Students enrolled in the University of Rhode Island (URI) Landscape Architecture program were tasked at finding innovative coastal adaptation strategies as part of their senior studio for Newport’s Storer Park, which sits as a southern gateway to the city’s historic Point Neighborhood along the Newport Harbor Walk.

Recent storms along Rhode Island’s coastline have brought the reality of coastal flooding to the doorstep of the state’s 21 coastal communities.  “Superstorm” Sandy brought four feet of storm surge into Narragansett Bay and inundated several piers and wharves in Newport Harbor, including Storer Park and Bowen’s Wharf.  These low-lying areas are particularly at risk to storm surges and rising sea levels, and rapidly changing coastal conditions present many challenges and opportunities to long-term management of our cherished coastal amenities, particularly public access areas in Newport.

“We have to think about public spaces as multi-purpose,” said Richard Sheridan, Professor of Landscape Architecture, during a student presentation last spring, explaining that the studio worked closely with the community, specifically Friends of the Waterfront, to incorporate various perspectives and uses of the area, as well as scientific data to develop designs that protect the historical and ecological integrity of the site.

“Landscape architecture is about understanding the use, or potential use of a space – Much in the way you organize your home by accessibility, aesthetics, functionality, and durability.”

Design by Dennis Staton, URI LAR graduate, to illustrate his vision of Storer Park in 25 years.

Design by Dennis Staton, URI LAR graduate, to illustrate his vision of Storer Park in 25 years.

Under Professor Sheridan’s direction, the students worked with Teresa Crean, Rhode Island Sea Grant’s extension specialist working in Newport on sea level rise issues, to gather the best available science related to sea level rise and storm predictions for the state. From this data, the students were able to craft future designs for the park that could withstand storm surge and projected sea level rise in the coming years.

“We need to adapt with the environment and build around what nature wants to look like,” said Rob Paulsen, landscape architecture student at URI whose design utilized grass terraces and native vegetation buffers.

Students visited the site and reviewed their early design ideas with Tom Hockaday and Laurie Shaw from the Point Neighborhood Association.  It was important that the students were allowed the freedom of a conceptual design exercise, said Sheridan, while understanding that their designs should incorporate realistic elements that could be considered for implementation in the near future.

“It’s a high level of creativity in addressing these issues,” said James Boyd, Coastal Policy Analyst for the Coastal Resources Management Council, regarding the various designs presented by the students.[divider style=”solid” color=”#eeeeee” width=”1px”]

URI Landscape Architecture Senior Studio Mission:

Due to rising sea levels, Storer Park is on the front line facing storm surge and will ultimately be underwater. Our mission is to connect people from the waterfront to the downtown area with a landscape that will protect from storm surge as well as adapt to a fully submerged environment without threatening the ecosystem of Narragansett Bay.[divider style=”solid” color=”#eeeeee” width=”1px”]

The student’s ideas ranged from a full redesign of the park with terraced platforms to accommodate future sea water, to site-scale techniques including the design of rain gardens and planted drainage swales within the park that could serve to channel tidewater into the site and direct stormwater out of the site during rain events. Strategies to ensure the Harbor Walk remains a clearly marked walkway through the site were also explored, as this site is an important link between the Point Neighborhood and points south along the Harbor Walk.


  1. Connect people from downtown and surrounding neighborhoods to the waterfront.
  2. Begin Newport’s response to projected sea level rise.
  3. Create innovative strategies to maintain and enhance the cultural presence of Storer Park in the city.
  4. (4) Consider short-term (10-20 year) and long-term (50-100 year) plans for the park.

“The students presented ideas that we never would have considered or even thought of, and while no one individual design fill all of our needs, elements of several could be stitched together to give us a road map forward,” said Jim Perrier, the late Friends of the Waterfront president.

Thanks to the success of this project, Rhode Island Sea Grant, in partnership with the URI LAR, has developed this into an ongoing element of its educational portfolio, funding junior and/or senior students to get the opportunity to engage directly with stakeholders, hear their visions, and then attempt to capture that through landscape design. They also have the opportunity to work with extension agents so they better understand and can apply concepts that merge theory into action.

“Having the opportunity to work directly with those considering our designs, and getting feedback from them gives us an opportunity to learn that can’t be gained in a classroom,” said URI LAR senior Rob Barella. “It’s easy to design as a purely academic exercise, but having the opportunity to work with real end users gives a look into the professional world that we’ll soon be entering, and we will be better prepared for it because of this experience.

The student’s work was shared with multiple audiences after the final presentation in April 2014 at URI, and the design ideas are available from URI upon request.  URI continues to work with the city on multiple efforts related to coastal resilience and expect future projects to continue the discussion throughout the community.

Design by Amanda Gaal, URI LAR graduate, to depict what the park might look like in 25 years with her design of a boardwalk through a reconstructed marsh.

Design by Amanda Gaal, URI LAR graduate, to depict what the park might look like in 25 years with her design of a boardwalk through a reconstructed marsh.


– Meredith Haas | Rhode Island Sea Grant Research Communications Specialist


[info]For more information on RI Sea Grant’s work with Climate Resilient Communities, please see[/info]

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