February 3, 2022 by Jennifer Reut
Freeway Park in Seattle, Rose Kennedy Greenway in Boston and Klyde Warren Park in Dallas. Though all three Highway Deck parks are known outside of their hometowns for their bold design and engineering, it’s OJB’s third that has arguably sparked a wave of similar projects in recent years. Cities and developers have begun to look at deck parks as a way to jump-start ghostly inner cities and weld communities back together after freeways cut through them in the 1960s and 1970s. An increased focus on reconnecting neighborhoods in Infrastructure Bill debates brought Highway Deck Parks onto the national stage.
When I-74 passed through Peoria, Illinois in 1958, it separated downtown from adjacent neighborhoods, including several historical and cultural landmarks. Businesses went down, able-bodied people migrated to the suburbs, while others were stuck in neighborhoods in decline due to redlining. With a population of 113,000, Peoria is a mid-size city, not a major urban center like Seattle, Boston, or Dallas, and it doesn’t have the political or philanthropic base of a big city. But hometown promoters, including Theodore Hoerr, ASLA, of New York landscape architecture and urban planning firm Terrain Work, believe a highway deck park could do more than knit the city’s scars. “I would argue that it could change the trajectory of downtown Peoria and the city itself,” says Hoerr.
Hoerr grew up in a family kindergarten with a design/build company not far outside of Peoria and maintains close ties to the place, including some projects. He had been working on a master plan for the Peoria Riverfront Museum and had moved home for the summer during the pandemic when he teamed up with KDB Group’s Kim Blickenstaff. Blickenstaff knew Klyde Warren Park and had looked at places around I-74. Concepts for the deck park quickly came together, followed by a community engagement campaign that began developing the park’s programming and purpose.
The proposal, called InterPlay Park, emphasizes intergenerational play. Several program areas, called Molecules, are threading the needle, designed just enough to spark interest while remaining open and flexible to allow local nonprofit groups to adapt. According to Hoerr, the park also has in mind the needs of the growing demographic of older adults and sees opportunities to combine activities for the elderly and youth. The proposal quickly garnered political goodwill, including interest from former US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, who has pledged to throw his political capital behind the project. The challenges of launching an ambitious deck park in an embattled midsize city will require state and regional support, but Hoerr says he believes the project should be viewed as more than a local convenience. “It’s actually a park that helps shape the region’s identity — it attracts families, attracts businesses, and helps support all Peorians.”
Posted in CITIES, ECONOMY, ENVIRONMENT, PARKS, LEISURE, THE BACK | Tagged Downtown, Highway Deck Park, InterPlay Park, Jennifer Reut, Peoria, Terrain Work, Theodore Hoerr | Leave a comment