Atlantic Cities

Eco-Park Transforms Former Industrial Site into a Public Amenity

By providing opportunities for outdoor recreation and also helping to control stormwater run-off, urban parks have become key for cities attempting to achieve sustainability goals. Contaminated industrial sites are the final frontier for park development in many cities today; but remediating polluted land is a challenging and costly proposition.

The designers of Victor Civita Park, built in 2007 as part of the “Plan of 100 Parks for the City of São Paulo,” faced such a challenge. The three-acre park is located near the center of the city, at the site of a former incinerator that operated for more than 40 years. And the site was so contaminated that city officials wanted it capped with large amounts of fresh earth.
But through innovative landscape architecture techniques, this highly polluted site has been transformed into a $4.5 million park. Building Victor Civita Park for such a relatively modest price tag is a significant accomplishment. The park certainly would have cost significantly more had the designers utilized a more conventional approach to building a park on top of contaminated land, which could have involved capping the entire site with a special membrane and huge amounts of clean fill and/or carting some of the polluted soil offsite.
High-tech landfill technologies have made it possible for Victor Civita Park to take this more efficient approach. A “Tec-Garden” in the park consists of a geotextile blanket that is placed atop an elevated system of impervious plates that separates the underlying contaminated soil from the new planting beds. In addition, the garden is designed to be self-irrigating by means of a system of coconut-fiber–lined tubes in the trays, which allow plant roots to draw water as it is needed.
For its cutting edge design, Victor Civita Park, which has been featured in design publications around the world, has earned prestigious awards such as the Urban Design Prize from the Institute of Brazilian Architects.
The signature element of the park is a large deck made from recycled Brazilian hardwood that covers most of the publicly accessible part of the park. The, deck which sits three feet above ground, enabled the park’s builders to avoid the expense of remediating the contaminated land.
Environmental concerns were taken into account at every level in the design. The wood used for the deck is so dense that it does not require the toxic chemical treatment that generally is used for weather proofing wood. And along with protecting visitors from the contaminated soil underneath, the wood deck also preserves the site’s preexisting rubber, eucalyptus, ficus, and fruit trees. 
In addition to innovative strategies such as the wood deck specially developed for Victor Civita Park, the design also incorporates a variety of sustainable technologies such as solar panels and new water collection and reuse technologies.
The water used for irrigation comes from rain that has been harvested and stored, as well as from sanitized wastewater from the park's restrooms, which is sent to an ornamental pond where a filtration system has been set up. 
The park is also used as an open-air classroom to teach Sao Paulo residents about sustainability. The building that once sheltered the garbage incinerator has been retrofitted into Victor Civita Plaza & Museum for Sustainability, which features exhibits that teach visitors about the present and past ecology of the site.
With its cutting-edge design, Victor Civita Park is a compelling model for urban planners and designers in other cities seeking to build cost-effective and eco-friendly parks that protect visitors from contaminated land underneath. Keeping toxins inert in the soil where they are located is also generally the most sustainable way to deal with them. It is a win-win solution for both the visitors to the park and the environment. 


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