resulting in this document involved the planning of an expansion to, and possible redevelopment of, the Fisherman’s Memorial Campground operated by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, located in the Town of Narragansett. It could have been a simple plan of new RV pad sites with inconsequential greening. Instead, the project has become an opportunity to dispense with ‘development’ that results from the trendlines of the status quo and to engage the potentials and challenges of the future that result from the nexus of Climate Change and Peak Oil. Thus a new vision has been crafted that incorporates Low Impact Design (LID) methods, transcends the current desire to maximize RV sites, and adds humanistic beauty, all while adding value to this state asset. The site includes an existing campground and an 8.5 acre area, known as Salty Acres, which has been proposed as a site for new campground development and which was cleared of most vegetation by RIDEM this past winter. My colleagues and I toured the site numerous times, ultimately seeking to understand its true nature. We investigated sea level rise, soil conditions, history of the site, extant vegetation and many other factors. The Rhode Island Coast Resources Management Council (CRMC), which has jurisdiction over coastal features and the freshwater wetlands on the site provided information about best practices in developing coastal zones and familiarized participants with relevant regulations. The project began with the simple mission to develop plans for an expansion area and for future redevelopment of the existing campground. With this document, the project has morphed into something greater. Here, the Fisherman’s Memorial Campground will be used to illustrate contemporary sustainability issues, LID principles, and a new call for an artistic and awe-inspiring human imprint upon our habitat and, even more so, upon our ecological restoration efforts. The plan will be shown as a model to be emulated in a variety of coastal settings that must be confronted the near future.
  5. 5. Site Location / Aerial View The project site is located in the Town of Narragansett in southern Rhode Island. The map at left shows the location of the campground within the statewide context. The aerial photograph below, provided by Google Maps, shows the site itself and surrounding neighborhoods and habitat. The Fisherman’s Memorial Campground and the Salty Acres Parcel are demarcated by the region of brighter color. Opposite (top to bottom): View of cleared Salty Acres Parcel, another view of cleared Salty Acres Parcel, View of Existing Campground near salt pond as view from the extant bunker.
  6. 6. Concept Statement New RV spaces are in great demand, however this site does not provide any opportunity to develop such spaces in either a financially or ecologically sound manner. Sea level rise will undermine the infrastructure required to support RV sites. Ecological best practices form the backbone of this chronologically dynamic proposal with the human experience accentuated through a unique ‘back to the wilderness’ approach to camping. Opportunities to be in contact with pristine coastline and uplands are rare, especially for those without waterfront property. Therefore a restored campground will provide a unique attraction. Based on these concepts the model for tourist attraction to the site must be rehabilitated. In addition the site itself must be restored to a more perfect vision of its ecological roots. Human use of the site should be maintained, but the impact that such users make upon the planet will be drastically reduced and their experience of the site will be altered. Left: Beauty found at the mud flat edge.
  7. 7. T h o u g h t s o n To u r i s m The tourist economy is quite important to the State of Rhode Island. This site is part of a strategy to gain greater direct income for the state from this engine. Currently this tourism consists primarily of families in RVs. While the state has an understandable interest, based on past experience, in increasing the number of spaces available for such vehicles, this strategy will run into a number of constraints in the near future. First, the increasing cost of fuel makes driving RVs long distances impractical. In fact, in response to fuel cost concerns, the Winnebago company has seen significant declines in its stock value in the last few months as sales have declined dramatically. Second, coming regulation of carbon footprints and emissions will lead the state to focus on developing carbon neutral industries. The tourist industry is inherently energy intensive when it relies upon people living far from the point of recreation. Thus there is a priority in developing alternatives to high impact modes of tourism, of which the RV must be the poster child. In contrast, the tent and the cottage, nestled into a coastal wilderness rarely witnessed by those other than the superrich, are natural forms of Low Impact Development. They can easily capture the low fees now asked of RV owners. While proximity to a tourist attraction, in this case Galilee, is enough to justify a high-intensity tourist destination, the creation of a low impact program for a site such as Fisherman’s Memorial Campground will become its own draw. By combining a low impact aesthetic with a reputation of ecological restoration and respect the campground will gain an invaluable attraction: uniqueness. While beyond the scope of this publication, the author would be remiss without mentioning the role of State Parks and questioning their use as a revenue stream for larger state purposes. State Parks are meant to provide residents with access to open space and natural areas. In Rhode Island there are no admittance fees to parks or beaches (although beaches do charge a parking fee). Campgrounds do charge fees to those who stay overnight. When these fees are used to recover the costs of maintaining such an environment they are quite justified. When these fees are envisioned as part of the solution to the State’s budget crises, the public trust is being violated. Development and Habitat The history of a site is always important, especially when determining what level of ecological restoration juxtaposed with new types of human use are appropriate. In the case of this site, it had already been extensively developed, first as a military base and then as a campground subservient to the needs of campers and RVs. A helpful reference in determining an appropriate response is the Smartcode, developed by DPZ Inc. This method of ‘Zoning’ is based upon a transect system from the Rural Preserve to the Urban Center. At Fisherman’s Memorial Campground, nature has already been significantly altered by humans. However the site is not directly adjacent to any village/town/city center that would suggest its evolution into a more urbanized and human dominated landscape. Its location adjacent to sensitive land and marine ecosystems suggests that the site should undergo a significant level of ecological restoration. Given the discussion of tourism and subsequent investigation it is clear that the intensity of human use of the site should be reduced while nature is allowed to heal old wounds.
  8. 8. Analysis / Sea Level Rise / Concept Sea level rise is no longer a theoretical phenomenon or threat; it is real and measurable. The height of the Narragansett Bay has risen by over 14” since the 1930s. Recent reports in the media have highlighted the potential for sea level rise, documented in IPCC reports. The Rhode Island CRMC has now included 3’-5’ sea level rise in its basic planning documents and will be utilizing these figures as they revisit plans around the state. The images along the top of this page show 3D models of the Fisherman’s Memorial Campground site with current sea level, 5’ sea level rise, and 20’ sea level rise. Recent media reports clarify that 3’ of sea level rise will be the result of ocean Current Sea Level expansion due to increased temperatures. In other words, this rise does not consider the profound impacts of melting glaciers, the Greenland Ice Cap, or Antarctica. The results of those studies was suppressed in the most recent IPCC report by the Executive Branch of the United States Government. In the April 7, 2008 issue of The Guardian, Dr. James Hansen, head of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, called for a sharp reduction in atmospheric CO2 concentration targets. He suggested that levels well below those set by the European Union would still result in sea level rise of over 250’. Such an enormous rise truly suggests the urgency of breaking with past trends to develop a sustainable future that does not require the abandonment of our traditional settlements. Analysis / Storm Surge / Concept Concern about storm surge follows that of sea level rise. Little consensus has been reached about the potential for climate change to increase or diminish Atlantic hurricanes. The bottom row of diagrams illustrate current 100 year Current Sea Level / Storm Surge storm surges atop future potential sea levels.
  9. 9. 5’ Rise 20’ Rise 5’ Rise / Storm Surge 20’ Rise / Storm Surge
  10. 10. A n a l y s i s / We t l a n d s a n d H y d r i c S o i l s / C o n c e p t Wetlands provide important stormwater management in natural ecosystems, delaying water movement, reducing erosion downstream and improving water quality by impeding sediment and nutrient flows. Wetlands naturally occur within watersheds in areas featuring minimal slopes and soils that do not efficiently infiltrate water or otherwise become easily saturated. These areas are currently protected by setback requirements for any alterations or development. Below is an example of a rehabilitated wetland. Hydric soil conditions often surround or otherwise accompany wetland areas. While they are not as wet, the watertable is near the surface for much of the year. The result is that these soils do not support construction of buildings or pavement systems expected to carry heavy loads, an example of which would be RVs. Photo Credit: Lloyd roz W
  11. 11. We t l a n d s a n d H y d r i c S o i l s / O n t h e S i t e Major systems of wetlands and hydric soils traverse the site. Some of these were recently cleared of all vegetation as shown in the photo to the left. Others are in better condition. In such close proximity to the coast, these habitats are the linchpins in a natural system that filters out human introduced toxins such as fertilizers, sewage waste, and excess sediment that harm coastal and marine life. Below is a map noting the location of wetlands and hydric soils, both in the darker blue and, for reference, in green the 200’ coastal buffer setback. Due to the sea level rise, shown on the previous pages, the coastal buffer will be moving inland, and the wetland and hydric soil areas can be expected to expand. Photo Credit: Michael Viola *
  12. 12. LID / Best Practices This is a design methodology that seeks to minimize the the negative impacts of human activities upon ecological systems, often by mimicking ecological functions or by modifying conventional materials so that typical impacts are minimized in expanse and severity. This includes the restoration of coastal buffers to function as habitat and shoreline protection systems, the use of bioswales to slowly purify and infiltrate stormwater runoff instead of using expensive and harmful pipe systems, and the installation of low cost, low inherent energy, pervious paving systems such as crushed gravel. Below is an example of permeable pavement. Other affordable options include gravel based systems. Left Above is recovering buffer area where plant life is reclaiming a roadbed. Right Below is a heavily vegetated bioswale. Photo Credit: Immanuel Giel W
  13. 13. Reality / On the Site Current site conditions on the Salty Acres expansion parcel, and the larger Fisherman’ Memorial Campground, are inferior to the best practices of Low Impact Development, presenting an opportunity to develop a model to educate to the larger community. Left Top is a cleared coastal buffer and wetland setback area. Left Bottom is an area of extensive pavement. Bottom Middle is a view of a typical camper area showing the vast lawn and pavement. Bottom Right shows a typical stormwater drain , promoting erosion and poor water quality. Photo Credit: Michael Viola *
  14. 14. M a s t e r P l a n n i n g / To t a l S i t e This master plan is intended to provide a radical departure from the status quo to illuminate new options. It includes the ultimate conversion of all existing RV and camper spaces to new Cottage units, reducing energy consumption and opening opportunities for those who cannot afford luxurious RVs. A Park and Camp minimizes chronic vehicular circulation and removes vehicles from areas that are rightfully dominated by nature or children. The upland core will include an improved Farmer’s Market providing an amenity to neighbors as well as those planning to prepare a campfire outside of a tent or cottage. The extant wetlands and a substantial coastal buffer will both be restored, thus giving structure to the larger site. Finally the existing, western bunker will become a unique symbol of the campground. 0’ 150’ 300’ 600’ SCALE 1” = 300’-0”
  15. 15. Master Planning / Expansion Area The Salty Acres Parcel initially prompted this study. It is the least suitable portion of the Fisherman’s Memorial Campground for new development, particularly the development of RV spaces. In addition to wetland constraints, this portion of the site is quite vulnerable to storm surges and future sea level rise. On this page, a series of plans emerge that document such sea level rise and the changes that will be required in this area. By minimizing infrastructure investment and habitat disruption, this area can be abandoned in the future without great loss to the state and without hardship to the larger ecosystem. 5’ Sea Level Rise Impact on the Expansion Area 0’ 100 200’ 400’ SCALE 1” = 200’-0” 20’ Sea Level Rise Impact on the Expansion Area Current Sea Level Proposal 0’ 100 200’ 400’ SCALE 1” = 200’-0” 0’ 100 200’ 400’ SCALE 1” = 200’-0”
  16. 16. A r t , B e a u t y, E c o l o g y / H u m a n N a t u r e How can the human and the natural be intertwined? While many recent approaches to ecological The merger of human and natural restoration view as the ultimate goal the expunction of human impacts, values, and uses, an alternative elements in a synergistic and must be explored. As described earlier in this document, decisions as to the nature of ecological transformative manner is displayed in restoration relative to past and future human uses are paramount in forging a relevant strategy for the wetland traverse shown opposite. human intervention. This boardwalk is to be installed in accordance with LID practices; that is, In this case the site has been previously disturbed and developed, quite intensively. The ecological it will traverse a wetland that is currently importance of the site is such that real efforts towards remediation are beyond reproach. Future in severe need of rehabilitation so trends suggest that responsible human use of the site will be of a lesser intensity than at present. disruption due to construction will be minimal. These conditions present a rare nexus of potential ecological restoration combining with the sublime artifice of humanity that dazzles and delights. In such a restored arena the only interventions one What is most important though, is should make will carry that sublime quality. Designers should not shy away from such opportunities the impact of this pathway on the but must resist impulses for cavalier and egotistical proposals. sequence of spaces developed in the Master Plan. This space is evocative Offered here are two intersections of Art, Beauty, Ecology or as it could alternately be termed, Human of the experience that lies between the Nature. On the opposite page, a boardwalk through impenetrable restored wetland. On the following upland, cottage, and more urban site pages, a Turret Walk that provides views and is itself something to behold. and the secluded coastal buffer to be found in its natural glory. This wetland cuts the site in two and its magnitude should not be diminished. Alternatively this plan reveals a past human presence while allowing both the beauty and the function of the ecosystem to become whole again. The ecological and the eventful will speak to their respective audiences.
  17. 17. A r t , B e a u t y, E c o l o g y / H u m a n N a t u r e
  18. 18. The Turret Walk is an exemplar of the design referenced throughout this text. It provides a meaningful experience for visitors while nestling, without new disturbance, amongst nature’s rehabilitation. Rather than being an arbitrary feature of a designer’s imagination, this intervention on the rehabilitating landscape utilizes the historical landforms, created by people with no knowledge of this ultimate state. The allee along the bunker points to its human roots while the surroundings remind visitors of the overwhelming power of the nature that surrounds us. As sea levels rise, this bunker will be one of the last portions of lower site to recede beneath the tides. With minor improvements to boardwalks access can be maintained well into the future. As the site recedes, the Turret Walk will become a memorial to ideals that we can scarcely recognize in the present; a remembrance of a time being eroded and sunken.
  19. 19. This document presents a model, a warning and a really cool opportunity. T his w or k i s licens ed u n der th e C reati v e C om m o n s At t rib ut io n -N o n c o m m e rc ia l- Sha re Alike 3.0 Unit ed States L i cen s e. To v i ew a c o p y o f t h is lic e n s e , vis it h t t p : // c re a l i cen s es / by - n c- s a/ 3. 0/ u s / o r s e n d a le t t e r t o C re a t ive C o m mons, 17 1 S econ d St reet , Su i te 300, San Fra nc is c o , C a lif o r nia , 9 4 1 0 5 , U S A.