The massive park construction project in one of Atlanta’s oldest and poorest neighborhoods grew out of a need to address the unglamorous urban problem of combined sewer overflows. (Christopher T. Martin)

This summer, Urban Land is profiling online and in print each finalist for 2020’s ULI Urban Open Space Award. The winner(s) will be announced in the fall. Learn more about award-winning and innovative open-space projects as part of the 2020 ULI Virtual Fall Meeting.

Owners: Atlanta BeltLine, City of Atlanta Department of Watershed Management, City of Atlanta Department of Parks and Recreation
Designer: HDR
Size: 5 acres (2 ha)
Opened: June 2010
Total cost: $18 million (excluding land acquisition)

On a site described by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as “a barren expanse of cracked concrete, weeds, and towering trees surviving against a background of neglect,” this parcel in Atlanta’s historic Old Fourth Ward has been dramatically transformed. A stunning new park grew from the need to address the unglamorous problem of combined sewer overflows in the Clear Creek watershed.

The idea was inspired by neighborhood residents. Rather than adding costly traditional sewer tunnels, the blighted industrial lowland was reimagined as a sustainable green space surrounding a functional stormwater retention pond. The pond is the centerpiece of the new park, which includes walking trails, urban plazas, native plants, and an amphitheater. Design details and sculptural elements disguise engineering solutions by “celebrating” water as it enters the site from each direction. Blending innovative engineering with beautiful and inviting landscape architecture in a public open space, this park is a stunning example of using ingenuity to resolve stormwater issues while enhancing community life.

Historic Fourth Ward Park has been a harbinger of development and revitalization, providing the cornerstone for a sustainable, high-density, and high-quality urban transformation, along with an outstanding design solution for a serious sewer overflow problem.

With four stormwater inlets disguised as artistic water features strategically positioned around the five-acre (2 ha) Historic Fourth Ward Park, the project showcases how engineering and design can come together to solve both challenging issues involving combined sewer overflows and the need for more public green space. (HDR)

Stormwater from the north end of the watershed enters the pond through a channel beneath a sculptural fountain. This water is then recirculated through stones of the feature to assist in aeration. (Keith Philpott)

This south plaza channel artfully collects stormwater runoff and conveys it to the lake through an ephemeral drainage feature. Thoughtfully designed elements like this tie the site to its past, reminding residents of the creek that once carried water through this long-neglected site. (Keith Philpott)

The curvilinear elevated walkway provides unique views throughout the lower basin. (Keith Philpott)

Curved walls were designed to protect a group of old-growth trees. The detained water is circulated through aeration features disguised as waterfalls and fountains and is further treated by the wetland plantings. (Steve Carrell)

Historic Fourth Ward Park is an example of a sustainable design solution for a serious environmental problem that can also trigger broader high-quality urban transformations within a community. (Steve Carrell)