"Distressed locations such as this are a much undervalued
and underutilized public resource in many small American cities."
- Michael Van Valkenburgh
Mill Race Park, the crown jewel of the Columbus Parks System and the anchor to the19-mile People Trails, is a beautiful and nationally recognized downtown riverfront park. However, it was once an industrial site and substandard housing area, called "Death Valley" by many locals. The property began as a natural wooded area of marginal quality and part of the flood plain of the confluence of two rivers.
In 1992, 86 acres of downtown riverfront property was reclaimed in an effort that included the work of a 50-member committee of volunteers known as the "River Rats," Atterbury Job Corps workers and schoolchildren who collected pennies for the effort.
Recognizing that the Park is intended to flood, the plant materials that were chosen by noted landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh are those that will not be destroyed by spring floods. The structural materials of the Park, designed by Stanley Saitowitz, are made from red steel tubing, concrete, glass block and corrugated metal that will withstand high water.
Once an eyesore, now Mill Race Park is a community gathering place, a recreation and entertainment center and a green buffer zone to a bustling downtown. The project was one of Van Valkenburgh's early commissions. It won the award for outstanding new U.S. Park from Architectural Record in 1993 and an American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) Design Merit Award in 1994.
His other projects in Columbus include the Front Door Project, the approach to downtown along State Road 46, west of town, Columbus Regional Hospital, downtown's streetscape and The Bartholomew County Courthouse lawn.
Van Valkenburgh's Credentials
Van Valkenburgh received a Bachelor of Science degree from Cornell University College of Agriculture in 1973 and a Master of Landscape Architecture degree from the College of Fine Arts at the University of Illinois at Champaign/Urbana in 1977. He won the 2003 National Design Award in Environmental Design by the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum. He is a fellow of the American Academy in Rome and is the Charles Eliot Professor of Landscape Architecture at Harvard's Graduate School of Design where he has taught since 1982, serving as chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture from 1991 to 1996. Recent projects include ASLA Greenroof Project, Allegheny Park, Wellesley College and Harvard University.