When one thinks of a park, Riverbank Park in Flint, Michigan is probably not what they envision. The park was built in the modernist style by Lawrence Halprin in 1979, and is easily recognized by the architectural use of concrete as it stretches along both sides of the Flint River at the very heart of downtown Flint. On the East, Riverbank Park is anchored by the campus of the University of Michigan – Flint and extends through downtown, ending in the historic Carriage Town District in the West. Along the way, the park provides direct access to several points within the central business district, including governmental buildings, restaurants, nightlife and several major apartment buildings.
Today, a quick glance from street is still enough to spark most people’s interest in Riverbank Park. Once in the space, however, several issues often lead to perceptions of danger, neglect, and disuse. It is our hope that Flint’s one of a kind Riverbank Park can be reenergized through the strategic beautification of a few key features. By reintroducing creative plantings and artistic touches, we can highlight the dramatic mid-century space and spur public appreciation and use.
In order to re-introduce Riverbank Park as Genesee County’s most exciting public space, The Flint River Corridor Alliance (FRCA) is proposing a series of targeted improvements, installations, and celebrations intended to give new eyes a glimpse of how the park was designed to operate. The weeds and overgrowth which muddle the clean lines of the park’s architecture will be replaced with colorful and dramatic plantings. Innovative vertical garden structures would be installed on the stark concrete walls of the park’s Northern blocks softening the space, and covering what is now a non-functioning water feature. By engaging one of Flint’s many talented metal workers, a sculpture would be commissioned which through theme or material would link Flint’s industrial past to its creative future.
While highlighting the park’s beautiful bones will draw down the casual park visitor, a series of park programs, again, chosen to highlight the park’s original design features will give the public a better idea of how dynamic the space can be. While small scale programming is being pursued to keep the park active throughout the year, a signature event is being planned for September would celebrate Riverbank Park and its role in the city. It is important that this event be as innovative and interesting as the park itself. While Flint has a few successful summer festivals, the Riverbank Park celebration is intended to go beyond the standard routine and create an event that uniquely celebrates Flint’s quirky spirit. Boats would be available from the parks several launch points to quickly fill the water with activity, while back on land historians and students would guide newcomers around the park. Creative and unusual vendors would be recruited to use the park’s market stall area to sell their wares, and the parks amphitheatre would be used throughout the event by local musicians, poets, and dancers.
This event would also serve to educate the public on Riverbank Park’s future. While we intend to make the park as beautiful and usable as possible now, the event will be one piece of a much larger vision to ensure the long term success of Riverbank Park. At the event we will provide information on these larger endeavors including a DNR Trust Fund grant to improve the parks accessibility and make maintenance easier. A series of murals, which are being separately pursued by the alliance, would be unveiled at this event as well. Entirely composed of QR codes, these murals will provide both an abstract art piece, as well as links to site specific content, such as historical photos or event calendars. Overall, these improvements will assist in our place making efforts on three scales. A large event will immediately activate the park, getting people familiar and excited about the space. The plantings and art installations will provide an attractive background for the event and beyond, welcoming casual visitors into the space. Together, they will help the FRCA in our long-term efforts of large scale park improvements by getting people re-introduced and reinvested in Riverbank Park.