Sharing Our Basin Research

The World Garden Commons at Rabanus Park is more than a place for gathering; it’s also an ecological classroom.

Researchers use the re-imagined stormwater basin to test hypotheses and compile observations. The data gathered will help artists, engineers, ecologists and landscape architects design better future projects in Fargo and beyond.

This fulfills one of The Fargo Project’s design principles: to learn how the ecological systems are behaving, and practice responsive adaptive design and adaptive management.

Five students in the Natural Resources Management program at North Dakota State University recently presented posters of their research conducted at World Garden Commons.

Biomass Potential

Plant material was collected from sites in Rabanus Park.

Nathan Welberg is investigating how much biomass potential is in the city of Fargo. Plant biomass in restored prairies is being explored as one way to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Welberg took samples of prairie chord grass and sedges from the site.

By measuring how much plant material grew in each sample and multiplying it times available land, he determined that more than 3.5 million pounds of plant biomass could be grown in the City of Fargo. The results were used in the Carbon Negative proposal that won the Social Impact category in the 2016 Innovation Challenge at NDSU.

Community Gardening

Sara Bjorlin studied the benefits and challenges of community gardening in helping new Americans integrate into the larger community. She found that 83 percent of those surveyed said their work with the community garden helped them connect to the Fargo-Moorhead area. The project also stimulated economic, social, and emotional growth.

Inducing Stream Meandering

 NDSU undergrad Aaron Green devised baffles to induce meander in the old channel bed.

NDSU undergrad Aaron Green devised baffles to induce meander in the old channel bed.

Aaron Green and Hailey Greenwalt studied the best ways to naturally induce stream meandering, while upholding landscape aesthetics, in a stormwater channel. After analyzing preliminary measurements and studying best-practice design, the students recommended construction of boulder riffles and boulder/willow tree baffles at predetermined locations. The methods and structures will be monitored regularly to determine effectiveness.

 

Studying the Trash

The concentration of solid waste material in drift lines was higher than elsewhere in the basin.

The concentration of solid waste material in drift lines was higher than elsewhere in the basin.

Janessa Veach is researching where trash in the stormwater basin comes from: whether blown in or from the drainage system itself. This information is valuable because it could help the aesthetics of the site and it could make clean up more efficient. Preliminary results showed that the concentration of trash is higher in drift lines than elsewhere in the basin. Further analysis and research will be done.

 

 

 


Construction of A Meandering Channel

One of the goals of retrofitting the World Garden Commons basin is to get the stormwater runoff to spread across the basin bottom and increase infiltration and filtration by the vegetation. This can be accomplished by one or more of the following methods: remove the concrete channel and replace it with vegetation or stone; deflect the stormwater out into the basin; or modify the outlet structure.

Today the northeast stormwater inlet consists of a concrete bib that spills straight west into the basin. Water runs along the channel modified with rock riffles designed by NDSU students from the Natural Resource Management program. During 2016-2017 winter construction, the bib will be removed and replaced with a stomach-shaped pond, 10-12 inches deep, and surrounded by rocks and plants during the warmer seasons.

inlet-outlet-site-sketch

 

The City of Fargo is doing something few in the country have:  converting a simple, engineered, and barren stormwater basin and reintroducing the complexity of natural features.

The in-place soil conditions and the topography of the basin restrict water from “breaking out” from the old channel alignment. The stomach shape redirects water to the south, encouraging water to cascade over falls and creating a meander to the stream generally headed west to the outlet. The meander allows the water to mimic natural prairie streams and rivers in the region.

We’ve learned there is a continuous flow of water from the northeast inlet because groundwater seeps through unsealed joints into the storm-sewer pipes. That flow, even during winter, offers an opportunity to create a stream section that functions like a natural environment.

Integrating a meandering channel into the World Garden Commons stormwater basin at Rabanus Park follows the guiding design principles established by project lead and ecological artist, the late Jackie Brookner. The goal is to create a community destination and a model for ecological revitalization. The success of the project will be determined by the continued stormwater management, the enhanced wildlife habitat and community use.


Back to Nature: A Stormwater Basin’s Story

The City of Fargo is doing something few in the country have ever tried: it’s designing a community commons by reintroducing natural features to a simple, engineered and barren stormwater basin.

The stormwater basin at Rabanus Park previously featured a mowed depression and a concrete channel.

The stormwater basin at Rabanus Park previously featured a mowed depression and a concrete channel.

Built in the 1980s, the stormwater basin located at Rabanus Park was designed with a single purpose of flood control. It is one of numerous basins across the city of Fargo that collect stormwater or snow melt from streets and parking lots and release the water into the Red River over several hours. It’s part of a complex citywide system with over 350 miles of pipes that include other dry detention basins, drains, coulees, lift stations, and wet retention ponds.

That’s a big, unsung system that most of us don’t even realize exists.

The orange and darker blue shapes indicate public and private detention basins that provide stormwater protection to properties within the City of Fargo.

The orange and darker blue shapes indicate public and private detention basins that provide stormwater protection to properties within the City of Fargo.

But just because a stormwater basin is needed for flood control doesn’t mean it can’t serve another purpose. In this case, the basin will also be an inviting greenspace that reflects Fargo’s cultural vibrancy.

Construction this winter will further transform the basin by enhancing and restoring natural plants, which will encourage wildlife to move into the new habitat. The introduction of “natural” water features will further add to the value and aesthetic of the space.

 


Artist Instigated Creative Placemaking

Lead Artist, Jackie Brookner pauses for a photo with neighborhood children playing in the basin

Lead Artist, Jackie Brookner pauses for a photo with neighborhood children playing in the basin

Creative Placemaking – the practice of using the arts, culture, and creativity to transform and build the character and quality of place to benefit the local community (NEA)

Jackie Brookner, an ecological artist from New York, worked on The Fargo Project from 2010 until her death in 2015. In brief, Jackie’s presence and energies in community conversations acted as catalyst to reveal and highlight our own connections and belongingness to the land and the waters here, and to strengthen our community resolve to be in right relationship with one another and our environment.  She also brought an evolving sense of creative agency that guided us in growing our own creativity capabilities.

In her own words from an interview with Ernesto Pujol, a performance artist – who introduced her as follows: “Artist Jackie Brookner is an American urban rainmaker, but not the kind who fakes a ritual and skips town. She belongs to the truly wondrous kind who embeds herself in a local water cycle and dialogues with everyone and everything in order to design what is humanly and ecologically functional; what is sustainable for those people and their landscape long after she is gone.”

Brookner: “Although some restoration ecologists do not agree with me, I believe that you cannot do ecological projects without working with people, because our values need as much healing as our ecosystems do. The dominant culture encourages us to be passive, to be obedient consumers, and not to think too much. As a way to push against this, I have been trying to figure out how to encourage creative agency within communities. In Finland, I worked with high school students who built the floating islands while older volunteers did the planting. But I was still the author and something did not feel right. I realized that I had to go beyond engaging people to help implement my ideas. I needed to challenge and share authorship, to provide opportunities where people could exercise their own ability to solve local ecological problems in creative ways.

…The Fargo basins are surrounded by neighborhoods, and I thought it was a perfect situation. Could people dream of a commons? Could people determine how they want these spaces to function, what they want them to feel like? The City Landscape Architect and I planned a deeply participatory process as a pilot project, one that ideally could be replicated with the other basins. In order to seed this way of working there, we are collaborating with a team of local artists. We have all been doing outreach together for several months to build a community of interest amongst the Fargo residents to participate in the basin’s redesign process.”

The foundation Jackie laid in community conversation, design, and play continues today at Rabanus Park’s World Garden Commons.

Read Pujol’s entire interview here.