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Posts tagged ‘Elm Park’

Happy July 4th at Elm Park

Happy July Fourth to those from the United States.  It’s a day to relax but also remember.  I wanted to take this occasion to provide a brief update on one of my most memorable places, Elm Park in downtown Worcester, Massachusetts.  It is one of the oldest Park’s in the United States. I’ve blogged about the park many times, most recently about the experience of being forgotten there, as illustrated by the state of some of the more contemplative locations at the Park.  It made for interesting photography but poor park upkeep.  Then, low and behold, in the middle of that project, the City, State and Feds came to the rescue and began a significant restoration of the park.  I’ve continued to photograph the changing nature of Elm Park as the reconstruction, in the north-east corner at this point, continues.  I have to admit, it has taken some getting used to.  I had grown quite fond of the shabbiness of the old dowager, but that won’t make for a viable and livable inner city.

The process has created a number of interesting visual opportunities, in and of itself.  Rebuilding is co-existing with on-going use of the Park where that can be done safely.  (Click on the images for a better view.)



There are significant signs of progress.


Those familiar with the Park will know this scene.  The stones along the shoreline are new.  Children used to feed geese on the sand here, there was no clearly demarcation of the Pond.  That may seem kind of nice and wonderful on the surface except it’s bad for the geese and the Park.  It always used to bug me that such behavior would take place right under a big sign that says “Feeding Wildlife is Harmful to the Wildlife and the Park.”  But I digress.  The construction has also provided an opportunity to see the detail that goes into making a park work.  Did you ever wonder why all those trash cans are never stolen?  Here’s the reason…


That is one big base.  Invest in trashcan stability in major urban parks.  You cannot go wrong.  The lighting is also changing.  Previously, there had been rather attractive lighting in the Park.  It was sparse and rarely turned on.  Now lights are being added throughout.  With the exception of some very tall structures around the north pond, most will I think fit right in with the history of the park.  Some are up now, but not turned on yet and as such, not particularly good photographic subjects.  This will give you an idea, however.


So the work continues and I’ll try to provide more imagery in the future.  It is difficult to document a project like this with a fine art eye.  It may be that only the final product will do justice to the intangible experience of the Park, an experience that those of us who love it will always value.


It is so easy to think that “common” areas such as parks have no place in our individualized society. It’s also easy to dis the government for nearly everything.  These commons, such as Elm Park though provide the touch points for a society.  That remains as important as it always has been.  So thanks to those who are maintaining this particular touch point.

Things are Looking Up at Elm Park

Over the past few months we’ve been heading out to Elm Park, in Worcester, MA, to photograph the state of the park benches and other aspects of the “contemplative infrastructure” there.  Their state of decay seemed to provoke the imagination with thoughts of age, and loss, and what seems like the inevitable link between the two of them.  Elm Park, initially created in 1854 along with Central Park in New York provided an excellent background for such a metaphor, given it’s age, significance and apparent decay.


While this work was very personal, the implied criticism is hard to miss.  I’ve been photographing in Elm Park for a decade and for the most part, have found it to be a compelling if not wonderful spot. Well, as we were about to leave on the 13th, we noted a construction fencing company putting down their wares around a substantial chunk of the north side of the Park, near Highland St.  Indeed, work was about to begin on the renovations of the Park.


You can read about the work, and the challenging of fund raising for the work, here.  The City doesn’t have all the money they’d like to for the project, but they are going ahead.  If there is one thing I’ve learned from my entrepreneurship colleagues at Babson College it is begin with the resources you have, take action. Makes sense to me.


Elm Park is a regional if not a national treasure.  Age and decay are not inevitably linked.  Though the broken benches certainly provide artistic stimulation, we’ll be far better off with a Park that serves the next generation.  I’m reminded of the recent findings from the Mars rover, Curiosity.  It seems very likely that Mars once had an atmosphere and surface that would actually support life.  That is not the case today.  They’re now looking for signs that could explain what happened that resulted in the decay of the atmosphere.  (Do you suppose the signs might say, “Filling Station?”:)  Thanks to the City and the private donors who are taking action to preserve the future.

And the Snow Came

Captain Nemo has come and gone.  Not a great name for a storm in my view. Nevertheless, in Worcester, MA we got a bit over two feet of the white stuff to deal with.  While I did get out into the storm for a bit, the images were so so at best.  The action as we all know, came in the middle of the night and when it came, it really wasn’t safe out there.  The Governor of the state made the right call, so most of us made it through.  I have continued to work on the Elm Park project, which I blogged about last month.  The images here were taken after a more moderate snow fall, a few weeks back.  They do illustrate one of the challenges associated with maintaining contemplative infrastructure in our area:  the weather.

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Perhaps their design of wood and cast iron was just not meant for our area.  After all, that wood is going to take a beating.

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Perhaps in fact the design is an anachronism, a throw back, I thought.  So, I asked a bunch of young people, College students in a Sustainability course.  I put it to them:  Pretend I’m the head of the Parks Department.  Tell me what I should do.  Should we give up on this and try a different design?

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Interestingly, they had many good ideas, but didn’t like that one, at all.  (Except maybe trying pressure treated lumber.)  And my group of students included a sizable number of engineers, folks who love to create new technology.  Nope they said, given the history of the Park and the feel of the Park, this is the design they should maintain.  I was interested to note their understanding of the relationship between our history and our human needs. So how do we deal with this so that the benches are ready to go with the snow leaves us?  Hard to say.   I have noted that this is one of  the least searched on blog posts I’ve written in some time.  I don’t think the problem is the photography, at least I hope not.

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Tech note:  Speaking of old designs, these were all shot on film.

Old Friends

I’ve been engaged in a different, for me, photo project the past month or so, which has kept me off the blogosphere as I’ve been trying to figure out how I wanted to proceed.  The problem began when I purchased a new lens (as is often the case) that changed my view of reality.  The lens is an older manual focus Nikkor, which has an aperture, at its widest of F1.2.  For those of you who are not into photography, that has two effects,  One is that if used at F1.2, the subject appears to completely pop out of the background due to the lens’ tiny depth of field.  The second effect stems from the fact that it’s basically impossible to make an affordable lens that is sharp at F1.2 and as such, the scene begins to take on a dream like quality.  So I was wandering through Elm Park in downtown Worcester, Massachusetts with the lens mounted on a film camera (Nikon F6) and happened to capture this image.


The image, captured on black and white film (Ilford XP2 for the curious) grabbed me, and I found myself mentally journeying back to one of my favorite Simon and Garfunkel songs, “Old Friends”:  “Sat on their park bench like bookends,” and “can’t you imagine us years from today, sharing a park bench quietly, how terribly strange to be seventy.” (You can purchase the song, written by Paul Simon and recorded in 1968, from their website, here.)

Elm Park is a very important place for such moments.  It was one of the first public parks established in the United States and it was not designed for recreation (no ball fields), but for contemplation, for thought, for escape. So it was easy to imagine the characters from Paul Simon’s song sitting here, and indeed throughout the park.  The photography then began in earnest.



But alas, I began over the visits to notice the state of the Park.


Not good.  This is not a surprise, let me stress.  What struck me is that I was so used to the poor condition of the Park that I had become immune to it.  What I was doing, without initially realizing it, was engaging in what some call “decay photography.”  Such work is inspired by locations such as Detroit, where architectural decay is visible nearly everywhere.  But this isn’t Detroit.


The irony in all this is that not far from my home, in Worcester, the City is putting in a new park, one oriented more toward recreation.  I’m not a NIMBY kind of guy, so I’m not against the building of new parks, even those that will impact my neighborhood.  I do worry though about deferred maitanance of a crown jewel like Elm Park.  (As a business school prof, I understand the difference between capital and operating budgets.  That being said, the more you build, the more you have to take care of so the two are not as disconnected as some would have you believe.)  I’m going to need some place to sit in the Park in ten years when it’s my turn.  Here’s hoping.


Happy New Year and may we all avoid a cliff, tomorrow!

Fall Rambles

Fall is rightfully thought of as photography season in many respects, and that’s for one reason, which can be summed up in one word:  color.  Since so much of my work is now in black and white, it can be a bit challenging to get into the spirit of the season.  But it is infectious and one might say, came to me.  Here are a few favorites from this year, for your enjoyment.  I truly hope that everyone notices, and appreciated the changing seasons. Those beautiful colors, like so much of our climate related experience are indeed vulnerable as we move ahead.  But for now…

Cold evening air over the warmer land and lakes kicks things off for us.  Early fall, Patch Reservoir, Worcester.

It’s been another of those rolling foliage experiences.  No real crescendo, some trees just seem to turn earlier than others.  Above and below at Babson College, just last week.

That can make for it’s own interesting interplay of colors.  Increasingly, I seem to note that it’s not only the trees that get into the act.  Some weeds can be pretty spectacular themselves.

This was from June Street, in Worcester, site of a construction project.  Hopefully the old stone wall will survive.  These weeds, probably not.  We also get help though from late season flowers.  These tough guys have to survive some pretty chilly nights.  Again, from Babson…

One of the great things about fall is that it isn’t winter!  At least not yet.  Opportunities for fishing are still to be found.  (From Elm Park, in Worcester, an old friend…)

But at some point, it’s time to go.