Creating balance in Caroline Freeland Park — between its use as a buffer to downtown Bethesda and its potential for more lively uses — is in large part the job of Lucas Bonney, the Montgomery Parks project manager and landscape architect in charge of the park’s renovation process.
We spoke to Bonney about the potential for the one-acre park (7200 Arlington Rd.), what residents told him they like about it now and what changes could be on the horizon for one of downtown Bethesda’s rare park uses.
BethesdaNow.com:What sorts of things did you hear from people at the public meeting [Ed. note: It happened Nov. 6] and were there any general themes?
Bonney:We heard that definitely the playground is a very big element to the park. Mothers and fathers go their with their kids, sometimes late into the day in the summer. It’s a very popular element and the community was part of that renovation in 2010. That’s near and dear to many of the community members.
The trees and the green space is very important to maintain. That was a very important element to the community members — that we maintain a green buffer in a heavily urbanizing area.
BethesdaNow.com:The park as a buffer zone between downtown Bethesda and the single family neighborhood to the west is a big topic, especially with Parks talking more about urban parks and many in Bethesda wanting more lively and active civic spaces. How do you bridge that gap, manage that dilemma?
Bonney:As a landscape architect, I enjoy designing urban parks and integrating green space with urban activities. That’s especially a challenge at this park because of its size. It’s only one acre and it is in such close proximity to the downtown area and the residential properties. I’m definitely interested in integrating small-scale urban activities in a park that looks green and has tree canopy elements.
We need a mix of those uses, because inevitably that’s the desire for the park — to have a multi-use park for many different people, not just for the immediate land owners or the residential homeowners, but for all people in Bethesda.
We’ve been in talks with the Bethesda Urban Partnership’s [Deputy Executive Director] Jeff Burton and trying to understand where the activity areas are and which urban spaces are being used for musical events or activities that the Urban Partnership holds and how the park would fit within the matrix of services there. We want to integrate, but we also have to be careful, because it is very close to residential properties, to strike the correct balance of uses.
It also should be maintained as a quiet park during different times of the month and in the summer. So that’s an important balance.
BethesdaNow.com:You alluded to music events, but what other sorts of things constitute “urban activities?”
Bonney:You can have events like bike events or running events — maybe 100 or so people gather at the park in the morning and use it as a kind of kickoff space. So you would have to design the park in a way that it would accommodate events with multiple people, but also look like an inviting park during more normal times.
Hampden Lane [Ed. note: A small section of Hampden Lane actually dead ends west of Arlington Road, between the Bethesda Library and the park] is an opportunity in that it’s what we call a paper street. It’s currently inaccessible by car, but it is a space that could be used as more of a public gathering space for a large crowd or maybe a farmers market. You could have a small stage during the day on the weekend.
But of course, getting the right type of scale is very important for this park.
BethesdaNow.com:I have to ask about the “Bethesda Walk Around” sculpture. That gets a lot of interest. Will that be part of the park upgrade? Is it something that can’t be moved around?
Bonney:The art piece is important. Public art is an important part of Bethesda. We feel that its position is a little bit disjointed and ill-placed within the park. We’re open to repurposing that within the park, improving the setting of the art piece rather than removing it altogether.
BethesdaNow.com:You had a public meeting earlier this month. Where does the process go from here?
Bonney:Right now, we’re disseminating the public comments, which we’ll use to develop three different design alternatives. We’ll be presenting those to the public in early spring, probably around March 2014. That’s subject to change. We’ll listen to the comments at that second community meeting and consolidate those into one design for the park.
Stuff we’re looking at includes getting more use of the lawn area. The pavilion is a concern because it doesn’t get a lot of use. Just all the pathways make the circulation somewhat chaotic. We’re trying to calm down the design a little bit, provide some bold identity for the park. We’re looking for a very simple park that builds on the curren tpark program elements that are successful.
BethesdaNow.com:Last question. Are you in contact or cooperating to some extent with county planners as they start the Bethesda Central Business District Sector Plan update? Parks and civic space seem like a big focus in that process.
Bonney:I definitely want to be involved. One of our park planners is involved in that process. She’s keeping me up to date. I think if there are any take-home points from their process, we would definitely incorporate that into our park. But I don’t think the overall use of the park or the goals will change based on that planning initiative.
The overall use of the park as a nice passive, yet active place for people to congregate and use the playground and eat lunch and maybe have small events — that’s really what this park is for.